Olympic nutritionist reveals the secrets to elite success

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Yagi Studio
Getty | Yagi Studio

Related tags SANSE Sports nutrition recovery athletes

Working as a nutritionist for some of the leading athletes in the world is always going to be a challenge, but COVID brought with it a number of additional hurdles, as will be described during NutraIngredients' Sports and Active Nutrition Summit.

Emma Gardner, lead performance nutritionist for English institute of sport, England men’s cricket and GB Women’s Hockey, is set to speak at NutraIngredients' virtual summit next month (Oct 12-14).

In conversation with the event's key host Nick Morgan, from Sports Integrated, she will discuss the nutritional challenges for the athletes in Team GB and the strategies employed by her team to overcome these.

“Five years ago, in Rio, our biggest challenge was the eight matches in 13 days and how are we going to be able to fuel and recover to be able to perform as well in our gold medal match as we do in the first matches," ​she will reveal.

“In Tokyo, it was a whole different world of potentially 40-odd degree heat and 80% humidity which we are just not used to. So a lot of strategies were built around that.

“Back in 2019, we started our work with heat tolerance testing with the athletes in a heat chamber, looking at core temperature through core temperature pills, putting them under conditions they’re not used to.

“Sadly when COVID hit we could no longer put 20 girls in a heat chamber together so we had to go back to the drawing board.

“We ended up employing individual greenhouses and stuck bikes and steamers in there and did exactly the same thing.”

She explains that one of the main reasons behind all of this heat preparation was to provide the athletes with confidence that they were prepared, psychologically, as well as physically. And this wasn’t the only way in which the nutritionist team utilised psychological strategies.

“We also looked at how we could optimise the breaks to cool them. We looked at strategies that were perceptually beneficial to them as opposed to what methods would actually necessarily changed their core temperatures.

“We did ice lollies with hand cooling, slushies, we played around with menthol and mouth rinse. We found that just by having an ice lolly with hand cooling and a cool towel around the neck decreased core temperature by a degree in two minutes which we didn’t expect to see.”

As part of her interview, Gardner will explain what supplements the athletes were given in order to support their immunity and their gut health throughout the Olympic season.

She will also discuss what it’s like going into the games in a bio-secure environment.

“It was a huge logistical challenge. If we break it down, one of the highest risk environments for COVID cross-contamination is a dining hall.

“We always used to do a self-serve buffet and all of a sudden it had to become served, so the first week was spent trying to explain to our Japanese colleagues how much a portion of food is for a heavy weight rower versus a portion for the next athlete.

“Then there were the many cleaning processes like self-clearing of plates and wiping of tables – there were a lot of things to consider.”

The virtual stage is set for some of the industry's biggest names to speak at NutraIngredients' annual Sports and Active Nutrition Summit. But don’t take our word for it! Take a sneaky peak at the agenda​ and check out how you can register​.

The event will take place from October 12-14, with two sessions each day - 10.30am to 12.30 CET (9.30am to 11.30 BST) followed by 3pm to 5pm CET (2pm to 4pm BST).

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