How world champion sailors stay on a healthy course
Mat Belcher and Will Ryan have breezed through three world championship wins in a row in the 470 class and are tipped to dominate at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. But defending the gold in Rio won’t be smooth sailing with challenging conditions and extreme pollution expected. We spoke with the champs to find out what they eat and how they stay on course when training for such a gruelling event.
What is your health philosophy?
Will: While it’s not exactly a health philosophy – I know that I personally feel better, less tired and happier when I make time to be active each day; eat as healthily and as naturally as possible (with not too much added sugar); and add variety into my diet and exercise to keep life fresh and exciting.
Mat: If you listen and learn from your body, you will naturally find a healthy balance that helps you enjoy your lifestyle even more!
What is your daily fitness routine?
Morning: We try to get outdoors to enjoy a little morning ‘wake-up’ activity like a SUP, a swim or short run for 20/30 minutes to get us energised for the day and feeling agile again. Often before the day is too hot. Morning stretching and an injury-prevention stretching program is squeezed in to keep our body (and team physio) happy.
Mid Morning: Training regularly starts at the local sailing club (wherever we may be) around 9:00 or 10:00 am. We will often discuss aspects of the previous day plus update the plan for the day, before getting our boat ready, and heading out on the water. Our time on the water can average between two to five hours at a time depending on conditions (more wind generally equals less time as it’s more tiring), and also depends on whether we are building our endurance, or tapering towards a big event.
Afternoon: Generally we do an afternoon strength or cardio session with the intensity depending on the day. Strength sessions for our type of boat target is high power to weight focused exercises and endurance, with cardio sessions ranging from a 40 minute run or swim, to an hour-long spin class at the gym, or a mix of the two.
We have one or two recovery rest days; and while they may include some onshore fitness and time spent catching up on logistics; the goal is to focus our minds elsewhere away from sailing.
What’s your favourite exercise?
Will: We would obviously have to say sailing! However, I enjoy almost anything which gets me outdoors. I like being able to be in the sunshine appreciating nature, which is hard to get sick of. As we are constantly travelling between events, running is probably the most popular exercise for both Mat and I as it doesn’t require any additional equipment.
Mat: Even a short run can provide a positive change to the day’s rhythm, and is a great way to see some of our different surroundings no matter the weather or time of day.
What do you eat on a general day?
Will Ryan’s typical day on a plate:
- Breakfast: I love breakfast, so as soon as I wake up I have some tea (usually with fresh lemon), a bowl of muesli or Weet-Bix and Greek yoghurt and my daily vitamins then a cup of coffee!
- Snacks: A piece of fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, or pieces of carrot or celery dipped in ricotta.
- Lunch: The key is usually preparation, so often a bit of the previous night’s dinner which might be included in a wrap or mixed salad; or a healthy homemade soup served hot or cold depending on what kind of climate we are racing or training in.
- Afternoon Tea: Banana and coconut water smoothie with chia seeds and a little bit of Greek yoghurt (My new current favourite)
- Dinner: A hand-sized portion of meat/chicken/fish ; and a good sized mixed salad with the usual tomato/lettuce/ carrots, and of course avocado! If it has been a big day, some steamed brocolli or other vegetables are also often on the menu.
- Supper: A herbal infused tea, and Blackmores Muscle Magnesium – taken with some extra water before bed to help ensure I get a rested night’s sleep.
Mat Belcher’s typical day on a plate:
- Breakfast: It is incredibly hard to keep consistency in our diet due to our busy travel schedule. We are traveling for ten months of the year, so it’s not always easy to get what you want to eat. However, I normally eat a bowl of muesli with fresh fruit or either a blueberry or banana porridge. My daily vitamins, followed by a few cups of coffee.
- Lunch: Usually a sandwich (ham,cheese, tomate, lettace and avocado) or some of last night’s dinner.
- Afternoon Tea: A musueli bar, or yoghurt, some of my kids cut up fruit and veggie snacks, or most recently, Will lets me have one of his healthy smoothie creations for the day.
- Dinner: A small portion of pasta/meat/chicken or fish with a nice mixed salad.
- Supper: Blackmores Muscle Magnesium with a glass of water to help with recovery and sleep.
What’s your favourite healthy recipe?
Will: Anything fresh will always get my attention, so a mix of in-season vegetables or mixed salad with a portion of fresh salmon or lamb is one of my regulars and a favourite. My family is always on the lookout for new healthy recipes too, so after testing them we will regularly share them with each other in an online message group, which is great for keeping variety.
Mat: A fresh salmon fillet cooked and wrapped in foil in the oven with some lime juice and sea salt; served with a salad or vegetables. This is a great meal that can easily be modified to suit the warm weather of the Gold Coast, or the colder days in Germany.
What’s your food splurge?
Will: Sunday pancakes! Even though the pancakes are made with only eggs, flour and milk – the positive thoughts of eating pancakes with fresh blueberries and banana gives a real kick for the week.
Mat: Usually Will and I take it in turns to make the pancakes! It’s a coincidence that each of our families have a tradition for Sunday pancakes, and despite all our travelling and training, we try to keep this tradition.
Outside of training for the Olympics, are you working on any other upcoming projects?
Will: Aiming to compete at the Olympics is certainly quite a big undertaking, and with the mindset to perform at our best – it begins to encompass all aspects of our life! However, balance is key, and rather than let the tasks at hand become too daunting, it is nice to ‘distract’ ourselves at times.
Mat: Both Will and I are presently completing Masters degrees with the view to return to these after the Olympics, and no doubt there will be some new sailing-related projects appearing in the coming months!
Is there a motto that you live by?
Will: Be positive, and try to make the most of opportunities which come your way!
Mat: Trust yourself and follow your dreams!
What gives you the greatest joy – in your sport and also in life and what are the most challenging aspects?
Will: That’s a tough question, as I enjoy lots of things! Within 470 Olympic sailing, the high level and closeness of competition is what draws me back for more! The unique environment of working in a team with Mat and Coach Victor is also special as each day is a learning opportunity. We are always searching for improvements as we try to aim towards achieving ‘perfection’ (which is itself being constantly redefined due to the endless variables associated with our sport). This element of the campaign is certainly challenging.
Mat: Time with family and friends is also very special, and the sacrifices we make within our sporting lifestyle can be challenging to deal with. However these sacrifices make the successful moments even more special and these moments can be shared with those close to us as they too understand and have been with us on our journey.
What mental training do you do in the lead up to a big event, such as the Olympics?
Will: We are fortunate to have a fantastic coach, Victor Kovalenko, who not only helps to structure and support our Olympic campaign over the four year pathway, he also helps us improve our sailing skills. He provides a mental approach platform which helps us constantly refine over time. This will hopefully provide us the experience to compete in the same way as normal even under the unique pressure and nature of the Olympics.
Mat: These real, acquired experiences over the four or more year journey, help us to feel comfortable as though each situation is something we have already been in before.
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