US athlete Chantae McMillan has been a top athlete, at every level, for almost her entire life. Whilst at High School in Rolla, she was the double Long-jump champion for the state of Missouri, before she headed to Nebraska and was talked into taking up the Heptathlon.
An accomplished athlete in a lot of disciplines, Chantae excelled in the Heptathlon; becoming the four-time Big 12 Conference Champion, and picking up All America Honours.
This is incredible athleticism and discipline dovetailed, and she won a spot on the U.S. team for the London Olympics in 2012. Although succumbing to the Flu just prior to the Games, Chantae still finished a respectable 29th. Since then, although just missing out on a spot in Rio, Chantae has become an established figure in International athletics, and was a featured athlete in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue.
We were lucky enough to speak with Chantae about how she, as a professional athlete, fuels her performances at the elite level.
Thank you for taking some time to speak with us Chantae; if you eat before competing, what sort of meals or recipes do you go for, or do you tend to compete on an empty stomach? "There is no way I could compete on an empty stomach as a heptathlete! I make sure I eat something! I have eaten anything from scrambled eggs and oatmeal to a crappy option of fruit loop cereal at hotels. I like how filling and plain oatmeal is, so it's usually my go to".
Since the Heptathlon is so physically demanding, do you eat during or immediately after a competition? "I am eating all day though competition. I keep natural/non-gmo protein bars with me, as well as bananas, sometimes trail mix. I force myself to eat a big meal after day 1 of the heptathlon, but I find it hard. Then, it is very hard for me to eat after day 2 of the heptathlon because my body shuts down my appetite after such a long workout".
Protein bars & shakes are everywhere in professional & amateur sports; what are your thoughts on supplements? "I do not like getting my nutrients from protein bars and shakes. I would rather eat real food with those nutrients and amounts of protein I need. I drink protein shakes and eat bars when I am short on time, in the middle of practice and need some energy quick, or just being lazy".
Everyone loves a good, unhealthy cheat meal; what is yours? "Cheat meal is eating ice cream. Is that a meal? Either way, I love mint chocolate chip ice cream. Or going to Cracker Barrel and getting french toast".
What is the most common meal you rely on in your household? "Most common meal is making sure I have 3 things on my plate-protein, vegetables, and a good carbs. It is always easy to me to make these things and know that I am getting the nutrients I need to function. Protein choice varies between grass fed beef, salmon, or sometimes chicken, but not so much chicken anymore because I burnt myself out on it in college. Then, I like like tons of vegetables, from sauteed spinach and onions, brussel sprouts, baked cauliflower, sauteed red cabbage. I get carbs from vegetables, but I like eating wild rice for it's benefits or couscous or quinoa!"
How important is hydration in the heptathlon? "Hydration is very important! It becomes very obvious, very quickly through competition when you are not hydrated. Competing for hours leaves a lot of time for error on not eating or drinking enough. Hydration is key for any athlete though, and cell function".
Take me back to London 2012, what were you eating prior to competing there? (Also, do you have any pre-competition superstitions or rituals?) "At the 2012 Olympics, I definitely ate "porridge" before competition! Sadly, I have no pre-meet superstitions or rituals. I just go through the regular prep list and make sure every thing is packed for day 1. I suppose I always go through a checklist of putting my whole outfit on, from uniform, warm up bottom layer, warm up jacket and pants over top. Haha"
You're competing over two days; how do you recover & refuel overnight? "After day 1, I get a good cool down in with a couple laps and dynamic stretching. Then, continue to drink water and some aminos and eat some good food to get the calories in. An ice bath is also involved".
Are there any foods you actively avoid? "I just avoid crap that isn't going to give me sustained energy...nothing particular...I don't like energy drinks, but I have drank espresso in France before events!"
When you play abroad, do you try & take in some of the local cuisine, or do you have to maintain a strict diet? "When I go overseas, two goals while I am there are to eat good food and see good sights. I usually dabble in the local foods after I compete just to be safe if my body doesn't agree with the food!"
Do you eat much or snack in the gym? "I try to get in and out of the gym, since I had already practiced 3-4 hours on the track. I usually grab a snack between the track and the gym, then lift, then eat right after my lift".
You have to be incredibly powerful & strong to compete in the shot put and javelin but also light enough & quick enough to compete in the 100m Hurdles... how do you find the balance in your diet to fuel you for all these events - both in competition & training? "Through discussion with my nutritionist, it was always about just eating enough to stay energized and recover. It is easy for me to make healthy decisions when eating, I just struggled to eat enough! We figured out I was only eating half of what I should have been eating, so I had t work on doubling my intake to help my output be the best. I truly believe it is easy to develop an eating disorder as an athlete and I have never had a disorder, but have been through periods of eating the wrong foods and not eating enough food, which both are bad. I am glad I had help in figuring out how much I need to eat to preform. That knowledge gave me the confidence not to worry about my diet".