Glenn Kearney is head of nutrition for the Lawn Tennis Association and also advises Andy Murray on his diet on and off the court. Although Kearney uses blood tests and the latest scientific research to shape athletes’ diets to help ensure optimum health, he says that it’s ok to break the rules once in a while. “During a week, you’ll have at least 21 meals. If one of those is less than perfect, don’t stress,” he says.
Kearney advocates high-quality wholefoods as much as possible – free-range meats, fish and eggs with lots of vegetables, some grains and pulses (such as lentils or chick peas) – and fits diets around the likes and dislikes of his clients. The aim is to personalise an eating plan to an individual’s taste preference and factor in the context of the individual’s daily requirements such as exercise, work and family.
New Zealand-born Kearney has a double degree in exercise physiology and human nutrition as well as a master’s in sports nutrition. He was previously nutritionist to the British Athletics 2012 Olympics team and the All Blacks (2003-2008), and has a company The Good Food Dude working with private clients too.
Kearney’s top tips for eating better:
Sugar isn’t a no-no but be careful. People know that sweet foods contain sugar, but it’s important to check food labels in order to watch your intake – so many processed foods such as pasta sauces or cereals have hidden sugar (and salt). My pet hate is seeing young athletes drinking 500ml of fruit juice in one go at lunchtime – that’s way too much sugar. Sports drinks are also sugar-laden and unnecessary for most people – water is much better. And while it’s a good idea to have something 45 minutes after an activity, I’d opt for a smoothie made of greens (eg baby spinach), a banana and some nuts and almond milk – a much better recovery food than a juice or sports drink for moderately active people.
Control your environment. If I have crisps in the house, I’ll eat them – and I’m a nutritionist, I know they’re empty calories and full of salt. So I don’t buy them as it’s much better not to have the temptation in the first place. We are creatures of habit and our environment has a powerful influence on our eating behaviours. So manage your environment and good choices are so much easier.
Look at your food behaviour. So many people eat too quickly without thinking about what they’re putting in their mouths. Tennis champion Novak Djokovic is the opposite and has written about the importance of being a mindful eater. He prepares much of the organic, gluten-free food he eats himself. While this might not be right for everyone, I advise my clients to look at the size of their plate, to look at when and what they’re eating. It can represent a daily opportunity for mindfulness.
Don’t become obsessed. It’s not what you eat in one meal but what you eat over the week. If you have a piece of cake or a bowl of chips during that week, that’s fine, as long as you balance it with healthy foods in appropriate proportions most of the time.
Be prepared. If you travel a lot or work away from home, you’ll be tempted to buy fat-laden takeaway foods or other salty, sweet baked goods. It’s much better to buy or pre-prepare something like a chicken salad with some carbohydrates such as pulses or sweet potato and lots of vegetables – or a simple soup.
Learn about fats. Thankfully many people are now realising the value of quality fat in our diets. For example pure butter from grass-fed cows has essential fatty acids and is a clear winner for me over margarine. Most people don’t get enough omega 3 fatty acids in their diet either. Eating high-quality salmon, free-range beef or eggs and especially green leafy vegetables is important to maximise your intake of these powerful fats. They have roles in reducing inflammation, brain health and cell-to-cell communication. It's a real game changer when you get these fats right in your diet.