Fitness and nutrition: tips for eating like an athlete

Derval O’Rourke: ‘If I just viewed food as fuel, that would be a boring way to live’


Derval O’Rourke

(Former professional athlete and Olympic gold, silver and bronze medal- winner in hurdles. She is also a best- selling author for her first cookery book, Food for the Fast Lane , published by Gill & Macmillan.)

The main difference in my eating since I’ve retired is that I eat less because I train less.

First and foremost, I believe food should be enjoyed. I don’t view it as a purely functional experience or as fuel. Cooking and eating is a really fun part of my life. I am conscious that what I eat plays a big role in how I feel, so I’m mindful that what I take in is healthy and balanced.

I think if I just viewed food as fuel, that would be a boring way to live. To get the most out of the calories I consume, I choose foods that are nutrient-dense. Rather than just counting calories, I look at the make-up of food and what benefits it will give me.”

Golden rules for breaking bad habits

1. Eat a good breakfast.

2. Graze on healthy snacks.

3. Consume plenty of protein, both plant- and animal-based.

4. Eat a recovery snack after training.

Ciara Beaujé (Nutritionist at the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health)

For the general population, guidelines say that we need about 35-50g of protein. For example, two eggs or a fillet of fish or chicken equals 20g. A good rule of thumb is: 1g of protein per kg of body weight. If you’re 60kg body weight, then you should consume only about 60g of protein daily. If you’re a bodybuilder or athlete, you will need a bit more.

However, protein shakes alone are not the answer. They have a place for some people, especially on training days, but try to get what you need from your food first.

It’s important to remember that the body doesn’t store protein: it uses what it needs and then eliminates the rest through the kidneys. If you are overusing protein, it can put extra pressure on your kidneys and can lead to renal failure in extreme cases.”

Golden rules for breaking bad habits:

1. Aim to eat within an hour of waking.

2. Don’t leave any longer than four to five hours between meals.

3. You should eat complex carbohydrates (brown bread, fruit or oatcakes) and combine them with proteins (a handful of nuts, nut butter, hummus and vegetables).

Orla Hopkins (Fitness competitor and body builder)

Exercise nutrition and having a good diet is all about balance. There is a big difference between what and how much I eat when I am training to compete, compared with what I eat every day.

For me, because I’m a mum and my husband likes to go to the gym also, we eat healthy food at home. I like to teach my son to eat good foods and to educate him about food for his own health.

I prepare all of my food – nothing processed. That has become a lifestyle.

Outside of competitions, we try to live by the 80-20 rule, which is 80 per cent of the time we eat healthy, nutritious food, which is all about menu planning and Tupperware! The other 20 per cent of the time we allow ourselves to have treats.

For competitions, I eat carbs pre, during and after training. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to focus. I need food to fuel me, even in everyday life.”

Golden rules for breaking bad habits

1. The more good food you eat the better.

2. Be prepared. Make your own home-made food.

3. Have good food in your home, so you won’t be tempted by the bad.

4. Keep a food diary and write down what you eat.

5. Always shop with a list.