Life as a financially-challenged medical student, Team GB multi-sport athlete, London commuter and worker of two part-time jobs that involve being on my feet all shift brings several challenges to ensuring my dietary intake matches my energy expenditure and daily nutritional needs. I have tried low carb, gluten free, low dairy and reduced meat ‘healthy diets’ but all have left me tired, grumpy, food-obsessive and broke.
My current diet is carbohydrate-rich and full of meat, dairy, fruit and veg. My meals are planned generally based on what meat or fish are being sold at a reduced price or on a good offer. I then pair this with whatever vegetables and carbohydrate accompaniments I have to hand. I have a very sweet tooth but instead of depriving myself of cakes, biscuits, puddings etc for the sake of ‘health’, I fit these foods around fuelling for and recovering from training. For example, a few sweets before a running speed work session, a cake stop in the middle of a long training ride or chocolate custard and a banana post evening swim. Finally, I am a serial snacker. My bag is always full of cereal bars, boxes of grapes, almond snack packs and oatcakes. I don’t like to have huge meals and therefore the best way to get enough calories in the day for me is to snack regularly. Additionally, there is nothing worse than a rumbling tummy on ward round, in lectures or before cycling home.
Below is an example of what I would eat on a typical day with two training sessions and 9-5 at university.
Morning pre-swim- 1 banana and a coffee (instant with a splash of milk)
Morning post-swim- Porridge made with skimmed milk, one egg, frozen berries and chia seeds.
Morning Snack- Cereal Bar (whatever brand is currently on offer)
Lunch- Chicken marinated in tandoori paste, spinach, chickpea and lentil mix (bought pre-made) and peas. Followed by a yoghurt (Again I get whatever is on offer) and grapes.
Afternoon Snack- Dark Chocolate rice cakes
Late afternoon/Pre training Snack- 1 pack of gluten free cheese oatcakes
Post Training- Tandoori marinated Chicken, brown rice and veg. Followed by strawberries and yoghurt.
When tapering for a race, offseason or when it’s been raining/icy/snowy and I’ve got the tube instead of cycling, my energy demands are obviously much lower. Therefore, on these days I would cut the number of snacks and lower my volume of carbohydrates throughout the day.
Anna Holmes is a personal trainer in fantastic shape. How does she stay so lean and toned? She tells us what she eats in a typical day.
For breakfast, I usually eat 50g of oats with mixed berries or a banana with dark chocolate chunks. This is my favourite post-workout meal and I have it with a protein shake. It tastes great, especially after a tough training session!
I have a few different favourites that I like to mix up for lunch each day. My two favourites are homemade chicken satay with egg noodles and broccoli and teriyaki salmon with roasted vegetables.
Again, I have two favourites for dinner that I like to mix up throughout the week. These are spicy turkey burgers with Greek yoghurt, mixed salad, and sweet potato wedges, and cauliflower pizza with Cajun chicken, mozzarella, oregano and sweet chilli peppers with some rocket. The sauce is home made sundried tomato!
Personal trainers are allowed dessert too! I have a few healthy treat recipes that I absolutely love, like brownies and pancakes. I make my healthy brownies with sweet potato and dark chocolate and I have my protein pancakes with almond butter, dried cranberries, and sugar-free syrup.
Vanessa is an Australian ultra runner who follows a plant-based diet. She runs long distance races and recently achieved 3rd female overall at the Hume & Hovell 50km ultra trail run. She tells us what she eats to fuel her big training runs and keep her in fighting form for competing over such long distances.
5:30am – Pre-Workout
2 Medjool dates
Hot drink (1 tsp cocoa, ½ tsp instant coffee, 1 tsp coconut sugar, hot water)
6am – Workout
1-2 hour run (no nutrition or water during) on most days
Pilates, yoga and/or walk on rest days (with no coffee on rest days)
8.30am – Breakfast
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables as a salad when the weather is warm, with a small piece of fruit after if I want something sweet.
When it’s a cold day I’ll have 3 x gluten-free Weetabix with 1 tsp cocoa, 1 tbsp dried fruit and nuts, 2 tsp slippery elm powder and hot water stirred into a porridge consistency.
Mid-morning – Snack
I occasionally snack on carrot, celery, apple or orange and drink green tea if I am hungry.
Afternoon – Lunch
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice or sweet potato as a curry, ratatouille, or salad. Afterwards I have berries or citrus if I want something sweet.
I occasionally snack on carrot, celery, apple, orange or Weetabix if I am hungry. Sometimes I have the same hot drink as breakfast around 3pm if I am training in the late afternoon or evening.
5pm – Workout
I do a training run if I didn’t do one in the morning, otherwise it's Pilates, yoga, a walk or Barre class most days.
My dinner is the same sort of thing as lunch: a rainbow of vegetables, greens, rice and legumes most days. Lots of fresh home-grown or market produce, fresh herbs and spices and quick home-made salsa, sauces, pickles, chutneys and dressings. We don’t use any oils for cooking or dressing in our house and my meals are low fat, high nutrients. I have fruit for dessert.
Sometimes in summer I’ll do a smoothie bowl for dinner instead. It’s like cutting straight to dessert!
Bed by 9pm for at least 7-8 hours sleep!
5.30am – Pre-Workout
2 Medjool dates and a couple of teaspoons of seeds or a date and nut bar or bliss ball
Hot drink (1 tsp cocoa, ½ tsp instant coffee, 2 tsp coconut sugar, hot water)
6am – Workout
Up to 7 hours run. My training fuel depends on the weather, but can include Tailwind, Medjool dates, date and nut bars, bliss balls, banana, orange, wholefood gels.
It depends on the time of day but ranges from a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice as a Buddha Bowl, or gluten-free toast and jam with a weak soy cappuccino or soy banana smoothie and/or Tailwind Recovery Shake, or an Acai bowl.
I snack on fruit.
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice or gluten-free pasta as a Buddha Bowl, curry or ratatouille. Medjool dates, smoothie bowl or bliss ball for dessert.
Bed by 8pm for at least 8-10 hours sleep!
About the author: Vanessa Cullen is a plant-based ultra runner from Australia and a Sundried ambassador.
Alanna's mission is to help people live a healthier lifestyle while still enjoying their favourite traditions and allowing food to bring joy. She talks to Sundried about a life in nutrition and shares her top tips.
Have you always been interested in health and nutrition? Tell us about your own health and fitness journey.
I have always been interested in health and fitness. I was an athlete in high school and went into college majoring in biology and exercise science. Once I got married and pregnant, the weight began to pile on and I realized how hard it was to focus on my health and nutrition while creating a family and maintaining a happy marriage. About three years ago, I started focusing on getting myself and my family healthy. After years of working in corporate America, I took the leap to truly follow my passion once again.
What made you decide to become a certified nutritionist?
I love food and I realized that in life and in culture, important moments often center around food. Learning to teach people how to navigate food without giving up traditions and great life experiences was a natural fit. Plus, you can't out-exercise a bad diet!
What has been the most eye-opening thing you have learnt since becoming a nutritionist?
How much misinformation and negative vibes are out there regarding food.
What are the most common myths you would like to debunk about nutrition?
That you cannot eat healthy and "live life" and that there's only one right way to eat.
Do you follow a specific diet yourself? If so, what do you eat and why?
I try to stick to mostly whole foods and vegetables and I avoid dairy – I love it but my stomach does not.
What advice would you give to people to help improve their nutrition?
Start small! We often get excited about change and come up with this huge elaborate plan that we can't maintain once the excitement and motivation wear off. Start by making a small change like adding vegetables to every meal or drinking 8 glasses of water a day.
What are your favourite foods and why?
I love eggs and I eat them pretty much every day. They are a great source of protein, Vitamin B2, selenium, and Vitamin D.
Why work with Sundried?
I bought my first Sundried product in 2019 and the customer service was superb, along with the fact that the products are eco-friendly and reasonably priced. I knew Sundried would be a good fit as I build a career and life centered around holistic wellness.
I am currently away in Asia on a winter break to train and compete. My husband and I base ourselves in Phuket, Thailand so I can train with a local triathlon group and compete in some of the many competitions that are in Asia these days. There are many big differences and changes to living and training here compared to England, and one of the biggest is food. As athletes, we all know how important food is – I'm not the only triathlete that is constantly hungry, am I?
Back in England, almost everything I eat is cooked at home, however out here you can pretty much reverse that as we mostly eat out. We only have a studio apartment here which doesn't have a proper kitchen, just basic fridge and kettle. Plus, it's a lot cheaper to eat out here in Asia!
For me, the most important thing is being able to make our usual breakfast which seems to have become a standard athlete's breakfast....porridge! I am blessed to have a husband who does so much for me to support my sport. He makes all my food so that I can walk in the door from training and have it ready to go.
Most days I have morning and afternoon training sessions, usually starting at 6.40am. I rarely eat before as that suits me, but occasionally when we do long rides (over 150km) I will have a banana or very small bowl of oats first. I also take gels and energy bars with me just in case I need the energy. But whatever happens, I get woken up by a homemade masala chai being put down next to me. I can't function without my morning tea and I've come to love chai before training (maybe because of the little bit of sugar that is in that which I don't have in normal tea!) It gets me out of bed and into training.
As soon as I walk in the door after training, I have my protein drink followed by breakfast. I don't like to leave it long after training to get those down and am usually too hungry to wait anyway!
If my afternoon session is around 4 or 5pm, I will have lunch first, usually at a local vegetarian restaurant. My favourite place is amazing with so many choices and great fresh vegetables. I'm always sure to eat a lot of green leafy vegetables to keep my iron levels up, as well as a good mix of other vegetables to get all the nutrients I need.
I do miss my vegetarian food at home as, apart from tofu (which I don't like), they don't really have many other substitutes here. Although, more and more ‘western’ foods are becoming available and vegetarian/vegan products are growing quickly here.
I eat a lot more rice here than at home, but it is a good carbohydrate as I don't eat potatoes here like I do at home. I love potatoes in any form!
The diet out here suits me fine. I train very hard, race a lot, and have never seemed to struggle or feel like I'm lacking in anything. I do make sure I take a vegetarian supplement every day as I do at home.
I go through a lot of electrolytes here due to the humidity – the sweating is on another level here when you train! If I am about to race, I am careful with my food but not to the point where I deny myself anything, I am just a little more careful.
On a Sunday bakery ride, you can't not have banana bread at the halfway point can you! It's all about balance, that's for sure.
So this is a daily snapshot of what I'm eating out here in Thailand; a world away from my UK day. One of the biggest bonuses.... hardly any washing up!