Aussie Imogen Russell had been making huge waves in junior athletics down under until a navicular stress fracture meant she had to sit the 2017/18 season out. The silver lining of this setback is that it has given Imogen some excellent first hand experience of having to fuel herself as an elite athlete, and as someone coming back from an extensive injury/break.
We had a few moments with Imogen to quiz her on her diet & nutrition...
Ahead of a competition, what sorts of food/snacks are you having & when? "Usually when I compete (going off last season when I wasn’t injured) I would have breakfast such as oatmeal and fruit in the morning and then lighter meals or snacks depending on what time I race.
e.g for competitions with multiple events (heats/finals/relays/carnivals/etc) I have snacks during the day such as bananas and kiwi fruit.
e.g for a comp in the afternoon I would have an early light lunch, like toast with peanut butter (the brand I use is Mayvers which is just peanuts)."
What do you eat after competing? Can you treat yourself? "The coaches I have been with have never put me on a serious diet or meal plan before but I chose to eat ‘clean’ or healthy foods myself. I like the idea I’ve seen some athletes follow, having a treat meal when they PB, I might do this but my treat meal would probably be something like a blue dinosaur paleo bar (which isn’t bad!) or maybe loving earth chocolate!"
What are your thoughts on protein bars & shakes? "I've never really included these into my diet, I prefer to get my protein sources in my meals from whole foods e.g eggs/chicken but I think protein shakes are a good source of protein. I recently started using a protein powder, but I only have it every now and then to change up my protein source in a meal, I don’t regularly have it. Protein bars are different as they are often in bar that is packed with loads of ingredients I wouldn’t want to eat. However protein powders are great because you can put them in a shake with fruit, mix it with water, mix it with oats; they are pretty versatile. I like to mix my protein (unflavoured whey) with frozen bananas and cacao powder to make ‘nice cream’ (like healthy chocolate ice cream) as a breakfast option. I have also tried a fair share of proteins which I haven’t ever stuck to, I tried hemp protein but it tasted feral".
Do you eat much at the gym/after the gym? "I don’t eat at the gym but I usually will have a meal straight after, depending on what time of day I go (I’ll either go before breakfast, lunch or dinner so I can eat straight after) - If i was uninjured I would be going early morning as track training is in the afternoons (probably before or straight after breakfast)."
What does a runners gym session look like for you (lots of weights, or cardio, or a mix)? "Throughout being inured my coach (at the time) gave me a lot of strength work with weights with the aim of developing strength and power. While I was on crutches for a few months I did a lot of upper body work as well as one legged exercises, e.g single leg press, shoulder press, rear delts, etc. Since I haven’t been running I have also included cardio work on the bike in the gym to maintain some fitness."
What is your cheat meal? "I don’t really have a cheat meal anymore, I actually prefer healthy options and I crave healthy foods. I love blue dinosaur paleo bars which isn’t exactly a ‘cheat’ but they would be my treat I have. My ultimo favourite meal are my healthy pancakes which I talk about in more detail below."
What meal(s) do rely on the most at home? Do you have a favourite recipe? "I have a lot of salads with heaps of vegetables, a protein source (either chicken, salmon or eggs) and sweet potato for lunches and dinner is often similar with veggies, a protein source and maybe brown rice or sweet potato. My favourite meal of the day is definitely breakfast and I do have a favourite recipe!!! My healthy pancakes (I look forward to these every time I go to sleep) which I make by blending a banana, 1/3 cup of oats and 2 eggs to make the batter and then I top them with fruit (blueberries and nectarine are my favourite) and a nut spread! (Mayvers brand again) They’re soooo delicious."
How important is hydration at your level? "I drink a lot of water, around 4 litres a day. When I have long training sessions where I may sweat a lot I like to have coconut water (I don’t drink sports drinks so I like to have coconut water instead as it has natural electrolytes) and I love the taste of it! I also drink tea a lot, mainly green tea and camomile and pepper mint. Being in such a hot climate i would say hydration is very important, there have been lots of training sessions in 40+ degree weather which makes training a lot more painful especially as you become dehydrated, so good hydration is really important. I can think of a few comps where I’ve felt sick during warm up because of the heat (almost every nationals is at a really hot time). At Australian all schools in Canberra I sweat so much in my warm up that I got really shaky and dehydrated and Michelle Jenneke was one of out team managers and she wet her puma towel and put it on me (I was fan girling inside [laughing]) so I could cool down. Another time in Perth before the relays it was so hot we had ice packs in the call room on us (we were trying to cool down instead of warming up it was so hot). So it is really important to stay hydrated".
Do you have any pre-competition rituals? "I have a few which sometimes change a bit, I haven’t competed in a while since being injured but from what I remember I usually do the following:
I always wear my good comp undies, sports bra and compression socks, I plait my ponytail and I like to have a banana in the day before I race (either as a snack or in a meal). Depending on the comp I also like to do something relaxing the night before, like watch a TV show or movie which also takes my mind off being nervous (since athletics season is in summer which is school holidays - I just graduated from school recently - theres often a lot of free time to chill out)."
Do you have a favourite place to compete in? "My favourite competition was running at Australian juniors in Perth, the meet had a really good atmosphere and I really enjoyed travelling with my dad there, it was one of my favourite trips ever, so I really like Perth".
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