Nutrition coaching targets Olympic success

Biathlete Rosanna Crawford explains what it takes

Rosanna Crawford will compete in the 4X6km Relay, 7.5km Sprint and 15km Individual biathlon events at the upcoming Sochi Winter Games
Rosanna Crawford will compete in the 4X6km Relay, 7.5km Sprint and 15km Individual biathlon events at the upcoming Sochi Winter Games

Janna Stam Women's HealthTORONTO, ON, Dec 11, 2013/ Troy Media/ – If you’re like many Canadians, it won’t be long before you’re glued to your screen and watching athletes from 85 countries as they skate, ski, shoot, score and slide their way to glory at the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

While we marvel at the hard work, dedication, and talent on display, we might wonder what it takes to get there. I recently spoke with Canadian biathlete Rosanna Crawford and her nutrition coach Georgie Fear to learn more about the challenges of being an elite athlete preparing for the games.

Born and raised in Canmore, Alberta, Crawford learned to ski at age five and started participating in biathlon at age 10. She fell in love with the sport, fascinated by the challenging combination of cross-country skiing with small-calibre rifle marksmanship. In 2005 and 2006 she won the overall junior title at the Canadian championships and in 2007 she won three gold medals at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. Inspired by older sister Chandra, who won Olympic gold in cross-country skiing at Turin 2006 on the Canadian Olympic Team, Crawford made her Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010, competing in the women’s sprint (7.5 km) and individual (15 km) competitions.

Now 25, Crawford continues to compete internationally and trains year-round, committing 10 to 24 hours every week alongside other members of the Canadian biathlon team. From May until mid-November, they cross-train in Canmore; the winters are spent travelling and competing. Aside from the Olympics, team members compete for nine world cups every winter, held each weekend in a different country, and one world championship.

After gaining weight on vacation in 2012, Crawford struggled to take it off during training season. She explains: “Our national team coach developed my training plan, but I was finding it difficult to lean down. Every extra pound slows you down, especially when you’re trying to push yourself up hills. I needed to reduce my body fat without compromising my performance. I tried a few strategies to lose weight on my own but it wasn’t working for me.”

At this point she turned to Georgie Fear, a registered dietician and nutrition coach who knows something about the unique challenges that elite women athletes face. Fear has been working with Crawford since 2012 and her sister Chandra since 2011. Fear was instrumental in helping Crawford identify personalised habits that helped take her body fat down by 6 per cent and increase her muscle to fat ratio. Fear outlines some of the challenges female athletes face:

1. Limited control over food choices. Female athletes find it easier to maintain their peak performance and weight by including larger portions of vegetables in their diet. Travelling for months at a time and relying on limited menu choices at training camp buffets often requires careful attention to portion sizes and adding a “greens supplement” to their diet.

2. Eating portions according to their needs and goals. Many female athletes train and live with male athletes, who require more calories. This turned out to be critical for Crawford, who habitually ate the same meals as her boyfriend out of habit – often with similar portion sizes. Crawford learned how to better identify her own hunger and satiety signals, which meant eating more mindfully.

3. Pressure and performance anxiety. All elite athletes face a lot of pressure and anxiety around performance, which makes them just as susceptible to stress eating as anyone else. Crawford adds that women athletes also face pressure to fit a culturally aesthetic ideal – especially when competition uniforms are form fitting.

On working with Crawford, Fear notes, “She’s an incredibly focused and hard worker – always positive and doing her best. Her love for her sport comes through as a positive motivator. If we chat about something that can help her recover better, ski faster or perform better, it’s just a given: Rosanna does it. She never says, “oh that’s hard, or maybe I don’t want to,” she just sees the upside, which I think is one of her greatest assets in terms of keeping high motivation.

Three billion TV viewers throughout the world are expected to watch the Sochi Games in 2014, which open February 7, 2014. Rosanna Crawford will compete in the 4X6km Relay, 7.5km Sprint and 15km Individual biathlon events.

Troy Media columnist Janna Stam writes a weekly column on Women’s Health.

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