• Michelle Heyman taking on fluids during the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
We are what we eat – or so the old adage goes. But when you are an elite athlete it is all very much about what you eat and more.
Jill Scanlon

5 Jul 2016 - 7:25 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2016 - 2:54 PM

While some of the population like to believe they can aspire to a similar streamline or muscle mass as our sporting heroes, the paths of daily nutrition for healthy living and daily nutrition for peak athletic performance diverge at a certain point.

According to Peta Carige, the nutritionist for the Australian Rugby Sevens teams, while there is a strong correlation between nutrition for athletes and that for the everyday person, it’s the extra elements catering for an athlete’s requirements towards peak performance which separate the two.

“There’s a strong correlation (between athletes’ nutrition and society’s) in the sense that if you imagine nutrition to be a pyramid, 89 per cent of it is what we want our athletes to be eating to be healthy, because we forget that we need to eat the right food to keep our bodies healthy."

"So when they’re not eating vegetables and lean meat and the right fuel sources from food then they get sick, they can’t train and that impacts their overall performances dramatically. So what we teach all athletes to start with is just to eat healthy food. Then we move them toward more specific timing of their foods and specific macro-nutrients and then we look at supplements,” she said.

One of the big debates within the health and fitness industry is the issues around supplements. There are myriad protein powders and bars for adding mass, reducing mass, replacing energy levels and more. But Carige points out that most of the population don’t need the extras they just need to eat well.

“Unfortunately, I think there are too many people, especially women, using protein powders and supplements when they probably don’t need to and it’s definitely not necessarily helping them achieve their goals.,” she said.

“My general rule is that if they’re female recreational gym goers then they should be using food to recover and optimise their training; men are different because it depends on their actual goals and if they should use supplements or not. Basically you need to decide what’s best for you and your goals because everyone is different.”

Athletes, like Aussie Sevens player Ellia Green, are often asked by fans about what they eat. Carige says that athletes have a responsibility to pass on the right message about nutrition but don’t need to overcomplicate it.

“Athletes can definitely give the right message for people more prepared to listen to them about eating healthy foods. If I had a dollar for every time I had some kid ask me if my footballers eat vegetables, I’d be a millionaire,” laughed Carige.

“So they definitely can help generate the right message but they also need to be clear that to look like they do and build muscles, they train five days a week. It is literally a full time job. The general population needs to be realistic about what they’re able to achieve because they’re not full time athletes,” she said.

As far as the Aussie Sevens Women go they eat well but do need those extras.

“Our girls do definitely use supplements and that’s because they’re training full time and they need those supplements to help them achieve their training targets,” said Carige.