In today's world, we are thrown information, images and ideas about nutrition left, right and center; from social media, newspapers, television programs and retailers. And it can seem like a minefield as to what we should and shouldn't be eating. Indeed, as a professional athlete, one of the first questions I'm asked when meeting new people is, ‘Do I have a specific diet? And if so, what is it?'. Interest in nutrition is high, but knowledge, real knowledge - and not that of a passing fad or celebrity interview - can be hard to find.
For me, nutrition has always been an area I've enjoyed exploring because I have seen the direct impact it makes to my performance and recovery and to my overall well-being and immunity. As a tennis player, I train four-six hours a day. My training is made up of on court practice, physical speed and agility drills, strength work, interval training, core and injury prevention exercises. I play up to thirty tournaments a year, meaning that I'm on the road travelling for a period of 35-40 weeks, all around the world. A tournament week can consist of anywhere between 2-9 matches depending on how many I win, usually a flight, and more often than not, a time-zone change.
In addition to this, as tennis players, we are adapting to different cultures, conditions and accommodation which can all vary widely. With this in mind, optimum nutrition can be a challenge. So how do I deal with all this, to ensure I'm getting the best of myself and my body? Preparation of course! And with a little help from Free Soul....
I have recently returned from playing some challenger tournaments in Asia. After reaching the final of one of my favourite events in Japan the week previously, I arrived to the next city in China full of positivity and in good spirits. Japan, for me, is one of the easiest countries to travel to. Their food is beautiful, healthy and widely available. However, in some of the remote cities in China that I play tournaments in, optimum nutrition can be very challenging. This is due to the language barrier and menu choices that would frighten even the hardiest of travellers!
I arrived at the official hotel and slept early after the travel day. I woke up the next day early and hungry, before venturing down to breakfast. I lifted the lids of ten warming plates and struggled to identify six of the dishes, the remaining three were swimming in oil and the last was fried chicken feet. In an ideal world, knowing that I had a long practice day ahead, I would be aiming for a 600-800 calorie breakfast, made up of slow release carbs and good quality protein. Here, I took some sliced water melon and returned to my table.
Luckily, I am experienced in meeting my nutritional needs in remote places, and had brought some oats with me from Japan and my Free Soul protein. I added a scoop of the Free Soul protein blend to the oats and a scoop to my drinking bottle, to ensure that I had covered my protein and energy requirements and that my iron, calcium and magnesium were all topped up.
Lunchtime came around quickly after a two-hour practice and with nothing around the tennis venue whatsoever, players were ordering food to be delivered. None of which was I was going to be able to stomach and be back on court in an hour’s time in the heat. I found some plain steamed rice and a banana, and made up another half bottle of my delicious vanilla-flavoured Free Soul protein shake.
I realised pretty quickly that it was going to be a long week in tough conditions, as the humidity was high and the temperature was getting up to around fourty degrees most days. Four girls had already retired from the qualifying event due to cramping and heat illness and another five retired from matches throughout the main event with similar problems. I played nine matches that week, and stuck to my routine of a diet based around oats, rice and my trusty Free Soul Protein.
I recovered well each day, taking an additional two scoops in a shake after each match and 1-2 shakes at breakfast and/or lunch and we found a mall in the evening for a relatively normal dinner. I have no doubt that my recovery was optimised by using Free Soul Protein to ensure my protein requirements were met in a difficult environment, and also ensured that I didn't get sick or low in key nutrients and minerals for hydration.
When I'm home in London, I add it to Bircher muesli that I make the night before for breakfast, I sprinkle it into smoothies, and I mix it into coconut or almond milk to make iced coffee or recovery drinks after long training sessions.
For me, supplements should be exactly that... a supplement rather than replacing good nutrition from real food. But when, there is no good alternative, like for me with life on the road, or perhaps for you, in a busy working week with family commitments or travelling requirements to unknown places, that's when we all need a little bit of a Free Soul in our lives!