Interview | Alex Danson MBE
Alex Danson MBE has enjoyed an incredible 12 months for England & Great Britain Hockey. One of the star players in the Rio 2016 Final (watched by 9 million people in Britain alone), she drove the team on to an unexpected Gold medal (after picking up herself a Bronze in 2012). In recognition of such a stellar season, Alex was shortlisted for the FIH World Player of the Year.
We got the chance to quiz Alex, who has been playing Hockey at the international level since 2001, on her nutrition, and how she fuels herself before and after big games.
Alex, before you compete, do you eat much, or do you prefer to compete on an empty stomach? What did you have before the final in Rio? "I always eat a meal about three hours before a game, high in carbs and protein. If it is available I head for a jacket potatoe with cottage cheese, a vegetable and hummus wrap or oat cakes and peanut butter with banana on top".
So, do you eat as soon as you finish competing then? "I always have a protein shake and a high protein bar or couple of pieces of fruit. It's important to get these in early to aid recovery".
Can you snack much when you are competing/at half time? "I use protein bars and shakes for recovery and at half time I will sometimes reach for a carbo gel to keep my energy supplies topped up".
Does your diet change much in and out of season? "Because our season more or less goes all year around now I am pretty good with my diet and try to maintain a good balance. We normally get three or four weeks off in September and in this time I may lower my carb intake and increase my protein. As well as allowing myself the odd treat!"
What does a non-hockey training session look like? Are you in the gym a lot? "We lift in the gym three times a week. We also have off feet conditioning sessions that we do on a watt bike. To ensure I'm looking after my body I will also do one hot yoga session a week".
How important is hydration when you are playing? "Essential, we have bottles pitch side and will be constantly sipping throughout a game".
What is the most common meal in your household? "Faijitas or Thai green curry!"
Do you have a cheat meal or drink? "I love a home made veggie pizza".
What food(s) do you avoid? "I'm a vegetarian so I obviously don't eat meat or fish, I also try to avoid foods that are fried or very high in fat".
Do you have a favourite place to compete or train? "I love competing at our home venue at the Lee Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre on Olympic park. It's our fortress and brings back the most magical memories from the 2012 Olympics".
How do you stay motivated? "I look at my team mates, they work hard day in day out and when I struggle they pull you through. The thought of trying to recreate success and help our game grow also keeps me hugely inspired".
Is there an athlete (or anyone) you look up to or who inspires you? "I have two:
Baroness Sue Campbell because she is the greatest advocate for the role and power PE and sport can have in a young persons life. Also Serena Williams is an athlete I look up to, she's powerful and driven and has succeeded time and time again at the top level".
What is it really like behind-the-scenes? Before you stepped-up to compete in Rio, was it all beaches & relaxing, or were you in the gym away from it all? "It was diligent and deliberate, every waking decision and behaviour was geared towards our next game. I didn't see a beach the whole time I was in Rio".
What does a standard day of training look like for you? "We normally have one or two pitch sessions a day of two hours each and then a gym session as well. In between times we can work with our nutritionist, sports psych and video analyst to make improvements in our game".
Do you have any 'game-day' rituals or superstitions? "I always spin my stick 15 times in the huddle before the game".
For a lot of athletes I've spoken to, the fame that comes with their success is sometimes unexpected, and often difficult to manage; how have you coped with the attention that you've received since Rio? "I think the most spectacular side of returning home was that everyone was talking about our whole team and not individuals. I feel very proud of that and having the opportunity to share our story about 31 women and staff has been very special. For now though, it's time to move on and look forward, to see what we can now recreate and set our targets towards Tokyo".
What has been your best hockey experience so far? "My first Cap in 2001 and winning Olympic Gold in Rio".
What goes through your mind when you step out at the Olympics? When you came away with the Gold, was it relief, elation? "It was a pure feeling of being content and proud and a renewed belief that with hard work, dedication and an incredible group of people, dreams really can come true".
Alex Danson is a sporting ambassador for Meridian Foods, the UK’s leading producer of nut butters. Meridian’s nut butters are natural, contain no palm oil and provide an excellent source of protein and energy. Follow Alex on twitter here.