An interview with the nutrition expert Pia Jensen
Pia Jensen is a top athlete. Her discipline is the 800 metres. She also has a degree in Sports Science, is the author of cooking books and is a nutritionist. Her vocation: Supporting athletes in achieving their personal goals with her well-founded knowledge. In the interview, the 27-year-old explained how this works and which factors are important in the daily diet.
Photo: Pia Jensen
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I had a chocolate porridge with banana, almond butter and soya yoghurt.
Because it is healthy or because you enjoy the taste?
I really do find it tasty. Porridge can be prepared in a wide range of flavours. For instance, using fruit, grain or almond butter. So, it is also a very varied meal.
You are a competitive athlete yourself. Do you eat three classic meals a day, i.e. breakfast, lunch and an evening meal?
Basically, yes. Sometimes I eat the meals at slightly different times. I orientate this on my training sessions. It does also sometimes occur that I train in the mornings on an empty stomach and don’t eat breakfast until 10 o’clock. But as a rule, I always eat three meals spread out through the day, with one or two snacks in-between.
By snacks you don’t mean bars of chocolate, I take it?
No, they shouldn’t be calorie bombs of course. But in general athletes have a higher energy consumption and have to regularly have an additional intake of food. Apples, muesli bars, nuts or dried fruit are good snacks for example. They are namely nutritional snacks that deliver athletes a fast supply of energy. To ensure a steady blood sugar level and for a better level of satiation I recommend consuming such snacks together with a source of protein, i.e. combining them with yoghurt, curd cheese or also Harz cheese.
What do you consider to be a healthy diet?
A healthy diet isn’t complicated. It is important that mostly food that is seasonal, natural and non-processed ends up on our plates. When we combine these foodstuffs with each other in a diversified and balanced manner our body receives a good supply of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
What is your opinion about food supplements?
In my opinion, generally speaking if one makes sure one has a balanced diet, they are not necessary. However, reduced performance can of course also be sign of a deficiency, which can be clarified by having a blood test carried out, which will show if the body is lacking anything and what one should take to combat this in a targeted form.
How do diet and performance correlate?
As an athlete I know that training is the essence of the performance potential. However, we will never get the best out of us and reach the desired goals if our diet is wrong . Our health and what our body is capable of achieving is also significantly influenced by our diet – it is thus the basis for a long-term training structure. This means our own performance can be sustainably optimised by a healthy and sports-oriented diet.
How does this work precisely?
All adjustment processes to training stimuli are dependent on the availability of energy via macronutrients and micronutrients. So, what we feed our body is an elementary component for the development of sporting performance. And the performance during competitions is dependent on the right nutrition strategy. The best training doesn’t help if the energy is lacking.
Are there things that athletes need more of?
Yes, definitely. The nutritional requirements of a sportsman are automatically higher, because more energy is needed. But what the body needs also depends on the specific type of sport. Since depending on what the body has to do, it needs different nutrients that influence its metabolic rate to increase the performance level. Hence, individual nutrition strategies are required to generate sustainable success.
Is there anything that riders should specifically bear in mind?
The equestrian sport is particularly noteworthy because riders need a consistent supply of energy throughout the whole day when competing. After all, as a rule they are en route with the horse for a longer period of time and perhaps even compete several times in one day. Here it is especially important to know: What shall I eat? When shall I eat? What will help me keep my concentration level high? It has to be organised so that the rider’s performance and concentration level is 100% at the given point in time.
This all sounds very well-planned and structured. Do you also have days when you simply indulge?
Of course. Basically, I am not an advocate of totally doing without. For me it is always important to create a diet that is suitable for everyday life, which the athletes can stick to long-term. After all food also has to taste nice. And yes, one can also eat a pizza now and again. But of course I know that in the time I am waiting for the order to arrive, I could have quickly made myself something. One can rustle up something healthy in 15 minutes.
Can you give us a concrete example?
Yes, one-pot pasta. It is simple and is ready in a flash. Cook the pasta in a saucepan with onions, tomatoes, paprika powder and oregano. Just before they are ready to eat add fresh leaf spinach and serve with crumbled feta cheese. Delicious!