As you will come to learn, as well as being passionate about general health and wellbeing, I have a particular interest in sports nutrition, particularly for our young athletes. I feel like it wasn't all that long ago that I was a young athlete at school / university running around with little clue as to how to fuel my body.
I sat down and did an interview with my Black Sticks team mate and founder of All About Balance (if you are a busy teen make sure you check it out), Brooke Neal to chat about what sports nutrition looks like for me as a high performance athlete, but also how it can apply and is so important for our young sporty spices out there.
Nutrition talk with Olympian Sam Charlton
I sat down with my friend and team mate Sam Charlton, who has been to two Olympic Games, played almost 200 games for New Zealand and is also a qualified nutritionist! This girl is a go getter and I loved our conversation.
Me: I love that you’ve launched your website and are providing your nutritional services to a range of people. Can you tell us a little bit about why you’ve made nutrition your focus, and what you are offering?
Sam: Yes! So at the end of 2015 I completed my study in nutrition at Massey University, and absolutely loved everything about what I was learning. I knew that it was certainly something I wanted to pursue, not just because I was really interested in the topic but also because I realised and saw it as an opportunity to help people with something that is really plaguing our country (poor eating habits). Healthy eating and creating a sustainable lifestyle is becoming more confusing for the general public and I am really passionate about wanting to help people simplify health, nutrition and eating.
In terms of my services I offer, I am really keen in focusing a lot of my energy in educating young athletes. What you put into your body can have such profound effects, not just on performance on the sports field but on general energy levels for your everyday health and wellbeing. I offer both 1 on 1 consultations (for older non sporty types also of course!), individualizing their nutrition plans as well as offering small and large group education seminars.
Me: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned as an Olympic athlete about nutrition?
Sam: That food, what you eat and put into your body seriously makes all the difference. And that it requires time, effort and patience! Training to be an Olympic athlete encompasses a huge range of different areas to focus on – fitness, strength, mental skills. But none of these areas can thrive unless you fuel yourself properly! It’s by no means about cutting out this, or not having that. It’s about understanding that every time you eat it is an opportunity to fuel and feed your body the stuff it needs to function optimally. Each and every person is biologically different so what works for you might not work for your mate next to you. It’s so so important to take the time to figure out what nutrition and fuelling looks like for you – it takes time and patience but I promise it is totally worth it.
Me: What does your morning routine look like? What sets you up for the day?
Sam: I’m a big believer in getting moving as soon as you can! No matter how crappy or tired I feel in the morning, I try to get myself up and going. If I have training in the morning, I’m off to that. Otherwise, I LOVE morning walks. Headphones in, podcast on, I like to stroll for at least 20-30 minutes. Then I’m all about starting the day with a fuelling, nutrient dense breakfast. I tend to go through phases, this week I’m a porridge gal – a mixture of oats, linseed and sunflower seeds served with banana, cinnamon and yoghurt. And always accompanied by a green tea!
Me: If I was to open your pantry and fridge, what would I find?
Sam: Fridge – A lot of fruit and vegetables! Some yoghurt, a few different types of milks (standard, almond, coconut) and probably some other proteins like cheese and tofu. I also love little ‘toppers’ for my salads like pickled ginger and sauerkraut.
Cupboard – to be honest probably not a lot of packaged foods. I’m a big believer in making as much of your food from scratch as you can so my cupboard is probably just some ingredients for doing just that. Nuts, seeds, oats, some different types of flours. However, you will always find my two weak points in there – dark chocolate and peanut butter! 90% dark chocolate is my go to treat and I always have it on hand to help me avoid going for other crappier options when I am in need!
Me: I know that everyone is different, but what general nutritional advice would you give a teenager at high school, who is busy with one or more sports, school, and life?
Sam: My two most important pieces of advice would be firstly to understand the concept of energy and secondly - planning is everything!
Energy is what we need to function and as teenagers leading busy lives, we need energy not only to think at school and run on the sports field, but also to assist growing bodies! And different foods give us different types of energy. If we eat lots of sugary foods, we will get lots of energy very quickly but it won’t last for very long at all. But if we eat foods like brown rice, kumara and brown bread – we will find that energy lasts for so much longer. It can be tricky to get your head around what foods give us the best types of energy but it is so important and so worth sitting down with someone who can help you figure out what is right for you!
And honestly – planning is everything. Take 10-15 minutes on a Sunday night. Look at your week. Slot in school, trainings and other commitments. Write a list of how many meals and snacks you need for each day. And then each morning – pack accordingly! Always take extra and keep an emergency lunchbox in your sports bag with non perishable snacks like nuts, rice crackers etc.
Me: Do you think it’s important for both the parent and the teenager to have adequate knowledge about nutrition? How do you think meal preparation and planning would work best for them both?
Sam: So important! The most obvious reason would be because in a lot of home settings, the parents are the ones that buy and prepare all of the food and therefore if our teens require something specific then the parents need to know and be on board! It is also so important, particularly in the early stages of making dietary changes to have support from your close networks around you! If you are making the effort without support you will find it very hard to be diligent in sticking to preparation and applications of dietary changes.
I would say going back to my point before about planning – make this a collaborative effort so everyone knows what is going on. As a nutritionist I would see it as my role to make sure that the plan I am giving my clients is workable for the whole family – I don’t think it is at all realistic to expect parents to be cooking separate meals for their teens. I like to develop plans where the family meals like dinner can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Me: Where can we find your delicious recipes and meal ideas?
Sam: www.samanthacharltonnutrition.com ! My recipes are always as simple as I can make them. I get totally put off when I read a recipe and there are 20+ ingredients, most of which are not in my cupboard. I always aim to create and share meal ideas and recipes that require minimal effort and shopping but are made from real, fresh ingredients and of course taste super great!
Me: What are your predictions with the nutrition/ wellness industry in the next year?
Sam: Oh this is a hard one – I think to be honest one of the trends that disappoints me every year is the introduction of a new food or diet that is advertised as a ‘quick fix’. There is always a new way of eating or a new type of food that supposedly will help you loose or maintain weight with little effort required. I’m a huge believer in developing a ‘fad free’ approach to eating. Developing healthy sustainable eating habits shouldn’t be seen as an express treatment, but something that you have to put effort into, an happens over time until it develops into something that is second nature and something you love!
All that ramble and I really didn’t answer the question! Gut health seems to be a huge focus for a lot of clinicians (and in my opinion rightly so) at the moment so I think more fermented / probiotic products and goodies to help our little guts really thrive!