Claire Steels is a world champion duathlete and works hard for her fantastic racing results. We take a look at what this elite athlete eats in a day to fuel her for her big events.
Banacakes (pancakes with banana)
I have been playing around with how to make this breakfast for a while and I think I have cracked it! The mix is made up of 1 banana mashed up with 2 eggs. Beat it all together and cook in a small frying pan. You can split the mixture to have lots of smaller pancakes and it is a little easier to cook too! I top with peanut butter as I'm a bit of an addict!
Pesto chicken wraps
I make these filling wraps with spinach, rocket, avocado and a bit mayonnaise. Lots of protein to keep me fuelled and vegetables for their health benefits.
Banana topped with sunflower seeds and honey
I have this almost daily! Sometimes as part of breakfast, sometimes as pudding, or sometimes just as a snack!
Racing in the morning! Pizza is my favourite pre-race meal! I love all of the training and racing that comes with being an elite athlete and a big part of that is because of all of the food I get to eat, and I have always been a huge pizza fan! For this meal, I opted for a pre-made pizza base and then added my own topping because I was feeling creative! I went for my own version of a Quattro: tomato puree base, pesto chicken (leftover from lunch), caramelised red onion, mushrooms, spinach, rocket, and parmesan cheese. It was amazing and the race went pretty well too!
Food – a topic for some serious conversation. People have become more focused on their diets for a variety of reasons, ranging from keeping their weight in check to a surge in people having a food intolerance to numerous health scares about eating bacon or whatever the culprit of the day is. Also, there are so many fads out there and health experts keep feeding us new information about what is supposedly good for us that we can be forgiven for sometimes getting lost in the food maze.
The fact remains, food is pretty key to our existence and recently awareness about the food we eat and its effect on our bodies as well as emotions has been increasing, perhaps to the extent where we are starting to see some truth in the old saying “you are what you eat”. So, if you are going to eat takeaway burgers and fries en masse for an extended period of time you are likely to put on weight, and not feel so great for it.
So, as an athlete demanding quite a lot from my body, what do I eat to ensure my body performs optimally when I need it to? I am one of those people blessed (or cursed) with a delicate digestive system, which means when I eat something wrong I will know it! I’m not purporting my diet is perfect, but I believe in a few basic principles as set out below.
- If my body is healthy and functioning as well as it could possibly be, then it should be able to perform optimally when I need it to. Which loosely translates to: I don’t eat very differently at the peak of my training season than in the off season, perhaps just a little bit more to make up for higher consumption.
- I’m in it for the long run, and this does not just refer to sport. If I’m lucky enough to live a long life, I want my body and mind to remain strong for the length of it, therefore I want to treat my body in the best possible way so it will serve me well in return. No amount of short term gain with potential long term side effects do I consider worth it.
- I therefore believe in eating freshly cooked, healthy, natural food as much as my lifestyle allows and avoid synthetic chemical additives wherever possible. I believe in whole foods and if necessary herbal based supplements for my nutrition.
- I believe in the age-old motto “everything in moderation”. Although I eat mostly vegetarian food, I don’t strictly believe in cutting out any particular food groups, although I have heard of people who are having success with such an approach.
- Most of all, I believe in listening to my body. If I’m really not feeling hungry, I don’t force myself to eat. If I really fancy a piece of cake, I have it without guilt (not every day though!) Our bodies have a wonderful way of telling us what we really need if we are prepared to listen. More so if we start paying attention to how we feel after eating certain foods. Could that heart burn be because I had food that was too spicy or acidic? Was it too much deep fried food for my system? Am I feeling agitated because I had that coffee I knew wasn’t a good idea? Was the sudden phlegm caused by eating something too creamy? Slowly we can start unravelling the puzzle of what food is good or bad for us as a unique individual.
- I also do not calorie count! It is not mind over matter for me. If I’m starving, I need to eat. To me, forfeiting a healthy lunch in order to have calories in the bank for a piece of cake or extra glass of wine at dinner does not make sense.
So, what do I eat in a day?
I’m one of those who truly needs to break the fast. Unless I had a very late or very heavy dinner, I generally wake up ready to eat. I usually have cereal, for example rice flakes, sorghum (wonderfully tasty and completely gluten free) or millet flakes (occasionally oats). I make it more interesting by adding hazelnuts or almonds, dates, raisins, cinnamon. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of coconut oil or tahini for extra flavour and oil. Occasionally I might have muesli and yogurt.
On weekends if I meet a friend for brunch I might treat myself to scrambled eggs on sourdough, or perhaps some pancakes (yum!) I usually have a cup of tea for breakfast and I add almond milk or coconut milk (quite easy to make yourself if you have a blender). I don’t have a particular dairy intolerance but I now prefer the taste of non-dairy alternatives.
This will heavily depend on where I am and what I’m doing. If I want to stay healthy in an office job I might have lunch on the go from a high street chain. I try to find food that is warm and nourishing since it sets me up well for the afternoon. I find my body in general doesn’t like cold food very much, unless it’s a very hot summer’s day.
If I’m meeting someone for lunch, I might have a nourishing soup with bread (if good quality) and butter or whatever else I fancy on the menu.
If I’m at home, more often than not I’ll have leftovers from a previous dinner, or perhaps I’ll just make a mix of chickpeas, feta cheese, perhaps an avocado, sweetcorn, olives, whatever is available, add some basil, olive oil, perhaps rocket leaves, a squeeze of lime, salt and pepper and voila! Add a couple of rice cakes with butter if I need extra calories.
After lunch I might have a cup of tea as well and if I feel like something sweet I’ll have a cheeky teaspoon of almond butter with a couple of dates. Delicious!
If I’m eating out I love a good fish and chips occasionally, I also love oriental food, good quality pub food etc.
At home, my easy and go-to meal is to chop up all the fresh organic delivery veg I receive and roast it in the oven. I serve this with pearl barley or rice or another grain, which I mix with beans e.g. chickpeas or kidney beans.
I love making fresh dahl with rice and add cooked veg. Such a simple meal and yet so nourishing.
For years one of my favourite dishes was roasted butternut risotto. Very easy to make and very tasty too.
Or a good noodle soup. Chop lots of fresh veggies in a big pot, add ginger, tamari sauce, rice or egg noodles, water, fresh coriander, and Bob is truly your uncle. Or a noodle stir fry.
Occasionally I might make a Spanish omelette or some kind of frittata.
I will usually have a warm drink after dinner to relax my body, ready for bed.
Ever wondered what a personal trainer eats in a day? How do they stay so lean and fit? Sundried ambassador Matt Boyles talks us through what he eats in a day.
Breakfast - Protein Shake
Some people take a while to recover their appetite in the morning, but as soon as I open my eyes I’m ravenous and I’m always thinking about food. As a Personal Trainer, I have to be up early to train clients, so I need something convenient that feeds me and my muscles without needing to get up two hours early to chew and digest it. Because of that, I usually start with a high calorie, high protein, high carb Mass Gainer shake. It tastes delicious and delivers the macros and energy I need to get me through three consecutive sessions on Clapham Common from 6.15am. I also add in some fibre in the form of 5g of Psyllium husks and top it off with 3g of Creatine.
I’m always studying and researching health, fitness and mindset as I know I don’t have all the answers. Over the summer, I’ve specifically been using flexible dieting on myself, and introducing the concept to various clients.
Flexible dieting means eating set ratios of protein, carbs and fats each day, keeping to an overall calorie target too. It was surprisingly easy to fit into my life, just using a food diary to track what I eat, getting better at hitting my numbers each day.
What this means is I can eat what I want, as long as it fits into my macros. Not that I’m advocating eating 3,000 calories of ice cream, it's within reason! I apply the 80:20 rule to the quality of food I eat (80% of it is good quality, healthy stuff, 20%... is less so), but it means that if I do want to eat something ‘bad’ I can, as long as I keep an eye on my tracker.
When I’m on it and being really good, I’ll prep lots of meals on Sunday night so they’re always to hand and this means I don’t have to make any stressful decisions when I’m hungry. Plus, I know what’s gone into them, so they’re traceable.
Lunch - Sushi Box
I believe I invented sushi boxes! Very simply, you cook up some sushi rice, buy some sushi-grade fish, then line a Tupperware box with Nori seaweed, chuck in the rice, chuck in the fish (chopped into chunks for convenience), chuck in half an avocado (also chopped up), pop some wasabi in the corner and you’re done! (My Japanese client says I haven’t invented these and they’ve been around for years, but what does she know).
Three of these boxes will keep me going during the day.
If I’m going to the gym for me, I’ll also have a post workout shake, containing 50g of whey protein, 500ml of skimmed milk, a squeeze of honey and 3g of creatine.
Dinner - Home cooked meal
My partner Tom and I will alternate turns cooking. Generally it will follow the formula I’ve applied all day: good protein, good carbs, some veg. However Tom is French, so there will also usually be some bread and cheese on the table, but you know, everything in moderation!
John started his sporting life as a swimmer but soon found his love for triathlon and Ironman racing. He tells us what he eats in a day to fuel his intense training.
What I have for breakfast depends on what time of day I am waking up. If I'm in the pool for 6am then I'm often not particularly hungry and a banana and/or a cereal bar does the job to start the day.
If I'm coaching for 7am then I will have a bowl of granola or porridge – something a bit more nutrient- and calorie-dense that can fill me up until lunchtime. If I don't have morning clients then a real treat for me is to make scrambled eggs and maybe some smoked salmon.
The snacks that I eat throughout the day could be anything from biscuits to cereal bars to recovery shakes or bars post-training.
This tends to be bagels, sandwiches, or leftover dinner. I like to have something simple and easy and hopefully, something that I can carry around or pick up on the fly.
This depends on how busy I am. On busy weeks, I might batch-cook a big chilli con carne, chicken casserole, or baked salmon – something that I can box up and heat up for lunches or dinner.
If I have a little more time then I enjoy taking that time to cook something a little nicer. My favourites are risotto or curry (my grandparents are Indian); my view is that food is a social thing just as much as fuel!
As an endurance athlete, my diet is mixed, balanced, but overall fairly high in energy. Personally, I never really worry too much about my intake because I enjoy my fruit and vegetables and they tend to bulk out any meal.
I'm one of those people who prefers healthy food to junk. I will buy an apple as a treat to eat on the way home from the supermarket. I'll say no to a packet of crisps or sweets 9 out of 10 times because I don't fancy them. So, unsurprisingly, I find it quite easy to eat healthily.
I run, swim, cycle (separately and as part of triathlon), play hockey, snowboard and recently I've started climbing. Each day is variable so I don't have a set routine, but I am good at preparing my food and drink to make sure I have everything I need.
I’ve been vegetarian for 23 years, so I’m usually quite careful with my food. My protein intake is my main concern and I can drop weight during a busy season of events if I don’t stay on the ball. It’s more due to not liking meat than an ethical choice and I am not a fan of fish or eggs so it can be quite a struggle sometimes. I’m sure I eat far too much cheese as I have a good excuse!
I work full-time and am often away from home, which means restrictions on what I get to eat. But that's real life and I'm not going to stress too much if I have a day of, let's call it, 'less virtuous' eating. My husband is not vegetarian and is a fan of a takeaway so I do join in with that. I use energy drinks when training, but I've struggled to find recovery products that I enjoy so I generally eat real food. My hockey team laugh when I get my lunchbox out post-match on a Saturday!
I know most people say this, but I eat porridge for breakfast. Often I’ll add a banana but my favourite topping is Greek yogurt and honey. If it’s a race day or a weekend then that is a definite but on a week day, I’m eating breakfast at 6 am before dashing to work so I usually don’t have time to let it cool down enough. Then I’ll have a cereal combo of wholegrain oat biscuits, muesli, and granola with skimmed milk. I'm not a coffee drinker but I have to have two cups of green tea before I can face heading out of the door.
If I have run or cycled to work, I'll eat a second breakfast when I arrive which is usually toast with marmite or peanut butter. Most days I'll also grab some fruit – an apple, banana, orange or whatever we have in. I'm lucky that we have a kitchen at work so I can make anything I fancy. I'm not a lover of chocolate (yes that is possible) but I do like a biscuit with a cup of tea.
My lunch can be quite varied thanks to the work kitchen. I'll have anything from leftovers to soup or baked beans but more often than not I'll have a cheese sandwich. If it's the weekend, my husband and I might make homemade bread as a treat.
For dinner I'll eat various vegetarian dishes, which are always made from scratch. I'll make sure there are at least five different vegetables and if possible, also beans, pulses and lentils. Mostly my dinner will be pasta, stir fry, fajitas, scrambled eggs, cottage pie, curry or pizza.
I try to eat dinner before evening training sessions as I'm really distracted if I'm hungry. Dessert is usually Greek yogurt with honey and blueberries to bump up my protein intake. If I have an evening session, I'll save this to eat afterwards as a recovery snack.
I'd be lying if I tried to claim teetotal status. Life is all about moderation. If I'm doing a big event, I'll have very little alcohol in the run up, but over the years I've realised that one beer or one glass of wine on a Saturday night is not going to derail all of my training plans. If there's a wedding or a birthday party, I'm going to join in! But often I'll just opt to be the designated driver so everyone is happy.
Favourite post-event food
This has got to be salt and vinegar crisps and a shop bought cheese and onion sandwich with mayonnaise.