Q&A | Ocean Lewis

We came along to the Curtain in London, to chat with exciting sprint athlete, and model Ocean Lewis. Ocean trains in East London with Chris Zhah, the 2013 European Coach of the year who was responsible for turning Perri Shakes-Drayton into a European & World beating 400m runner. Alongside her career as an athlete, Ocean has spent time modelling for some of the biggest brands in the UK and the World, including Adidas, Nike, Supply & Demand, and ASOS, plus got a piece about her recently in Vogue.

Ocean, thank you for taking some time out to speak to The Performance Kitchen. We've spoken to a few athletes and models in the past, and all have touched upon how different it is, eating for performance and eating to be a magazine cover model; so firstly, let's go through what you have on race day... 

“On race day…it’s important to get there early as you’re with your team and the team coach….I’m usually there at 8:00am, even though my distance, [the sprint distances] don’t start until about 11:30, with maybe another race at 2:00pm. So in the morning, I’ll usually have porridge or Weetabix, and throughout the day – and this is just me personally – I can’t eat a lot on the day of a competition, so I might just go for a chicken salad, or maybe just have some fruit. Actually, I also eat a lot of gummy bears, then just the usual gels and everything like that… I hate the feeling, of feeling full whilst I’m running. I know some athletes that love it, and can eat loads in the morning and the night before, but I cannot do that, I have to feel… light.

I’ll eat all my carbohydrates the night before. So something like a tuna pasta, and throughout the whole day before I’ll have quite carb-y food. I’m not a big fan or carbs, but the day before a competition, you have to take them on-board.”

That's interesting that you mention gummy bears, behind the scenes in the Performance Kitchen we were speaking with ballerina Olivia Cowley who said that in-between shows, she has loads of gummy bears, jelly babies and other sweets, do you tend to snack between races or heats?

I don’t know exactly the reason why, I just remember my mum saying that, ‘you’ve got to eat gummy bears, it’s lots of energy!’. During a marathon lots of people give out sweets, and sweet-gels and wine gums and stuff, so there must be something in it… all I know is that my mum told me to eat them.”

A number of athletes we've spoken to mention the importance of hydration; is this important to you as an athlete and a model?

“Yes. I am I going to the toilet constantly [when racing]!! I’ll have these little electrolyte tablets that dissolve in water, about half an hour before a race – I’ll down that, then I’ll try not to drink anything else. Usually I’m quite nervous, so I'll get dry-mouth, so I’m drinking loads & loads. I think the electrolyte drink really helps; it’s not like having a Red Bull, it a much more slow-release of energy, you can really feel it.”

Do you find that your diet changes much between winter & summer training? Can you take it easier during the season?

"I definitely eat more in the winter, because the sessions are more demanding. During the winter period, I’ll have, say, 8 x 200m runs or 5 x 300m runs whereas in summer I’ll be doing 3 x 150m runs ‘on the money’ – as fast as you can. Even though you are putting your maximum effort into the short sprints, it doesn’t leave you as hungry as when you do the longer runs. Also it’s cold, so you eat more comfort food too!"

As mentioned above, some athletes have talked about the difference between eating to perform, and eating to be a cover model; as someone that lives in both worlds, do you notice a difference? Is there a huge difference in what you eat on race days and modelling days?

“I would say I’ve made easy mistakes in the past. I’m still quite new to the idea of having to look good on a shoot. Doing lots of sports shoots, I’ve come to realise that eating certain foods will make you bloat a lot. One shoot I was on in Berlin, I was drinking loads of tea because it was outside and it wads freezing. They just kept giving us tea after tea after tea, and then I looked down and I was so bloated I looked pregnant! I hadn’t eaten anything! So I try now to avoid hot drinks on shoots, and eating stuff that is really carby. Usually at a lot of shoots they have healthy options because they want to encourage everyone to eat and be healthy.

If I did find out I was going to be on the cover of Womans Health though, the month before I’d be hammering the ab-workouts and living on leaves to get shredded [laughing]!! I know what I would need to do to get that cover model look, but I wouldn’t want to do it long term because it’s unhealthy”.

Actually, I also eat a lot of gummy bears, then just the usual gels and everything like that…
— Ocean Lewis

Are you eating or snacking much during or after your gym sessions?

“I’ll eat after the gym… maybe at the gym I’ll have a banana in my bag, that might have been in there for too long, but usually I’ll only eat after the gym. Luckily I don’t live too far [from the gym or track] so I’ll usually eat dinner within an hour of training. Also I’ll have my recovery drink straight after the gym. Sometimes you can go too hard during training, and you can feel nauseous because of the lactic build-up, which can put you off eating – so I try not to eat too much after training, even though I really should be eating more to replace the energy burned. But that’s just me, I can’t eat tonnes after training.

The following morning though, that’s when the hunger kicks in! I always eat loads in the mornings”.

They just kept giving us tea after tea after tea, and then I looked down and I was so bloated I looked pregnant! I hadn’t eaten anything
— Ocean Lewis

What does a gym session look like for you as a runner and a model? Does your workout as a runner lend itself to modelling or do you have to add/remove certain elements from your workout to suit what you have coming up?

“So even though I’m a sprinter, I don’t really look very defined; even when I run, I’m not a powerful runner, I’m more of a gliding runner, I keep the same pace the whole way over 200m. So I’m really not defined or toned, which works well for both modelling and athletics.

So because I’m not really wide, or really toned I’m quite light and in modelling terms, if you are incredibly toned that narrows it down to what sort of jobs you can and can’t do. Even though I do do a lot of sports [modelling] jobs, I also get a lot of jobs that are more fashion based, because I just look like someone that just works-out. Like an everyday person, but slightly more defined [laughing].

I wouldn’t want to be incredibly defined, nor would I want to be incredibly skinny. I quite like where I’m at now; I feel like, because of my body shape – especially my legs – I don’t have huge thighs, but I do have runners-legs – I feel that when I do go to more fashion based jobs I represent girls who are like that, which is nice because lots of models… their legs are like pins, there's nothing to them. I think, you can eat normally, you can exercise normally and still get that job”

So what meals do you rely on the most at the moment? As breakfast is such a big part of your nutrition, presumably you must have a few favourite breakfast meals?

“At the moment, I am loving granola, yoghurt and fruit. Sometimes I’ll make this dish… it’s sweet potato, kale mushrooms and egg and I’ll just bake it all together which is really quick and easy (funninly enough, this is the same meal USA Rugby League International Mark Offerdahl made in our kitchen).

You don’t even have to make an effort with seasoning or sauces, it just tastes good. I’m also really into this tuna and chickpea salad I created; I just put everything that I have in my fridge into it. Wham it all into a big bowl, and eat it all".

Do you have a cheat meal? A lot of athletes talk about how much they love ice cream…

“Ice cream, really? I’m actually lactose intolerant. I have vegan yoghurt, so it’s only really ice cream that I avoid. I’m ok with chocolate… well, I force myself to be ok with it!! I’m not letting that one go. I’m also ok with eggs, but that’s about it.

So my cheat meal is something from Wagamama’s, maybe Yaki Soba. I love it. It’s not that unhealthy… well, that’s what I tell myself".

Aside from things with lactose in them, is there anything else you avoid?

"I don’t drink fizzy drinks, and I don’t tend to have in my house… I don’t really have snacks. So I’m always forced to cook a meal, and it’s in the back of my mind that I’ve only got vegetables in the house. At some of my friends houses though, it’s like I’m in heaven because their cupboards are full of chocolates, biscuits, and crisps! I try to avoid that stuff, but sometimes I treat myself. If [things like crisps and chocolate] was in my cupboard I’d probably eat it.

Recently, maybe in the last year, I’ve gone off meat. I’m not really interested in being vegan… I just don’t like the taste [of meat]. I’ve gone off chicken, and red meat so I only really eat fish now. But after a bad experience of food poising through fish in Thailand at Christmas, I’ve gone off most of that too. All I’ve been eating recently is loads of tuna, and mushrooms are a good substitute for chicken I think.

Because there are so many vegan options out there it’s been quite easy to substitute stuff, so I never feel like I’m deprived – as an athlete you’re supposed to eat a lot of protein & stuff. I’ve been eating loads of pulses, chickpeas, and stuff like that".

Also a hockey ball. Because they’re so hard, they’re better than carrying a foam roller around, just to get into niggles into your hamstring to loosen it up
— Ocean Lewis

Stepping away from nutrition for a moment, I ask every athlete if they have any pre-race rituals... are you one for always putting your left sock on first? Or only drinking from a blue bottle?

"I don’t really have any, however, I do find that… my eyebrows have to be done before a race. Sometimes they aren’t and I’ll blame that for why I had a bad race. I just feel like once my eyebrows are done, I’m a new woman and that brings me confidence. Also, a lot of girls on the track, not everyone but most, do wear lots of make-up, because it makes them feel good which gives them confidence".

In your gym bag, do you have any items you cannot live without?

"I always have weight lifting gloves, the skin on my hands is so rubbish – even if the weight isn’t that heavy, my hands blister and rip so easily, and it ends up being so painful. Also a hockey ball. Because they’re so hard, they’re better than carrying a foam roller around, just to get into niggles into your hamstring to loosen it up. A lot of people in my training group have hockey balls in their bags".

Lets talks about your modelling career - being a model is something a lot of people aspire to, but few really know the ins and outs. How long are you typically on a shoot for each day, just a couple of hours?

"Oh no, whatever you’re doing, you’ll be there all day. Usually it's 0800-1800, and I think a lot of people under-estimate how hard you have to work as a model. A lot of people will say. ‘oh you’re born that way, you just have to stand still’, but it’s hard – harder than a training session sometimes. In training you’re putting maximum effort into a short space of time, but with modelling you have to be on-it the whole day, and you have to make sure your expressions are right: you could be absolutely knackered, but you have to make sure you look alert and exactly as they want. Plus you have to stand around all day, and its very draining mentally and physically".

So what is a typical day, arrive at 0800, get your make-up done...?

"So let’s say for e-com, which is stuff you’ll see online with a white background... that can get a bit tedious if you don’t have a fun team around you, because you’re changing into 60 outfits per day, and it’s very repetitive, and draining – if you don’t have a nice team around you, it can be awful.

I do a lot of these shoots in Manchester where a lot of the brands are based; brands like prettylittlethings, MissPap, Missguided, Boohoo. A lot of the teams, and northerners in general are very funny, so it’s easy to go and work up there".

Recently you were profiled in Vogue, who were super keen to hear a lot about your hair... so, do you have any hair-care tips?

"Just be born with good hair [laughing]. I would say less is more when it comes to curly hair. A lot of girls get obsessed with these hair tutorials, and whatever, but if you do too much you’ll strip your hair of its natural oils. With my hair, all I do I’ll spritz a little water & conditioner over it – once a day for a week and you’re done. When it gets a bit knotty, de-tangle with conditioner – these really no secret to it. I mean, try everything and do what works for you really.

I’ve only ever been asked to change my hair once, and I was asked to straighten it when I was a body double for Rita Ora. Basically she was doing some advert, and they needed a stand-in to arrive before her, so they could sort out the lighting and stuff and make it perfect for her, so I had to do a whole shoot that never went anywhere. Straight hair made me look a lot more mature, and older, but my curly hair is one of the reason people book me".

Keep up to date with Oceans running & modeling careers on instagram here.