A Talk About Food with Olympic Rower Will Dean
There is something almost supernatural about Olympic athletes. The sheer determination, diligence, and dedication it takes to go for the gold are phenomenal. More than the rigorous training sessions (seven days a week, three times a day), it requires eating like a champion too. I spoke with 2012 Olympic rower Will Dean about his career as an athlete and his views on diet and nutrition. As it turns out, he is very much down to earth, particularly when it comes to food.
A member of the Canadian National rowing team, Dean is currently preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. This demands hours on end of rowing and strength training, which boils down to consuming a good 6000-8000 calories a day. When asked what he eats for an average meal, Dean says nothing exceptional—just simple, nutritious food. His favorite breakfast, he tells me, is plain old bread, butter, and honey. After two hours on the water, Dean centers on macronutrients, chucking back a hefty portion like eggs, bacon, and pancakes.
What about “quick fixes” or dietary supplements, I wondered? How does someone of his athletic caliber maintain optimal performance weight, strength, and speed without condensing nutrients? For sure this pro has a steady supply of sports drinks on hand? Not a chance.
“Most people don’t need sports drinks. By and large, commercial sports beverages are unhealthy for your teeth, loaded with refined sugar and food coloring. As much as possible, I try to rely on real food. For a quick shot of energy, I’ll take a spoonful of honey or eat some dates; for electrolytes, I’ll look to sea salt, molasses, and sea weed—[these are] packed with micro-nutrients that our bodies need” says Dean.
But you won’t find this 6’5, fit-as-a-whistle competitor downing wheat grass juice and eating kale by the bunch either.
“I believe firmly in eating traditional foods. To be honest, I’d like to eat like a sixteenth century farmer (he’s not kidding either). Authentic foods are what I’m drawn to” says Dean.
In other words, he keeps it simple. No big secrets or obsessive calorie counting, not even a strict diet regime. Dean believes in eating his three good meals a day (albeit they’re likely twice the size of yours or mine), and a few healthy snacks between workouts. His food values, if you will, closely follow the principles of Dr. Weston A. Price: simple and unrefined. Eating well, suggests Dean, doesn’t have to be complicated, nor should it consume you.
Now that’s food for thought.
With so many diet trends and food fads these days, Dean’s philosophy is refreshingly straightforward:
“Don’t stress about eating. Appreciate your mealtimes. Eat real food (unadulterated and unprocessed). Cook as much as you can at home, and take advantage of the access we have to local food producers.”
Dean has been proactive in learning how to fuel his body best, while studying the benefits of many everyday foods. Fortunately, he enjoys cooking and learning about time-honored foods (raw milk, grains, fermented foods, grass-fed meats, and butter, to name a few). At home he raises his own organic chickens, renders various fats for cooking (currently he has 15 ducks in the freezer), makes bone broth, and (with his partner Alexandra Pony) makes homemade fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha tea.
Dean and his partner are so enthusiastic about fermentation; they offer Lifeology workshops on the benefits of eating fermented foods with recipes and cooking demos on how to begin fermenting at home.
An advocate for health and wellness and a natural public speaker, Dean is often recruited to speak at events. He is also a member of the RBC Olympic program, which enables him to share his Olympic achievements and experiences with young athletes, communities, and clients.