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A look into the role of the sports deititian

July 9, 2016

 Photo credit: Korupt Vision, Australian Triathlete Magazine


After deciding to go full time in triathlon again I have taken a good hard look at myself. If you asked me honestly, I knew that “full time office worker weight” would not cut it if I want to compete with the best in the pro triathlon world. At times, I was 8kg heavier (and 30mm of skin folds higher) than when I raced ITU. 


However, to make healthy changes I needed help to safely and properly lose body fat and become lean again. I had developed a few habits in the office (such as 3pm chocolate raids and late night desk take away) which we needed to stop.  My training volume was also changing, which we needed to properly fuel. To make the changes, I have had the pleasure of working with Ali Disher and Sally Garrard (Al and Sal) at Apple to Zucchini in Brisbane www.appletozucchini.com.au 


I have included a behind the scenes look at the process in a video at the bottom of this article. 


1. The interview

In the initial session Ali asked me a lot of questions and took plenty of notes. It is important to be honest in the initial assessment, after all this is for your benefit. Key themes to the questions were “walk me through a typical day of eating”, “when do you train and on what days and at what intensity”, “do you have any particular eating habits”, “do you have any allergies or are the any foods you can not have or do not like”  “are you a vegetarian or have celiac disease”.  Ali also asked if I had any specific concerns about my current diet plan. 


It is also important to let your dietitian know of any medical conditions you may have, the dietitian can also look at your blood test results, any medications and any conditions that could affect your digestion or ability to absorb nutrients. Ali took a stack of notes that were used to develop my initial food plan and provide me with some menu suggestions for meals and snacks. 


2. Meal plan

After the initial appointment Ali developed a meal plan specific for me and my goals and my training load. The meal plan is a great reference point when you are not sure on certain foods, portions and number of meals for he day. Initially, I preferred to have quite a ridged plan because I was still working. The plan also provides information on serving sizes etc. There is no calorie counting, just healthy eating. One thing that became clear from the plan was the importance of correctly matching food types and how important all food groups are in your diet. Ie protein gets a free ride to the muscles when it teams up with carbs, so you need both for recovery. The plan developed was not a “fad” diet, it was evidence based and founded on a healthy balanced diet. 


3. Measuring up

There is really nowhere to hide when you have your skinfolds, weight and waist measurements taken. I prefer the accountability, some may not but you do have the choice if you feel uncomfortable. Skin fold measurements allow Ali to understand the changes that are occurring and make adjustments to the plan. They inform Ali if I am losing or gaining fat and / muscle. I think this is more important than weight on a scale. We want lean muscle to either increase or stay the same, but not loss. 


4. Homework

Ali asked me to take a food diary for a few weeks after our first session. This is helpful as it weeds out anything you may have forgotten to tell the dietitian. For example, It took us a number of visits to work out how much damage my “yoghurt, berry cereal parfait thingy” was costing me in wasted calories after dinner. Initially I spoke of it as being a thing I ate if I was hungry but really it was a habit I had to kick. After a couple of visits I committed to going cold turkey on this and just brushing my teeth and going to bed. It was a massive help in getting lean. 


5. Strategy

If you have a big goal it is very important to schedule follow up appointments.  My follow-ups have allowed Ali to review my food diary, notice habits, understand the changes to my body and also review other aspects of my training such as my race fuel and my supplement and vitamin intake. Initially, we followed up every 4-5 weeks but as Ironman Cairns approaches we have altered this to every 3 weeks. 



I have been very happy with the outcome of my visits. I have lost 4-5kg and have reduced my skin folds by 20-30mm and am happy to have taken this metric off the table when it comes to race day. It is a massive commitment when you want to lose weight and gain lean muscle mass in a healthy way. It really does help to have a trusted dietitian at hand to ask questions of and help solve dietary issues. It provides accountability but also a person to talk to and keep your motivation high. 


If you need help with a healthy diet I recommend a visit to a registered dietitian at Apple to Zucchini.





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