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Elite Athlete Kitchen – how to eat like a sporting star (VIDEO SERIES)

As the curtain comes down on a fine summer of Olympic and Paralympic sport, many of us will be left feeling inspired by events out in Tokyo.

With many of our athletes competing on the world’s biggest stage, have you ever wondered how they’re fuelled for sporting success? 

Elite Athlete Kitchen, a new mini-series hosted by Loughborough University, brings together a selection of elite athletes, Sports Development Centre’s nutrition team, and Varun Shivdasani, the Head Performance Chef at the Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel.

Here, the experts discuss what is required across various disciplines, including swimming, field sports, sprinting events, and team sports. Varun then works his culinary magic to bring together all the key ingredients to cook a nutritionally balanced recipe fit for a sporting icon.

Loughborough and Great Britain’s Alice Dearing – swimming

“Typically, swimmers train probably at least twice a day,” explains Harriet Bates, Performance Nutritionist.

“It’s high energy needs so it’s really focusing on plenty of carbohydrates, especially first thing in the morning and between sessions as well.

“You’d want some protein in there too to help support muscle adaptations and recovery and plenty of fruit and vegetables to support the immune system.”

Marathon swimmer Alice Dearing – who competed at her first Olympic Games this summer – explained what her go food staple is:

“In terms of performance food, I always go to rice which sounds very boring! It’s a really good carb and is a really good way of getting all the energy in. It can also be made a lot more exciting than people make out.”

Chef’s solution: Salmon Risotto

“I think risotto is one of my all-time favourite foods,” explains Head Performance Chef, Varun Shivdasani.

“I thought it would be a good idea to combine healthy fats in the salmon and it’s a good way to combine all the macros that we needed to support a swimmer.

“The flavours, the smokiness from the salmon and the wild earthiness from the mushrooms, and the texture from the arborio risotto rice is al dente which is very different from traditional rice.”

Loughborough and Ireland’s Chris O’Donnell – sprinting

“Sprinting is a high-powered sport so protein is going to play a really important role there. You’re looking at the higher end of protein so probably 1.8g to 2g per kilogram, making sure it’s in most main meals and having protein snacks throughout the day,” explained Harriet.

Ireland sprinter Chris O’Donnell, who made the Olympic final in the 4x400m mixed relay this summer, agreed:

“Nutrition is very important, pre-session I’d get something light such as a banana, some Jaffa Cakes, dried fruit, something like that…post-session I’d get something quick in like a protein shake or a sandwich, so you’ve got your protein and carbs fast release.”

Chef’s solution: Banana and peanut butter protein shake

“We froze the bananas down and chucked them in the blender and added milk to get the blades going. We have to constantly check it and when we got to the texture required, we stopped and split it. One to reset as ice cream, and one to create the shake.

“For the shake, we added whey protein from Maximuscle to the banana and peanut butter. Three ingredients – you can’t get simpler than that!”

Loughborough and Great Britain’s Holly Bradshaw – field sport

“Field sport athletes will require lots of carbs to provide energy…as well as protein for recovery and to build muscle. It’s also important they have plenty of colour on their plate, so different sources of fruit and vegetables,” said Samantha Abbot, Performance Nutritionist.

Holly Bradshaw, GB’s bronze medal winner at this summer’s Olympic Games, explained what food she can’t go without:

“I’m a massive peanut butter fan so I always like to get that in [my diet] as best I can. Anytime I can use peanut butter, it’s in.”

Chef’s solution: Banana and peanut butter ice cream

“You can’t get simpler than this, you don’t need an ice cream machine, you don’t have to sit there and scrape it every fifteen minutes – it’s literally two ingredients.

“Take your banana, chop them into slices and stick them in the freezer overnight. Put it in a blender and add a little bit of milk at a time with peanut butter.

“Peanut butter and banana are like carrots and peas, bread and butter, horse and carriage, they just go.”

Loughborough and Great Britain’s Izzy Petter and Ellie Rayer – team sport (hockey)

“As a team sport player, it’s really important to have a balanced meal,” said Samantha.

“They’re going to need really high carbs, so they can fuel themselves throughout the whole game. There’s also lots of repeat sprints throughout their training and gym work during the week. They’ll need to be recovering well with lots of protein, fruit and vegetables, and carbs”

Loughborough PhD student Ellie Rayer – who also won bronze for GB at this summer’s Olympics – said:

“We’ve done a lot of stuff recently on making sure we’ve eaten enough carbs because in the training environment we’ve always been amazed that you need more than you think.”

Izzy Petter, who was also part of the GB squad to make the podium, added:

“I do struggle with eating chocolate a bit! I do love chilli con carne though, those hearty meals.”

Chef’s solution: Vegan Chilli Burrito

“Traditionally, Mexican in Central America the primary flavours are cumin and smokiness. We used onions and garlic to start with added cumin, oregano, and passata for the tomato product.

“I used smoked paprika, a bit of dark chocolate as well as you get the bitterness and the sweetness.

“The burrito is just a very versatile product, it gives you all the nutrients you need in a tasty, fun, and convenient manner.”

For more information on nutrition support at Loughborough University visit HERE and for more information on the Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel, visit HERE.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/195

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.