Preparing for the Olympic trials is an endeavor unlike any other. It requires a unique set of training paired with specific nutrition and dieting ensuring you’re in peak form for competition. We spoke to Tiffeny Parker, an Olympic hopeful heptathlete (that means she competes in the heptathlon – a 2-day, 7-event track and field competition), who opened up to us about how she makes the most of her meals for maximum impact, both on and off the field. Here are our top 10 takeaways.
1. Eat with Intention
CB: Over the course of a heptathlon, you utilize many different parts of your body. Do you eat differently as you prepare for different events?
TP: Oh, definitely. I’m very conscious of what I’m eating. The heptathlon starts with hurdles and since my breakfast is a little heavier, I usually eat it a minimum of 2 to 2.5 hours before I compete. Breakfast typically consists of oatmeal, peanut butter and coffee. I just love coffee and can’t live my life without it. You can tell me to give up anything else. Its not going to be coffee.
When I’m done competing for the first day, literally within 30 minutes, I definitely have a protein shake before I start my cool down. Chocolate is my way to go, and I also love Quest’s Cookies & Cream flavor.
CB: So it’s chocolate for your protein shakes, but what about protein bars?
TP: I demolish Quest Bars. I literally have at least two bars a day – sometimes 3. Literally, my box of Quest Bars doesnt even make it to the house. It stays in the back of my car. I just had the Chocolate Lovers box and Im between two favorite flavors right now: Chocolate Brownie and Mint Chocolate Chunk. I really cant decide. The mint just gets me with those little green mint pieces. Every time I bite into it Im like, oh my gosh – thats it! But Im a chocolate lover in general.
3. Cheat Days are Necessary
CB: How often do you allow yourself to cheat on your meal plan?
TP: Around November/December, Ill go 3 days on my meal plan and maybe a day off. It just depends on things like if its a holiday and I dont want to be that person who’s eating a plate full of vegetables at Thanksgiving – which I have before. When January rolls around, thats when I get super, extremely strict about my diet. My opening heptathlon of the year will be in mid-April, so it varies, but I always throw in some type of a cheat day because youre going to absolutely kill yourself if you try to do seven days straight. Ive done it before. I was miserable. I didnt have Quest Bars in my life at that point, so maybe thats why I was miserable because I need some form of sweet and I would rather have it not be sugar so its really difficult. I either eat five baskets full of fruit or I’ll have some type of a cheat meal.
4. Eat to fuel your body – but make it taste good!
CB: What do you have to change about your diet when you get into peak training season?
TP: Im not really a huge carb person. I dont eat a lot of bread, pasta or rice, but after the heptathlon it’s all about your recovery and replenishing your body, so I just make myself do it. Oatmeal is pretty much just the carb of choice and my go-to.
My morning is always the same. I can eat an omelet every single day and be totally fine with my life. I know how to cook with different vegetables so that makes it a lot easier for me to not get bored with eating the same thing because I can get really creative with ingredients like mushrooms, eggplant, anything that can add texture to eggs. Scrambled eggs can get really boring after a while so you have to figure out a way to spice it up.
5. Prepare your own food to avoid temptation.
CB: Do you make a lot of your own meals?
TP: I have to because I don’t have time to go to restaurants. I also dont eat fast food because I know I dont have self-control when it comes to going to Chik-Fil-A across the street and trying to get boneless chicken nuggets and no French fries. Id just rather not put myself in the situation because I love French fries. So I avoid that and pack my car full of snacks.
6. Spice things up with fresh herbs.
CB: Other than adding ingredients for texture, what do you do to make your meals more exciting?
TP: I season everything! Over the past 3 to 4 years I really learned how to use spices together and that was the game changer. For some people, they like to eat things bland but thats just not me. My food has to have some type of a flavor. I’ve learned that theres definitely a difference between having fresh ingredients, like basil and cilantro, and having it in Mrs. Dash powdered form. It totally changes the way your meal turns out, even though it’s a little more expensive.
7. Get creative in the kitchen.
CB: Do you have a signature dish or something you really love to make that you think is just awesome and sticks within your diet?
Spaghetti squash is my go, but outside of that my go-to is these coconut chicken strips I make. I bake them and, oh God, theyre so good. You take little pieces of chicken and dip them in coconut milk, then roll it in almond powder and coconut shavings. You can use unsweetened, but I use sweetened because it just tastes different. You bake it in the oven and its... You will never eat chicken strips the same! I make honey mustard with it, just mixing some honey and regular mustard and its a godsend.
8. Plan ahead.
CB: Do you have any tricks that make it easier to stay on track with your nutrition?
TP: You have to have a prep day and you have to know what youre going to eat that week. You have to actually sit down and write out a weekly plan for the stuff you’re going to buy. When I go to the grocery store, I dont just go there aimlessly. I go to the grocery store to have food for two weeks and I know exactly what Im going to buy so that I can cook it. Just making time for that preparation is probably the biggest thing thats helped me. When you just go to the store and buy things, you end up with stuff that doesn’t necessarily go together and you end up either not wanting whats left in your refrigerator, or you feel like you don’t have anything to eat and want to go out.
9. Make the freezer your friend.
CB: How do you make sure the food you buy doesn’t go to waste?
TP: I break my shopping into 2 week spans, so the first time I go shopping I usually buy more meats, which I divide up, put into Ziploc bags and put them in the freezer. The second time is usually more vegetables and whatever else my sides are going to be, just because they go bad faster unless you freeze them, so I freeze a lot of my vegetables. I even freeze my spinach just because when it gets at its end and I dont necessarily need spinach anymore, I’ll have it to throw it in smoothies. You just figure out a way to reuse it and it’s a great way to not waste your food.
Literally, I freeze everything – even down to the zucchini or something that I’m not going to use. I just cut it into pieces and then, say, I have random chicken left over but I dont have anything else to serve with it? I just go to my freezer because I know I have some type of vegetable there.
10. Use common sense.
CB: How much does a shotput weigh?
TP: Our shotput is 4k, which is like 8.2 pounds.
CB: What’s heavier: A shotput or 8.2 pounds of Quest Bars?
TP: Ummm… [laughing] They should be the same weight!
CB: Good answer.
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