Nutrition advice for busy people

From Olympic athlete to city worker, Nicola Groves, shares some useful nutrition advice for busy people. Through both my advice, and her own experiences, she has adapted successfully. Nicola recently retired from Olympic Sailing after competing for Great Britain at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She embarked on an exciting career change in February 2017.

What were your biggest changes in diet during the transition?


Nicolas dietary needs were very different to how they are now, and in fact, quite unusual. “I had a bit of a weird diet when I was Olympic sailing, as I was on ‘weight gain’. So this basically meant I could eat as much as I wanted and when I wanted. One of the biggest challenges when transitioning was learning to recognise when I was full, when I was hungry.” 

Nicola never really had to think about the volume of food she was eating. She has now had to learn more about ‘portion sizes’, and how to listen to her bodies hunger cues. She is even finding herself reading food labels in the supermarket, comparing the sugar and protein content of various yoghurt brands which apparently you would never have caught her doing before!

Nicola recognises that although she needs good nutrition for concentration, and produtivity at work, she just does not need as much volume as she used to. “I used to eat bowls of pasta all of the time, and I realised by body just did not need that any more. I had gone from running around a boat park and a boat for most hours of the day, to sitting down for 12 hours a day. And it turns out your body doesn’t need all of that energy that was being pumped into it.”

Are there any specific types of foods you have changed?


Although Nicola still ensures she includes healthy low Glycaemic Index starchy foods at most meals, her portions are smaller. “I have massively cut down on the amount of starchy carbohydrates that I eat and hugely increased the amount of vegetables, including leafy greens and pulses. Lunches are often a salad which you would never have caught me doing when training.”

Has your routine around eating changed?


“As a sailor, it was really difficult to eat when on the water. Now I am in the city, it’s really easy to sit and snack all day long. I have to REALLY think about what I am doing and what I am eating. It’s really easy to just sit at your desk and graze all day long.”  Her top nutrition advice for a busy office worker would be to pack some tasty delicious snacks and schedule these throughout the day. Nicola’s favourite snack is “2 oat cakes and a tablespoon of nut butter“.

Where do you find the time to cook?


Nicola’s nutrition advice for busy people is “to be prepared!” She finds time to cook ” in the evenings”. She will sometimes “roast a chicken on a Sunday evening” and that lasts the week “with various sides, or simply cans of tuna with salad, usually really quick foods!”.  Other examples include “leftover dinner such as quick frittata with salad and a bit of pitta bread. Another favourite is thai green curry that I throw the cooked chicken into.”

What were your biggest changes in your exercise habits?


Nicola still manages to fit in exercise that she enjoys around work. Although it still comes with its challenges. “TIME. My entire life was dedicated to getting fit and being strong and powerful, and being the best at my sport. And now, it’s second to seeing my friends and family which I really love. This was one of the things that I really missed when sailing. Although sport still matters to me, there are other priorities. I still really enjoy exercise though, and I feel terrible and sluggish if I go a week without exercising.”

What different about the type of exercise that you are doing?


It’s changed dramatically. I used to do a lot of weights, and hard interval sessions because long duration meant I would be burning too many calories and therefore could lose weight.”  Keeping it short, fun, but still goal driven is key for Nicola. “I now don’t have time to do the long duration. I might go for a longer run at the weekends, but not really. I have taken up doing triathlons as they are sociable, give me something to aim for and the training is varied. Having a goal definitely helps me when it comes to doing exercise. The purpose is now for ME, rather than for a specific goal.”

Photo: Nicola completing her first Triathlon in Summer 2017, winning her age category!

What is it that drives you to get your trainers on and get out of bed?


Like most of us, getting out when it’s cold, wet and dark is really tough! So what is it that drives Nicola to stay moticated and continue to remain active around a busy work schedule? “the feeling afterwards… I know that when I sit down at work and I’ve done my run or gym session, I feel good about myself. But if I’ve snoozed my alarm for just 15mins more sleep I think “what are you doing…”. I feel so much better throughout the day if I have done some exercise.” She also highlighted that exercising in the morning is key. If she doesn’t do something in the morning, at the end of a busy day, going to the gym or for a run is the last thing she wants to do.

What are your best healthy hacks?


Nicola has learnt how to stay fit and healthy in her first year or working. Her top nutrition advice for busy people would be:

1)  “Preparing and planning what you are going to eat makes life so much easier. If I just walk into a supermarket and I struggle to know what to buy. I shop online, so when I sit down and plan a few meals for the week, and tend to just flick through a recipe book.”

Her second piece of advice is:

2) “you don’t need to spend 2 hours on a bike to get or keep fit. My shortest session would be 20minutes, even if it’s in the living room with my mum at the weekend.”

If you were to give your old self, advice about the transition to the city job, what would it be??


Whilst Nicola does have a good relationship with food and her body, like many people, there were certain things she found hard to accept both as an athlete, and transitioning into working life.

When she was an Athlete, Nicola felt “constantly hung up about how big my muscles were and that I didn’t fit into normal sized clothes. I wish I told myself that you ARE healthy, fit and you can do all these amazing things, so enjoy it….” My body has changed. I have massively lost strength and that was a hard thing to deal with. I knew it was going to happen, but losing that as quick as I have was quite a shock. Accepting where I am right now, and that I am not going to be as strong or fit as I was is important… I need to cut myself slack with that, it was always going to happen, and I can’t do the weight sessions that I used to, and also I don’t need to! I need to tell myself that now too and enjoy where and who I am, being happy that I do my best.”

A final piece of advice to Athletes out there!

“ENJOY THE CAKE WHILE YOU CAN EAT IT…haha. You can’t have your cake and eat it every day!! I didn’t realise that at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still eat cake, but I took it for granted.”

Some great nutrition advice for busy people, along with some tips and tricks on how to keep active! A HUGE thank you to Nicola for sharing her experiences with us.

First three images credit to Clive Mason/Getty Images