AL Andrew Leigh
HG Heather Garriock
RC Rob De Castella
SR Sue Read
HG I was a brat of a kid, to be honest, and it was hard lessons learned. And I had a lot of older players in front of me that guided me and mentored me so I was lucky from that perspective.
AL My name’s Andrew Leigh, and welcome to The Good Life, a politics free podcast about living a happy, healthy and ethical life. In this podcast we seek out wise men and women who have lessons to teach us about living life to the full with humour, pleasure, meaning and love. We chat with musicians and athletes, CEOs and carers about making the most of this one precious life.
If you like this podcast please take a moment to tell your friends or rate us on Apple Podcasts. Now, sit back and enjoy the conversation. Let me start by introducing our panellists.
Sue Read has competed nationally in weight lifting, discus and javelin. She’s a former Matilda’s goal keeper and founded Life Unlimited Psychology, which works with high performance sports people.
Rob de Castella is Australia’s greatest ever marathon runner whose 207 is still the Australian national record and he’s founded the Indigenous Marathon Foundation, leadership programme for Indigenous Australians.
And Heather Garriock is the Coach of Canberra United who has had a successful career as a mid-fielder playing 130 matches for the Matilda’s, Frey Olympics and Frey FIFA World Cups.
I want to start with childhood sporting experiences and of our panellists, Sue, I think you have had the earliest intense experience of sport. Tell us what was like when your parents discovered that you were a pretty good discus thrower?
SR So my first experience, I think I’d just turned five and my parents took me down to Little Athletics because my brother played, of course. I went into discus competition, I think I threw two or three times further than everybody else. My parents rushed home and were like, we’ve got a champion. My father was a Nuclear Physicist and very obsessive so he then proceeded to read every single book on the planet on athletics, weight lifting, training and how to progress into that elite sport.
So pretty much from the age of five that became my life.
AL And how many hours a day were you training?
SR So from about five to seven, about three hours a day. Then from sort of eight on about five hours a day. I did say they’re a bit obsessive, but, yes, so that was quite an intense experience. It was school, out training, school, training, bed, training, school, that was pretty much it.
AL And, Rob, for you, the start on your running comes in the streets of Kew. Tell us the story as to how your dad decided that the eldest of his seven children that went out running with him?
RC Thanks, Andrew, and thanks for the opportunity to be part of the session. Yes, look, my dad knew that had high risk of heart disease. His mother died from a heart attack in her 40s, and, at that time, there was a bit of a fitness burn coming very slowly. There were these exercises, everyone was onto these, the Canadian Airforce had an exercise regime called 5BX and it was sort of doing jumping on the spot and running on the spot and doing push ups and all that sort of stuff.
My dad got into that, this was before people ran, and he was doing his exercise in the bedroom and a light fitting collapsed out of the ceiling and smashed on the floor. And mom jumped up and said, okay, out, get outside, you’re not allowed to do that inside anymore. So he subsequently was banished from the house so he had to go outside and exercise, and that’s when he started running.
He must have been lonely because he used to drag me out. I was much older than five, I was about 12 or 11 or something like that, and he dragged me out of my bed at half past six in the morning and wanted company. That’s pretty much how I started running. I was very reluctant, I used to hide my shoes and hide under the covers and try to find every possible excuse to get out of running.
My dad was also pretty fanatical and determined to make sure that I did it. Then eventually I got into school, a group of mates at school and we met up after school and tried mainly so I didn’t have to get up at half past six in the morning and go running. Then it just became… And at that stage I was a hopeless runner, I was a plodder. My feet would sort of point out like a duck and I’d waddle along and I’d finish in the middle of any of the cross country races and things, so it was an interesting introduction to something that was going to become such an important part of my life.
AL And, Heather, for you, you had a more formalised structure around you with both the Westfield Sports High School, McCarthy Youth Football Academy, how did you find that experience of being in an intense sporting environment through your education shaped you?
HG I guess mine’s very different to both stories, it’s more environmental. I was brought up in a football family. My dad’s Scottish, moved to Australia when he was 18, and he played at a semi-professional level so that’s sort of how I got introduced.
He’d play on a Sunday, I’d go, I’d go along to the training sessions, so it was almost gaining a passion for a sport. Then I found a passion at a young age, and then, I think, where the elite status sort of came in was when I did get selected for Westfield Sports High School, which is a high school in Sydney, quite prestigious. A lot of athletes have come through Westfield whether it be football, cricket or rugby league, whatever it is.
So, for me that was, I guess, the start of my dream to one day become an Olympian.
AL You made your Australian debut at age 16, which, I think, might have been the record until [Unclear] Carpenter broke it. What was it like for you to be on the international stage at such a young age?
HG Obviously confroting, to be honest. When you’re 16 you think you know everything and, for me, it wasn’t such a straight road and I got straight into the national team. There were disappointments and getting dropped from teams and adversity. For me, anybody that knows me knows I’m a fighter and I grew up in Campbell Town in the western suburbs of Sydney, so once I got dropped from teams like that I wanted to get in there.
I got invited down to the AIS for a camp and showed the coach that he’s something that wants to take the Olympics. So it was hard and it was lessons learned along the way, and I was a brat of a kid, to be honest.
It was hard lessons learned and I had a lot of older players in front of me that guided me and mentored me, so I was lucky from that perspective.
AL So through your own childhood experience and, also, through your current professional work you must have seen a whole lot of different parents in terms of how they approach their kids’ sport. What do you think is that right balance between looking after your kid but, also, pushing them the extent necessary to really perform at a top level?
HG Yes, I think it’s a challenging question, because I think there’s no doubt you do have to have some element of that parental support. You can’t get up at ten years old and drive yourself to all your trainings. I think you do have to have an element of discipline that your parents often provide because as a kid you often are a bit reluctant, so you need that support.
I think really tuning into the psychology of the child you have, and knowing, do they have talent, so they have the psychological make up and architecture, and is that something you can foster and support? I think that means tuning in to where is that person at each point in time. And each child, even in the same family, is going to be different, some may have a certain amount of greediness and they know that they’re going to make it through, and some may be a little gentler.
I think there’s got to be certain amount of pushing and a certain amount of compassion around that as well. It’s something throughout all sporting history we’ve seen different kinds of parents.
One element is often there’s a pushing kind of approach, but, I think, the ones that are probably most successful also orient well to the child and try to broaden the horizons of the whole person.
AL How much did it help for you that you had a mix of sports, you had the throwing and the soccer?
Yes, I think, for me having both in individual sport gives you that very strong sense that whatever effort you put in you get a direct outcome. The team environment you learn co-operation, you have fun. There’s a very different skill set that you learn in there and you’re dependent on other people, so there’s a lot of good skills in learning that.
For me, both seemed really important in developing myself and my personality. I found it very hard to give up either one because I loved being in the teams and some people here would know I was a great singer on the tour bus. Then having that individual [unclear], which, I think, is something in life that you have to know that you’ve got that effort you can put in and have some kind of outcome. So, yes, I think they were both really helpful.
I think in a psychological sense we see a big difference with the kids coming through who play any kind of sport versus the ones that play no sport at all. I think just in terms of psychological development, emotional development, it’s a really key element of a child’s development for life, not just for their sporting pursuits.
AL In terms of getting expert support, Rob, you were pretty lucky to find your coach in your high school. Tell us about the role that Pat Clehersy had on you in shaping you into an athlete?
RC Yes, look, it was tremendous, Andrew. Pat was a history teacher at Xavier College and when I was at the junior school I started competing in cross country. I still remember as a young kid going over to the senior school and sitting in the grandstand with all of the school’s cross country team listening to Pat talking about the cross country event coming up on the weekend.
I was just this little kid sitting there bright eyed and probably shaking in my boots. From that Pat and I developed this amazing relationship that still exists today. He taught me so much more than just the training sessions. Anyone pretty much can find the sorts of training that you need to do, and there’s a huge variety, from a running perspective there’s so many different ways to achieve very similar performances. To me, it goes far deeper than the actual sessions itself. It is about the values and the philosophy and the attitude and the behavioural things which, I think, a good coach and good parents also instil in their kids.
There’s a big difference between just having the knowledge but having someone who’s wise. Someone who is wise has the knowledge but they’ve also got the experience to go with that knowledge.
I was really fortunate to have someone like Pat involved in my life absolutely as an athlete, so it was a blessing.
AL How did your parents relate to him, were they comfortable handing over the training programme or do you remember some sort of greater tension?
RC No, there was no tension at all. My parents were absolutely thrilled. My dad did athletics when he was a high school, but it was a completely different thing. Whereas, Pat was one of the first Australians to go the US on an academic scholarship and went to Houston University. He travelled all the way through Europe with the great New Zealand distance runners, with Arthur Lee [?] and Murray Holberg and Peter Schnell and he learned so much about the attitude that you needed to have. His involvement and relationship with my family was as strong as it is with me.
AL Heather, can you say a bit about the great coaches that have shaped you, before we go on to your role as a coach. Fleming Nielsen, is someone you’ve spoken about in the past.
HG Yes, for sure and just listening to Rob and Sue about, not the skill set of what an athlete is made up of but more of the mental side of things and the mindset, I think, is just such a key take away. I wish I knew that in my football career as an athlete.
I just didn’t, I just played to get better and train on the training [unclear] so I think that’s a valuable lesson.
AL Can you say a bit more about that, what is it exactly you feel you didn’t know?
HG Well, there was no such thing really as psychology. If you’re tapping into the psychologist then there was something wrong with you.
AL Yes, okay.
HG That’s what I would think. So, for me, it was all about the team and all about training harder on the pitch and running harder and running more kilometres. To get better I’d do my seven kilometres a day so I could be the best conditioned athlete. I’d hit the ball against a wall but in actual fact it wasn’t that that was stopping me to be the best I could be in the world or whatever it was. It’s more mindset and how I could shift my mindset to become a better footballer both on and off the field.
I think that’s such a vital thing, especially in this day and age, and that’s what I try and speak to my athletes about is more the mindset an the journey rather than just the technical and tactical side of things.
AL What was it that you admired about Fleming?
HG He was a tough coach and most athletes will realise later on in their career or after their career when they reflect on who their best coaches were. My best coaches were most definitely my hardest coaches, the coaches that pushed me to the point of being out of my comfort zone constantly.
Fleming was a European coach, a Danish coach, I remember I was contracted in Denmark and the first season I went there was almost like the dream season. I scored in every single game, I was playing left back so I was playing more defence but scored in every single game. I got a lucrative contract the year after and I remember coming back, playing five games and I just couldn’t get on the score sheet, I wasn’t playing well.
He pulled me into his office and just said it’s not good enough, and, basically, just said you need to pull your socks up and do better. I thought I was doing pretty well. He said you’ve changed as a person and you need to focus on what you did when you were here last season. He was really influential in that way, but very tough on me, I didn’t get away with anything. He pushed me in a way from a mental perspective rather than from a football perspective and gave me little goals each and every session, that was really good.
The other person, Alan Stajcic, who’s the Matilda’s Coach at the moment, we had a love hate relationship and probably still do even thought I’m part of the staff as well. He’s a coach that it’s his way or the highway and whatever he says is black and white. He was very harsh no matter what the situation. He’s eased off a little bit after marriage, kids and different things like that as you do, but at the same time, I guess being out of your comfort zone are my best coaches most definitely. It’s always nice to look back on your career and say, I didn’t cruise through my career, I was actually out of my comfort zone, so those two most definitely.
AL Rob, you’ve got a formal coach for the Indigenous Marathon Project Squad in Adrian Dodson Shaw, but you’ve got a lot of hands on contact with the squad. What is it that you’re keenest to instil in them as they go through what is a pretty extraordinary programme. It’s about six months from starting running to completing the New York Marathon.
RC Yes, look, what have I tried to instil in them? A realisation that they are more than what they ever thought they were, a sense of self-worth and pride. As Indigenous people they have had to overcome a lot of challenges, racial, social challenges and health challenges. They need to be tough, they need to be resilient and they need to realise that life, the hardship, is an incredible learning experience. I never shy away from doing something where you may risk failing or you may risk hurting yourself because it makes you strong, it makes you tough and it gives you a realisation of what you can endure.
Then, also, we tap into their drive to ensure that the legacy they leave enables their children, their families and their communities and all Indigenous Australia to have a better life than what they’ve had. We about 150, 160 applicants for the 12 positions each year, and we select them on two things. One is what’s going to keep them going when they hit the wall in the marathon at 30K and they’ve got nothing left and they’ve still got 12K to go? Where are they going to go inside and what’s the force and the strength that’s going to keep them going and not have them give up?
And then the other thing is, as a foundation, we’re looking for inspirational leaders so we have to see in them a capacity to drive change, a capacity to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and to really do things that they never thought possible. Their stories, some of them, are horrific and tragic, and it’s a disgrace that we have situations like this, not just with individuals but with such a large group within our country.
To be able to use that as a force for positive things is something really important. It’s like doing a hard training session, if you never train hard, if you are doing a workout in the gym and as soon as you start to get a little bit of burn you stop, then you’re never going to improve. If you’re out there training hard and you’re racing and as soon as it starts to hurt you back off, well, you’re never going to reach your potential on the day, but you’ll never reach your physiological potential as well.
One of my favourite quotes is an old Arnie Schwarzenegger quote which is, everything to failure is a warm up. So you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to push hard. It’s that last little bit where all the magic happens. It’s like one of the girls was saying, it’s getting outside your comfort zone. I tell our guys outside your comfort zone is where all the magic happens. You’ve got to have that courage and belief and the support around you to get yourself outside the comfort zone.
AL Sue, one of the techniques that you’ve used most in your career, and, I think, also it’s important here in your professional work is visualisation. Can you talk us through the value of visualisation for an elite athlete?
SR Yes, so there’s a lot of research now in terms of the benefits of mental rehearsal, visualisation in psychologically preparing you for those key events. At top level many athletes are very similar physically, and like Heather was saying it’s really about that ability to push further mentally.
The beautiful thing about our brain is it doesn’t always know the difference between when we’re actually training versus when we’re mentally rehearsing training. In our brains we can rehearse exactly as we want to perform. In sport you’ve got to know that you can turn up on a particular day at a particular time and perform in exactly the way you need to perform. So before you get to those major events our mind gives us that ability to mentally rehearse over and over again. By the time you might get to that race you’ve done it 300 times.
You don’t always visualise it all going perfectly, you visualise you performing as you need to perform through the difficult challenges. So there’s more brain research now showing every mental rehearsal we do, we start to build nerve and neural connections and to build those foundations in the body, I think that added layer that we can bed down more strongly.
Over and above the physical training it’s also a great form of recovery and deep recovery. So when we get into those deeply relaxed states and adding the visualisation it’s also a way of getting deep cellular recovery which is important to be able to bounce back and keep training hard.
AL How often would you visualise a big event before it happens, and when would you do it? Is this something you just do once the night before, is this something you do at every training session?
SR No, and, generally, as I always say, with any kind of technique don’t wait until the most challenging moment to try it. If you haven’t done deep breathing before don’t wait until the key moment to try it.
AL Don’t do it on the starting line.
SR Don’t do it on the starting line because you’ll just faint. The key thing is it is about the number of repetitions, so I’m thinking back to one of my first national championships when I was about 11 and leading up to that was a big thing back then. It was a year long preparation and so I probably would have done a good six to seven months of visualising that event.
I knew the stadium we were going to in Darwin, I knew my competitors. I knew how far I wanted to throw in shotput and discus. So you do your physical training then every night it was about a half an hour process of getting into a deeply relaxed state and then visualising the whole competition. So I’d visualise exactly how far I want to throw, I’d visualise my celebration.
Interestingly, that, for me, that first national championship I visualised throwing two metres further than my personal best, which is quite a lot in throwing events. In my last throw I did exactly that distance, which was two metres further than I’d ever thrown before, and one which was good. That really cemented for me that mental focus was where I could get that extra edge. I certainly wasn’t the most physically gifted, certainly not the biggest or the strongest in the throwing world so it was that ability, I think, to focus the technique and the brain on how I could perform on the day.
AL Now, Heather, one of the inevitabilities of sport is that things are not going to turn out the way you want every single time. You’ve just come off the back of a season for Canberra United which, I think, it would be fair to say didn’t turn out the way you had visualised it going into the season. How do you deal with that as a coach and how do you work your players through to make sure that they’re ready to go next time around?
HG So what I’m going to do, I’m going to start visualising now because the season doesn’t start until September. So I can visualise now how my team’s going to go week in, week out. I’m going to see if that works, Sue, and I’ll get back to you, okay.
No, the season didn’t go to plan and when you get a new coach in with new staff and new personnel, I had a lot of young players this season. I’m quite a confident person and, for me, being optimistic is really important. But, in saying that, Canberra United made the finals the last ten seasons pretty much by 2012. For me, I didn’t see failure at the end of the year although I see failure now.
I think the team failed, I failed, and in life I think you need to fail because you don’t grow. I think this past season has been the most I’ve ever grown as a person, and it will be the most I’ll ever grow as a coach, I think, in this particular period because I’m so, I guess, inexperienced and it was my rocky season that I’m learning the most. I’ve had to reflect. We had different players, there was different scenarios that played a part which most definitely I would say someone like Heather Read that was the CEO of Canberra United, she was no longer part of Canberra United, she’d done a lot of the recruiting.
Now, if you know team sport you know recruiting is the most important thing. For me, I didn’t quite have the calibre of player that I needed to peak at the right time, so that’s one thing that I’ll rectify this season. The other thing is I put a lot of emphasis on young players in trying to [unclear] our own here in Canberra when you’ve got the foundations that Canberra do. When you’ve got a university like the University of Canberra that can support that, when you’ve got the AIS, the best facilities, I think, one of the best in the world that can put together a great programme then they sustain success.
I think it’s really important that me, as a Coach, focus on that, and when Graffi was speaking at the start, have a look at what she’s accomplished. It just didn’t happen overnight, she’s been a long term coach, Caps Coach, Opals Coach and it’s someone like that that you look at that you think, okay, I’m sure she had her failures, and I’m sure she’d be able to tell you every single failure.
At the same time, if she hadn’t, then she wouldn’t have succeeded where she is or what she’s doing today. I think it was a big learning curve ongoing to do things a lot differently. I think I changed my personality to suit players, I was a bit too much of a yes person. If you know me as well I’m very much straight down the line, I’m relentless and ruthless at times. I don’t think I implemented that in my Canberra United score this year, so that didn’t implement then on the field.
AL Do you think you’re going to be a tougher coach in some sense this time around?
HG Probably no nonsense. I think I was successful as a player and I was a no nonsense player, but at the same time, let’s do our business on the field. For me, the girls need to enjoy their football off the field, that’s the most important thing, and having that correct balance. I think I was too obsessed with everything this season, in getting everything perfect and everything right, and it’s just not possible. It just doesn’t work like that, so probably being a bit more human and just allowing the team to express themselves in their own individual ways.
AL Thank you for that. From an outsider’s perspective I thought you took on too much personal responsibility for how the team performed, but that, I think, speaks very well to you as a leader.
HG But as an athlete you always, you never get smashed if you don’t qualify for Olympics or you don’t make it to the next stage of a world cup. You always look at the coach and see how bad the coach is, whereas, I’ve never actually had to really reflect. Only when I did cross country, when I was a top cross country runner, then it was an individual sport and you had to reflect on yourself.
Whereas, when you’re in a team sport you tend to hide and it’s the players that hide are the players that aren’t going to grow. For me, I think, it was very important that if things didn’t go well this year for me to then grow and be the best I can be over the coming years.
AL So there’s having a poor season, and then there’s missing out on your Olympic dreams. Sue, let me throw you in the deep end and kind of rip the band aid off. You’re a person who started training three hours a day from age five who had your eye on the Olympics, who was at the right age to go to the Sydney Olympics, and then something happened.
SR I can’t remember what you’re talking about. Yes, so, I think, for me, that I knew by probably the age of eight this is what I wanted to do. That sense of wanting to go to the Olympics was very strongly instilled in me. I think seven years out had an article written about how I could be in the running for two sports once the Senior Olympics got announced. I think the challenge for me was I was doing track and field and soccer, I was also studying full time at not as flexible university at University of Canberra.
I was starting a business, my parents got divorced, there was a whole bunch of things kind of leading up to a key moment. After a Soccer National Championships Grand Final where I played terribly because I just couldn’t move my legs and I knew something was wrong, we flew back home and the next morning I ended up completely paralysed, couldn’t more any part of my body. It took quite some time before somebody found me and was able to take me to hospital. I spent quite a lot of time in the hospital system, the first few days was really trying to work out what had happened, they thought it was viral meningitis.
After quite a lot of tests they discovered we were in Queensland during the finals during the Ross River fever outbreak season, so I got Ross River fever. I had glandular fever, [unclear] virus, a whole bunch of different viruses that essentially led to my whole immune system shutting down.
I think a key moment for me, and I think we’ve chatted about this before, is I was kind of in the hospital thinking the next few years are key to get to the Olympics. I couldn’t move, I was thinking, how am I going to get to the Olympics, how am I going to train, what am I going to do? The doctor walked in and just said, don’t be ridiculous, you’ll never play sport again, and that was kind of it.
For me, that was really that sense of what’s the point of living if I can’t do what is meant to be meaningful and purposeful? It did in many ways cut short that capacity to go to the Olympics. I did eventually make it back to the national team after 2000, but that was a very long road. It was a long road of medical challenges, of research, of looking at how do I get my health back. I’d had a lot of sustained damage to my gut and to my nervous system, my immune system.
I think Heather saying you learn from those great disappointments, so I think the key thing for being a good athlete or being good in any area of life is you won’t get selected when you think you should.
At times you will have injuries that will get in the way of you meeting sometimes your major dreams or other ones. It’s really about how do you respond to those events that show up. The events are the stimulus, we can’t always plan exactly what happens, but it’s very much how you respond. That event, for me, fortunately, drove me more into the psychological world of really studying psychology and directing where that was going to go. The whole field of health and this idea of what does it mean to be alive, how do we live a meaningful, purposeful life particularly when some of your dreams are taken away?
Even though it was a pretty catastrophic event it certainly re-directed my life in a very positive way. I have a lot of empathy certainly for athletes I work with if they go through major injuries or let downs, and just other areas in life. I do a lot of work with trauma and grief and other mental health issues and it’s in every area of life. We know the only one thing I can guarantee for everyone is we’re going to go through more hard stuff and it’s really how do we respond to that, and respond to that in a way that’s positive for our life or effective for our life?
AL You seem to draw very much on that experience in terms of your own mental toughness and then still having sport as being part of your daily life?
SR Yes, it was, I think for me I really had to look at what led to getting really unwell in the first place and really needing to bring some balance back into my life. Exercise, I can exercise now, I have to manage it, I can’t do five hours training a day. I do it really for that psychological wellbeing, so I know when I exercise I feel great, I sleep better, I think better, I’m a nicer person so I try and make sure that’s part of my daily routine just to manage health and wellbeing overall. That’s really knowing that those early kind of trainings are very much instilled in my body.
So, I think, when we exercise we connect to the part of our brain that gives us perspective and helps us reflect and bounce back. There’s a lot of usefulness just in our daily lives.
AL We’ve spoken a lot about the activities you do, but the other key part or another key part of performance is what you put in your mouth. Rob, how’s your diet evolved in recent years? You’re now a pretty serious martial artist, people know you around this city, also for your interest in good breads and good coffee. What are the main focusses of your diet and what advice do you give to athletes in terms of how they eat?
RC It’s a big area. Very quickly, I’m an advocate of following the sorts of eating patterns that we have evolved from. For hundreds of thousands of years we’ve eaten a certain way and it’s only in the last 10,000 years that we’ve been agriculturalists. So all of the crops, all of the grains, wheat, rice, corn especially are very recent additions to our food. They’re massive industries and they get huge marketing and employ a lot of people and for governments it’s really important.
There’s also, I believe, a lot of toxins in those foods that allow them to be so prolific, they’re all mono crops, you go into any of the pine forests and nothing else grows there. Wheat, rice and corn are also like that, no insects eat them, they’re very resistant to mould and fungi and bacteria. When we ingest them our immune system has to work hard to cope with those natural food defence chemicals. So I’m 100% grain free.
I have a business as you mentioned, Andrew, that provides a range of grain free foods. Everyone knows about Celiacs, but Celiacs are still encouraged or able to supposedly eat rice and corn that don’t have gluten but they have a lot of other natural food defence chemicals in there very similar to gluten. And there’s more and more research coming out to align them to cellular inflammation and mental health, the fructose and other things, dementia and Alzheimer’s and a whole range of other things.
So I eat meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, a few veggies, a few root vegetables and that’s about it. With our Indigenous runners I encourage them to eat anything that has fur, feathers, feet or fins, so it’s animals. We are predominantly a carnivore and we have evolved from eating high animal fat foods. I am not an advocate of a high carbohydrate, low fat diets. I’m an advocate of a high fat, medium protein, low carbohydrate, grain free, almost sugar free, except for the fact that it is also cyclic.
Everything in our life is cyclic, day and night and the months and the cycles of the moon and seasons and everything, even running is a rhythm that you get into. Your heartbeat is a rhythm that you get into.
Food should also have some cycles in it as well as we used to have when you could only get bananas or peaches or different foods at a certain time of the year. Now you can get anything at any time because they’re all either imported from overseas or they’re ripened artificially. So summing it up I try to get back to eating the sorts of foods that we as a species have evolved from, I think that the best things for us. Then you overlay a stressful environment and all of the other pollution and electro-magnetic and all the other things which we have in our world today, and, I think, it just sort of puts an incredible load on our health and our immune system that I’d prefer not to have that load there if I can avoid it.
AL Heather, you have to manage the diets of an entire team. What advice do you give your players instead of what they should eat more of or less of?
HG We have a nutritionist for that. In saying that, I think from an athlete perspective or youngsters coming through I didn’t realise the value of nutrition and what you eat is essentially, or what my dad told me at a very young age, it’s just like a car, if you don’t put petrol in your car the car doesn’t go. That was instilled in me at a very young age.
I think nutrition plays a massive part. For me, it was always just educating the girls on what the best thing is to eat. For me, before and after physical activity is really important for the players to get their recovery foods in. When Rob was just speaking I’m thinking about what about the days where we used to get encouraged to eat a big bowl of pasta before. I’m thinking what the athletes in the room would think, and the moms and dads and they’re thinking, what do I feed my child if it’s grain free or rice free?
I still eat pasta, of course, and I know the athletes, The Matilda’s, before games and different things like that, they have their pasta and they have that pretty much three hours before the game. Straight after a match they have their Sustagen or their protein and they also have their Staminade or their Gatoraid or whatever it is. So nutrition plays a massive part and there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on that especially going into Canberra United for next season. Essentially if you’re not feeling good, like I spoke about at the start, technically, tactically you can be the best player but if you’re not operating at 100% then I think nutrition plays a big role in that, so I will emphasise that a lot in Canberra for this coming season.
AL For you, nutrition starts with how you go into a supermarket. What’s your rule of thumb for how a healthy person should shop?
SR Yes, so I’m a bit like Rob, I recommend can you kill it, dig it or pick it? Can you recognise the foods you eat, and if you do shop at one of the major supermarkets, I think, do not go down the aisles. The 40 or so aisles in the middle are just sugar, carbohydrate and chemicals processed in different ways. So if we go around the edges, the old kind of supermarket you had fruits and vegetables, meat, maybe some dairy and then run down the middle, grab your toilet paper, run back out, don’t look around, except to buy dark chocolate every now and then.
I think we know you don’t get fitter, faster, stronger when you train, it’s only during recovery, so it’s just sleep and your nutrition. Certainly I know some of the younger athletes I work with might be racing from school to training and grab something quickly.
I think often trying to instil what you eat matters profoundly to your recovery and we have to be very mindful of those choices we make. It’s not often convenient, that’s the challenge. If you’re going to buy bread do buy Dick’s bread, it’s very tasty and very good and it’s grain free. Often it’s not convenient to eat well, you do have to do some preparation, you’ve got to find good quality food. If you’re going to eat animals find free range, happy, healthy animals, they are much better for you when you’ve eaten them, and really try to avoid those processed things.
That’s very hard when you’ve got a high energy output for training, so really trying to manage that load. I think it’s been under-focussed on in sport for some time. In psychology now it’s very much about the gut, brain link and the inflammation of the brain, inflaming the gut or inflaming the brain. We see a whole lot of changes to people’s psychology in their focus, and obviously the stress that impacts us at a brain level impacts our gut. So there’s much greater focus on this mind, body and gut link, that, I think, is absolutely key.
AL We’ve covered a lot of ground, from childhood starts to coaching, to eating well, to visualisation from three expert sporting stars. I’m very grateful to them for their contribution. So please join me in thanking Sue Read, Rob De Castella and Heather Garriock for a really insightful conversation.
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