Interview | Ellen Barber

Ellen Barber is fast gaining a reputation as one of the brightest British stars coming through in athletics at the moment. Last year, Ellen was ranked 2nd in the country in the Heptathlete & was the English Schools Champion. Already, a number of her PB's would have placed her well ahead of other International athletes who competed in Rio 2016, most notably in the Javelin.

We had a few moments with Ellen to quiz her on her diet & nutrition...

You're competing over two days; how do you recover & refuel overnight? "I normally have an ice bath when I get back (if available), if it isn’t available then I would try use the “hot and cold” combination where I would run the shower on cold for 2 minutes and then hot for 2 minutes. I then would roll out using my Pulse-roll for about 10 minutes and make sure I do appropriate stretches to reduce tightness. 

Food-wise, meals have to contain light (easily digestible) meat like chicken or fish so I get a good source of protein for repairing my muscles. Then with the protein, I would have a carbohydrate based food (preferably wholegrain) such as brown rice/pasta, this is so it is digested at a slower rate than lets say white rice. Then, obviously, some vegetables/salad on the side to add vitamins and fibre. I make sure that I take lots of water and add hydration tablets to the water, as after a day of competing I would have lost a lot of electrolytes". 

How important is sleep/food/drink to your recovery? "Sleep is very important, I would normally get an early nights sleep if competing next day. A normal routine would be getting into the hotel (or place where I am staying), have dinner/main meal and then go to my room, watch tv and relax, and make sure I get a good nights sleep.

Food choice, I think, is essential for recovery. To help recovery I would have a meal containing some sort of protein, or maybe take a supplement such as SIS protein gel to aid the recovery process straight after (within 30 mins) of my last event on day 1/2. Then carbohydrate is important as-well so I don't get fatigued, so again pasta/rice/couscous etc to make sure I have a good supply of energy for the next day. I like to stay very hydrated before, during and after competition, so I would have a water bottle with me at all times and fill it up constantly". 

How do you balance fuelling such diverse disciplines? "To balance fuelling throughout the day I would have a good breakfast, such as porridge/granola, fruit and some yoghurt. During competition I find it quite challenging eating big meals; because I get nervous/excited I don't have a huge appetite. To resolve this problem I will have SIS energy gels before an event, as they are quick and easy/don't make you feel sick and they work miracles as they give off loads of fast releasing carbohydrate. If there is a huge gap in between events such as High jump and shot-put, then I would have a banana and some pre-made pasta. Throughout the other events I have small granola bars, and then some jelly babies for some quick sugar. But overall for me personally, I try to have quite light foods but foods that would give off the right amount of nutrients". 

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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? "For breakfast I would normally go with porridge or granola with some yoghurt and fruit (banana) as it gives off enough energy to get me going through the day, but it doesn't sit in my stomach".

What do you eat during or immediately after competing (if at all)? "During, I will have pre-cooked pasta or cereal bars as well as SIS Gels and some sugary sweets. Immediately after I would have a protein based supplement such as SIS Protein Gel".

What are your thoughts on protein shakes & bars? "If I cant get to a food source quick enough then I think that protein supplements are a good choice. I would go for something that is purely protein based, so would avoid high fat/sugar/carb calorific bars and go for something that has generally straight protein in it". 

What is your cheat meal? "My cheat meal is every Saturday night, and would normally consist of pizza or a good Nando's. If I don't go for a savoury meal then I would have something sweet such as brownie, chocolate/ice cream. But it would be one or the other".

What is the most common meal you rely on in your household? "My most common meal would be tuna/salmon/chicken salad with lots of vegetables such as cucumber, beetroot, and some couscous depending on the session the next day. I also love stir fry's as they are so easy to do but taste so good. I sometimes have my family’s cheese on the side, as my dad tends to send up so much cheese when I am at University I don't know what to do with it!"

How important is hydration? "Hydration for me is key for performance. I like to bring a bottle around with me all the time, especially in lectures as it keeps me drinking. Then I make sure I have at least two bottles worth of water during training. After training I like to take hydration tablets again to restore electrolyte balance". 

Are there any foods you actively avoid? "I try and avoid pastry based foods because they are so yummy but I just cant eat them. Anything in general that is really high in fat and oil i stay away from. I don't have any sort of pre-made food found in supermarkets as they are normally bad for you. I tend to eat lots of fresh fruit and salad, and then bigger meals I like to make everything from scratch".

Do you eat much or snack in the gym? "I don't tend to snack in the gym, just recovery gel afterwards. During the day if I do snack, it would be of nuts or dried fruit. But I tend to stay away from snacking".

Do you have any pre-competition superstitions or rituals? "I don't really have any superstitions or rituals, but I do have specific routines I do a week coming up to competition like drinking lots of water, stretching every night". 

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