How not to ruin taper week

By Blog, Fitness, Health, Sports Nutrition One Comment

By Sally Garrard | Advanced Sports Dietitian | 6 minute read

It’s the mark of a great coach that recognises recovery is what will bring out your best performance. These same coaches will go to great lengths to make sure that your training load has peaks and troughs, and that you progressively overload your system, and then recover. 

And we trust our coaches.  They ask us to work hard, and we’re generally we’re pretty good at it. However the same mindset that takes us to the start line of an ironman, a marathon or any manner of the adventure and endurance races out there, can also be our undoing. In taper week, when given a rest day, instead of thinking “Oh you’ve given me the day off, I’ll sleep in and do some light mobility/stretching/foam-roller work with my spare time” the thought tends to be “Oh you’ve given me the day off? I’ll sleep in and pop in a little run when I wake up then, thanks”. And a little run is 20km…

So firstly, taper week doesn’t end up being the taper the coach had intended. But at the same time, the athlete still thinks that because they are in taper week, and they feel their training load is non-existent, they clamp down on food intake enormously, because “well, I’m barely training”.

I’m not talking to every athlete here. There are athletes who go to the other end of the spectrum in taper week, and end up eating way too much because they’ve got more time on their hands, and the high training load that previously dampened their appetite is now gone, and they start eating for Australia. If you don’t identify with the prior situation (i.e. clamping down on food when training load reduces) there is probably no point reading on because this article doesn’t apply to you. It might apply to your training partner though 😉 The content of this article applies to those who find it difficult to switch off their hard-training genes, and to those who put serious control on their eating habits.

I’ve witnessed athletes getting through ridiculously high training loads with very small amounts of food, so it can be done. You’ll get through training, you’ll get to the start line, and it’s highly likely you’ll finish the race. You might even run a PB. But were are you capable of more? It might not be that you were capable of a faster time on race day (too many variables!), but you can bet you would’ve been capable of being a happier person in your training block if you allowed yourself a little more fuel. You wouldn’t have bitten your partner’s head off when they asked you to put on (yet another) load of washing, when all you wanted to do was flake on the couch. You wouldn’t have picked up all the head colds that made their way through the squad.  You wouldn’t have felt the pinch so early in those brick sessions, or the heavy legs so early in the long training runs.

But you might not identify with these above scenarios at all, because you’ve always held a tight restriction on your food, and training how you do, is your norm. Consider there is a new level of normal to find. Consider you don’t realise what it feels like to REALLY train with good energy stores on board. I’m not saying training will be a walk in the park, but I am saying you could reap more rewards from the effort you put in.

So how are we fixing this? If this is your taper week as you read this, I wouldn’t suggest you change a thing. There is too much risk involved in changing eating habits significantly when it occurs close to your A-race. The entire solution will be looking at your training week fuel, and that is a matter for 20-weeks out from the race, not 1 week out.

What I can suggest is that you keep your food the same as you usually would in a regular training week. Resist the urge to drop it back. Sure you won’t be having the gels, Vegemite sandwiches and sports drinks that you would usually chow down on in 5-hr sessions, but your baseline food should not be reduced. Oh and do what your coach asks: you have permission to drop your training load!

Let’s circle back to the longer-term solution though: Your true potential in the sport will be reached when you learn how to fuel your 20-week training block. Everyone’s base nutrition is different, so the problem that we are fixing will be different for each athlete. For some it will mean improving recovery strategies and ensuring a decent high-protein meal after a tough training session. Or bumping up athlete fats to reduce your overall inflammation. For others it will mean upping the (dreaded) carbohydrate.

If you were on board with what I was saying until you saw the word carbohydrate, then this advice absolutely applies to you. If the idea of carbs make you bristle, we have a problem. And that problem will loosely fall in to one of 2 categories…

a) you’ll be chronically under-fuelled and under-recovered, and experience the myriad of issues associated with this, or

b) you’ll be making up for the day-time carb-phobia by ploughing through sugars late at night.

Oh but they are only the natural sugars. “Yep, just honey and maple syrup, that’s all I have in my treats!”  Sure, but that is still sugar, and while I am a massive fan of nutritious treats, when they are coming in en-masse as a result of a deficiency of quality, complex carb earlier in the day, we are looking down the barrel of creating eating behaviours that (at best) don’t set you up for a good night sleep, and (at worst) don’t set you up for long-term healthy eating behaviours.

I’m not advocating old-school advice of a pasta party before every long session, and I definitely don’t want you joining in with those who sit at the cafe and undo their hard work by ploughing through a big breakfast backed up with an oversized cold-pressed juice. But I will stand by the fact that complex carbs need to be a part of your training nutrition and that you shouldn’t feel guilty about having them. Some will need more, some will need less, but there is not an athlete on this planet that can go on zero and create their best performance. NB. The ideal cafe recovery meal? Poached eggs on grain sourdough with a side of avocado, and a milk-based coffee. GF toast if needed!

So where to from here? Start writing down the thoughts you have that are attached to eating the way you are. Can you see some common themes? If you have a lot of thoughts about foods being right or wrong, I’ll put my money on the fact that with a few tweaks to the way you approach your nutrition, you could be training in a head space that is happier and healthier, and will produce a faster race day experience. If you’re not sure, reach out! We are only an email away.

Do you have what it takes to be a Fitness Model?

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Bikini’s, bronzed skin, beach hair, heels and smiles. Perhaps it’s the warming weather and the threat of exposed skin that sees the clinic heat up with aspiring fitness models.

From Ashy Bines to Kayla Itsines, Instagram is rife with images of everyday females suggesting that you too can look like a fitness model in a short space of time. Whilst the majority of these are positively promoting a healthier active lifestyle, the flip side to taking this to a competitive level is something to consider a little more seriously. 

As one of the few qualified Sports Dietitian’s specialising in this increasingly popular sport, I wanted to reveal the unspoken truth behind competing, what it demands physically and psychologically and highlight the ramifications of undertaking such extreme nutrition and exercise practices under amateur guidance.

Like many elite level sports, natural body sculpting is one of long-term dedication and commitment. The key difference however lies in competition where placing’s are not determined on clear performance outcomes but entirely based on aesthetics that promote extreme leanness with muscularity in combination with confident stage presence and posing.

One of my key questions to a new client wanting to undertake a fitness model competition process is;

Why do you want to compete?”

The answer to this question is vital as it guides the direction of my professional approach. Ideally to have a solid resistance training background for a few years before thinking about competing would be a good start, it also helps if your body fat is already in a healthy or good range, which for most people that train consistently this should be relatively easy to maintain all year round.

In terms of when you start your cutting (or dieting) phase for a contest, 20 weeks is a good amount of time to ensure you are progressively putting yourself in a steady energy deficit to still nutritionally support your training needs and your health as long as possible. Amongst all this is to ensure you align yourself with a good posing coach that can dictate which category and federation your physique might be best suited to be competitive in, as well as give you a confidence boost to know you need to be able to put your body on show in the best possible light to enhance your efforts with a smile and in really high heels.

Still with me?

And after all that training (by now everyone in the gym is aware that you are there A LOT of the time), your dwindling nutrition budget starts to welcome hunger (after all my job is essentially to help starve you in the best possible way to leanness!) and all the time in front of the mirror practising your posing despite being your worst critic and finding flaws that question your confidence, you bring your best package to stage, where you still take the risk of being lost amongst a big crowd of equally amazing competitors, or you could be so close it comes down to the colour of your lipstick (yep, that’s an infuriating true story).

If that wasn’t enough to put on the line, there is no way you can come out of a fitness model contest without having some element of disordered eating patterns or feelings of deprivation or guilt around food in some way. Taking an already lean physique and getting it leaner requires extreme sacrifice, something our human bodies dislike and will fight hard against, particularly if you do it for a long period of time. Meal planning for this sport has to be extremely prescriptive and is adjusted based on accurate skinfold measurements by a trained technician – no eye balling here! There is as much science as there is art when it comes to how food and supplementation is adjusted, as this needs to consider the athlete as a human and not just an IIFYM robot.

Also understand that the body fat level that’s deemed competitive in this sport is NOT HEALTHY by our standard and done poorly with unprofessional guidance has seen disrupted hormone levels (particularly menstrual cycle dysfunction in women and low testosterone/libido in men) as well as electrolyte imbalances with severe fluid, diuretic and sodium malpractices.   

And you thought that was a challenge? The largest hurdle you will encounter in my experience is realising all your dedication and efforts for a few moments on stage (irrespective of the outcome) captured in a photo that you will consistently revisit will only be a moment in your life but your psychological image of yourself might take a little longer to repair. This is something that is particularly hard to explain unless you have been through the process but telling an athlete that it’s not healthy and unsustainable to maintain stage physique leanness post-competition seems like it’s heard but not believed.

As much as I make it imperative to have close follow-up and post-competition nutrition planning as part of my contest preparation, once you set a benchmark that high you find that it becomes a new comparison, irrespective of nourishing your body back to optimal functioning and health. This is something that is very hard to let go of which will often see competitors return quickly back into competitions in the fear of losing their peak physique. 

So I ask you that question again… “Why is it you want to compete?”

I can appreciate if you are a novice without the inside knowledge on what it actually takes to be successful in this sport along with its risks, you may be caught up in a desire to compete prematurely. There is no shame in realising that it just might not be the right time to take on such an event.

For those of you that have read this far and still have a burning interest to explore this sport, I encourage you (before you start to seek a qualified coach) to take the time to find your WHY. This must be something valid enough to be prepared to take on contest prep with as much proficiency as though you’re training for the Tour de France. Your WHY will be the reason that you commit to this day in day out, it will need to go beyond your brain telling you you’re tired or hungry or sore, it will be the underlying drive when you think you want to give up.

And once you’ve found that, then I congratulate you, as you are about to embark on the most amazing self-discovery that extends well beyond any physical capability. You are some of the most stoic, determined, intelligent and dedicated athletes I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

To my clients (past and present – you know who you are!) you all are absolute inspirations to me and what keeps my enthusiasm and love of this sport alive. I thank you all immensely for the knowledge I have gained as a clinician working with you all in helping achieve your goals with your best interest at heart. To future fitness models, I genuinely wish you success and longevity in an amazing sport.

Activating Nuts: Health Hack or Hype?

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3 minute read | by Sally Garrard | Advanced Sports Dietitian | Image Credit

Who doesn’t love a nut! Creamy cashews, crunchy almonds, delicious pecans or heavenly macadamias? One of my favourite shops to visit is Mick’s Nuts in West End – their range of fresh nuts is off the charts. Sometimes I hear conversations of people saying “nah, I better get raw ones, they are much healthier”…and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I end up having a conversation with them that is to follow below…which then ends up in more nuts being purchased. I should be on a retainer J

Activating nuts – what is all the hype about?

Let’s start with WHAT activating your nuts does. The soaking and roasting process of any nut (or seed, grain or legume) will breakdown a compound called phytic acid (or phytates). And why would you want to do that? Well, phytates are a compound in plant foods that lowers the bioavailability of important nutrients such as iron, zinc and calcium.

Nuts aren’t necessarily a rich source of these when you look at a mixed diet à animal sources are far better absorbed and are greater provider of these nutrients in total content. HOWEVER, should you be limiting your animal foods, or choose a vegan style of eating, then nuts, seeds, legumes and grains become a rich source of these nutrients in your diet, so maximising the absorption of them makes sense.

This said, phytates aren’t necessarily BAD either…and in fact, they do come with benefit. Phytates have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which is great if you are an athlete recovering from tough training sessions. And because phytates do bind iron, this is seriously beneficial if you eat a fair bit of red meat à it is thought one of the causes behind high bowel cancer rates in our Western population is due to high iron intake from red meat sources. So if you love a good steak, then serve up salad with raw pecans along-side it.

Back to soaking and roasting plant foods…we have been doing this for eons out of practicality (ever tried eating a dried lentil?) or taste (Bircher/oats soaked overnight have a way creamier taste), but now with a little more science, perhaps we can understand why it is we should go out of our way to apply this to foods we might have previously thought was always “healthier” being in the raw state.


If you are vegan or have very limited animal sources of food in your diet, I would recommend you activate or roast your nuts more than eating them in a raw state.

If you are an omnivore, or eat red meat regularly, then serve up some raw nuts or seeds with this meal, and have roasted nuts less frequently.

We don’t need to be hard-line one way or the other – you get benefit from raw, and you get benefit from roasted, it just depends on your own personal circumstances.


The process is simple….but looooong!

  1. Soak in plenty of water for 12-24hrs
  2. Roast on low temperature (60-80°C) for up to 24hrs, or until the nuts are completely dried out


#1: There are many guides out there adding salt to the process; I can’t find any rationale to this (other than flavour) so it is up to you if you choose to do this. I find it unnecessary – as when you eat a variety of roasted / activated nuts, there is plenty of flavour with them just as they are.

#2: Cranking the temperature up to 140°C right at the end – 2 reasons…1) you need to leave the house or 2) it gives the nuts a different flavour. Personally I take this option 9 times out of 10!

What Tax has to do with Nutrition

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How tax can teach you about food appreciation.

[author Angelique Clark]

I’ve just paid a tax bill today, courtesy of a blind site that I didn’t put aside enough from my employed job AND my personal business when I went back to work for what seemed like a blink between having kids. You know what happens when you pay something reluctantly? You get extremely pissed off! As I drove my kids home from school today (one of the rare quite moments I have lately) the thought occurred to me – why wasn’t I taught about tax at school? It seems like a really necessary life skill to teach. Clearly I have now learnt by my own mistake and when I reflected on why it got me so emotionally charged, I automatically tried to blame the education system when in fact its no one else’s fault but my own.

Why is a Sports Dietitian talking about tax? Well nutrition (just like tax) it seems, is something we all need to understand to live better – and that I DO know something about! Just like a fine from not paying my tax would eventually catch up with me, so too will disease if you don’t understand and take responsibility for learning something that will be vital to how well you live your life.

I find it baffling that food is something we NEED TO LIVE as humans, and yet so many people don’t truly understand what to eat, how to stop eating at the right time and what they benefit from eating particular foods besides energy and taste. Like tax, I believe this should be an integral part of the education system, but if I can’t change that, then I am going to make sure my kids have the skills to be able to prepare themselves a nutritious meal to not only survive, but to thrive.

Where does this disconnect come from? I don’t accept that we are ignorant about nutrition in this day in age. I know far too well that there is a lot of non-scientific nutrition advice that’s dished up, but even if you were to follow some of the unqualified “gurus” out there, surely it would still make you healthier. I think the real problem is a disconnection not only to where our food comes from but why we need it and how it affects our body – all as a result of people that have stopped cooking. No, I don’t mean cracking open the jar of chicken tonight and simmering some packaged hormone free breasts in it, pairing it with microwaved steamed rice and a speckle of a green vegetable…. I mean cooking an actual balanced nutritious meal FROM SCRATCH. When’s the last time you did that?

I had my neighbours over for dinner last weekend. 2 adults and 2 kids (6 and 4), similar to my family. So here I was at 6am that morning at the markets buying food, thinking about what protein I would choose, what vegetables in what combination would work well with it and how to make the children’s food appealing with maximal nutrition after a few nutritional considerations of gluten and dairy intolerances. After I got home, unpacked by fridge and started to prepare I literally did not stop (besides to get my family lunch & eat myself) chopping, marinating, crumbing, frying and arranging until 30min before they arrived. The end result? Soy, chilli, ginger and honey baked salmon, rainbow kaleslaw salad with roasted lime pepper cashews & yoghurt chia dressing and for dessert nut butter protein balls, 72% dark choc chunks and some fresh berries. On the kids menu zucchini, leek & mushroom brown rice and chicken broth risotto, GF cornflake crumbed skinless chicken breast ‘nuggets’, and lastly for nibbles I whipped up hummus with veggies & scattered it with fetta & olives. Exhausted? I was. 6am till 4pm it took me to make a meal for 2 families, I am not going to lie or claim my meals take 15min to make – it takes A LOT of time to do this at this level and had I shopped before that day it would have reduced my workload (which is why I don’t cook for my neighbours every weekend!). I am not suggesting everyone needs to do it to this degree, as you can probably tell I am very particular about what I eat – this has been as a result of my tertiary education of food and my interest in its production and how I am astounded with the unnecessary additions in so many foods. I also get disappointed A LOT after they taste ordinary when you eat fresh additive-free most of the time.

The point I’m getting out however is that I was so utterly chuffed with my thought behind every single thing I made that my appreciation for eating it went through the roof. Every mouthful I tasted was so damn good, not just because of what it tasted like but the fact that I knew everything I ate had a purpose, I took time to eat, enjoyed a great conversation with awesome people it was nice that my neighbours appreciated my effort also, but it wasn’t the reason I did it.

Self-satisfaction is a funny thing, we are conditioned to be our own worst critic – when’s the last time you pat yourself on the back and said to yourself “you’re doing an awesome job?” When you put effort into something, you automatically feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you’ve done, I’m just getting better at acknowledging that! So here I am saying we all need to RECLAIM our cooking abilities. Get passionate about cooking again, put some effort into something that I guarantee can only IMPROVE your current health state. What you will discover is a lot more than you think you’re getting into – you may become more aware of what goes into food, you may reduce processed junk, save some money, try new things, learn to improvise, eat slower, taste more, eat less or just enough for your needs, lose fat, feel rejuvenated, question where your food comes from … or more! But be warned, you may have a few of your neighbours wanting to come over to soak up your amazingness!