As a world class athlete who needed to push my body to it’s limits regularly, being vigilant with my diet was very important and a key component of my success on the track.
But what about now that I’m retired and am no longer lining up against the best hurdlers in the world at track meets?
Have I been binge eating as a subconscious protest to my previous track diet, or have I maintained a strict diet now 8 months after I ran in the Olympics?
Well, I’ve found myself somewhere in the middle.
On one hand, I have a lot more freedom to “eat what I want” but then at the same time I am conscious about maintaining a weight that feels good to me and allows me to not have to buy any new clothes. Vanity can be a great motivator, if we’re keeping it real!
So what do my meals look like now?
When I was training for the Olympics I was aware of not only what I was consuming, but also the timing of meals. So for example, a before practice breakfast would be a bowl of oatmeal & 1 liter of water at 8:30am for a practice that was at 11am. I would keep healthy snacks like string cheese & protein bars handy for my weightroom session or my drive home.
Now, breakfast has been a drink mix of instant coffee, 2 scoops of Ovaltine, half a bottle of a protein shake, 1.5 teaspoons of sugar, and a splash of almond milk. Timing of consumption of this breakfast concoction varies, but typically it’s around 9:30am. This relatively low calorie breakfast has been surprisingly satisfying, since my caloric requirements aren’t has high as they used to be. If I’m honest, I haven’t been working out as much as I should, so my diet has been the key factor in me maintaining a weight that I’m comfortable with in retirement.
A typical lunch for me now, has been a bagel with cream cheese, sliced tomatoes, and a side of potato chips. This would have not cut it when I was in training; I tended to avoid bagels, croissants, and other breads as much as I could.
I’m aware that this meal is high on carbs and low on protein, but in retirement, I’m not really too concerned with or focused on an excessive amount of protein intake.
Before as a professional athlete, I made it a point of duty to ensure I was consuming protein with every meal to aid in muscle building & recovery. Needless to say, this isn’t as important now in retirement.
Dinner is where the true variety comes in my daily meals. I typically cook 2-3 times per week and this varies between vegetarian curries and rice, veggie stir-frys with pasta, and a range of recipes in between. For example the most recent meal I prepared for myself (I typically cook separate meals for my family since they love meat) was an egg stew sautéed with onions and peppers over seasoned potatoes. It was delicious, and I’ve still been enjoying the leftovers.
Plant based/pescatarian approach
In March of 2021 I watched the documentary “What the Health” on Netflix and began exploring living a more plant based lifestyle. I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I needed to relearn some of the lessons about food we are taught in relation to meat/animal products.
I do not consider myself vegan, but I have come to appreciate that there are so many non meat sources of protein that are satisfying, and don’t carry the same risk as some meat products.
While I won’t debate about whether or not one should be eating meat, I will say that drastically decreasing meat from my diet has helped me maintain my weight a lot easier than when I ate meat regularly.
My general rule with food in retirement has been to enjoy the foods I used to hesitate to enjoy as an athlete, but in moderation. And by moderation, I mean continuously reminding myself that food is meant to be enjoyed, but also used as a tool to fuel your body, even when you’re no longer a professional athlete.
Here is an example of a “high protein” vegetarian pasta I made with cottage cheese & fresh garlic as the base for the sauce:
So has my approach to diet been effective?
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that numbers on the scale are just that: numbers. The typical weight scale doesn’t take into account body composition (percent lean muscle mass vs fat etc) so I always encourage people to consider that before obsessing over the number on the scale. However, in full transparency, I am someone who as an athlete weighed myself twice a day (and I still do now in retirement). My sister calls that obsessive, and she may be right.
I’m a numbers person so:
My racing weight at the 2021 Olympics was 147-148 lbs (~67kg), and my average racing weight before having my daughter was roughly 152-154 lbs. My current weight in retirement hovers between 148-150 lbs depending on how hard I went on the vegetarian nachos the night before. BUT with those numbers, I no longer have a six pack, and I certainly don’t have much muscle definition any longer.
And I’m ok with that.
Since currently my goal is to maintain my weight, and not lose any, from a sheer numbers standpoint, I guess my current diet has been effective.
Even though, if I’m being honest with myself, I need to start working out again. How you go from an average of 5 workouts a week to 5 workouts in the last 5 months is beyond me. I guess it’s keeping in line with my “all or nothing” personality. Don’t judge me.
Tips to aid in weight loss/maintaining weight:
1) Shift your paradigm that you must be stuffed after eating each meal. I learned in my older years that I used to over eat at meals, and there is a big difference between being satisfied after a meal, and way too full. Having the will power for portion control is a game changer.
2) Have an understanding that diet is a key driver in weight. You’ll be a lot more sucessful in losing weight by making good diet choices vs running 10 miles a day and eating 10 cheeseburgers.
3) Don’t mistake hunger for thirst. A lot of times we don’t drink as much as we need to and this can contribute to over eating. While I was nursing my daughter, each day I drank between 4-5 liters of water, dropped to 3.5 liters after weaning her, and I hover at about 2.5-3 liters a day now. A gallon of water is 3.785 liters in case you were wondering. Point is, staying hydrated is helpful in weight loss/maintaining weight and just overall well being.
4) Don’t go out to eat too often. I know this isn’t something we like to hear, because I love going to resturants as much as the next person. But unfortunately trends have shown that people who eat out frequently may struggle with weight compared to their counterparts who eat at home. I have experienced this first hand. When eating out, you’re not able to control how the chef prepares your food so something as simple as grilling your chicken breast with cooking spray vs butter/lard can have a profound effect on the calories of a meal in the end.
I understand that diet and weight can be a touchy subject for so many people & a lot of that stems from society’s unrealistic expectations on appearance, especially for women. Fat phobia, body shaming, or being insensitive about people’s weight, regardless of where they are in their journey, are all things we need to fight against every single day.
Whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight, I have found that giving yourself grace and being patient on the journey will make achieving your goals so much easier.