Two years ago the 2016 Rio Olympic canoe slalom silver medallist Luuka Jones made the decision to become a vegetarian.
While the decision was a personal one for Luuka, according to her long-time HPSNZ Performance Nutritionist Christel Dunshea-Mooij, it presented challenges as a canoe slalom athlete.
“Luuka is a power sport athlete – so she needs to consistently take on board the right amount of protein to aid recovery,” says Christel.
“From a nutritional point of view – the right amount of protein can be attained from eating meat, chicken, fish, dairy, nuts, seeds and meat alternatives. By excluding a food group (meat) we had to come up with a new plan to ensure Luuka took on board enough protein.”
Christel had to focus on more plant-based protein sources and not only ensure that Luuka was consuming board protein-rich foods such as milk, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs or cheese but that each day she was getting these in the correct quantities.
To further monitor this, with the assistance of medical professionals Luuka’s iron, B12 and folate levels are regularly checked – but such is the athlete’s commitment to her nutritional plan her levels have remained consistently high.
“Luuka is very easy to work with because she is serious about her job,” adds Christel. “She has evolved her nutritional plan over the years and is now much more consistent in her approach – which is definitely the way to go.”
“In the past I would have preferred athletes to have a variety of foods including animal products. However, since working with Luuka and New Zealand rower Brooke Donoghue, I have changed my attitude. To be a vegetarian and take on board the right macro and micronutrients is more than achievable with a carefully managed plan. In fact, these two amazing athletes have twisted my arm and I am currently writing a vegetarian cookbook book with both Luuka and Brooke!
Christel has put in place a co-ordinated nutritional plan for Luuka during Games time in Tokyo.
Unsure how COVID-19 protocols will impact on eating in the dining hall, Luuka is prepared with a range of freeze-dried meals stored in her fridge in her room.
With the Tokyo Olympic Games likely to be the hottest on record – Christel along with other members of Luuka’s HPSNZ Performance team – have also proposed a race plan which includes cooling, hydration, nutrition ergogenic aids and mindfulness to help optimise the Kiwi’s performance in this challenging environment.
“I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work with elite athlete such as Luuka,” adds Christel. “To play a small part in helping her success has been a real privilege.”