OMAR MEZIANE – GB ROWING TEAM, HEAD CHEF
Omar has been working for the GB Rowing Team since April 2015, but prior to that his experience of feeding elite athletes had come from working with London Wasps RUFC: “I had my own recruitment agency and one of the jobs I picked up was to provide chefs for Adams Park on match days. Somebody let me down one day, so I ended having to work the shift, then a job came up at the training ground and, being a fan of London Wasps, I jumped at the opportunity.
“Learning how to feed athletes was incredibly interesting to me. I come from a classical background where everything is fairly ‘set in stone’ – a recipe is a recipe – whereas working in this environment gives you responsibility and enjoyment at having to create new recipes quite often depending on what is available and what the athletes have to eat”.
Omar works with Lead Nutritionist, Wendy Martinson OBE, to establish the kinds of food the rowers need at certain times, before he sets about creating his menus: “Wendy gives me a rough idea of what they need to be eating at certain times of year, so then I essentially go out to market and see what’s in season, what fits in with our budget and then work that in with Wendy’s requirements”.
Wendy also spoke about working alongside Omar, saying: “We work really well together, he’s pretty self-sufficient. Occasionally I’ll ask for certain things at certain times, like more protein at the moment because we’re doing more strength training, so he’ll work that into the menu”.
Q&A WITH OMAR MEZIANE, GREAT BRITAIN ROWING TEAM (GBRT) HEAD CHEF
GBRT FOODIE FACTS
Each week the GBRT gets through…
- 1,700 eggs
- 150 kilos of meat
- 240 pints of milk
FACT ABOUT OMAR’S TIME AT GBRT
In the last 18 months Omar hasn’t served the same full-day menu twice.
What is your GBRT career highlight?
Going out to Aiguebelette over the summer for the 2015 World Rowing Championships, and finally seeing what it [the GB Rowing Team] was all about, and what all the hard work went into. I probably shouldn’t say this, but especially watching the men’s eight win gold like that was incredible, a really amazing experience. It was something I was really happy and proud to be a part of.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I have no idea! I genuinely can’t imagine my life not being a chef. It’s so all-encompassing and deep-rooted in who I am. I’d like to imagine that I’d possibly be a world-class footballer or a world-class rugby winger, but I can dream!
Who inspired you to be a chef?
Growing up my father owned restaurants, and I remember going to work with him as a young boy, and just loving the atmosphere of it. I loved being in the kitchen with the chefs and just being part of it was quite amazing. I suppose when I started work I was lucky enough to work in some great restaurants with some great chefs. Everybody I work with inspires me; everybody I’ve ever worked with has inspired me.
Who’s your sporting idol?
I’m very good friends with James Haskell, so I’m going to say him! Sir Steve Redgrave is an absolute legend, and even if you’re not a rower, what he’s done for the sport is quite amazing.
What one piece of technology is crucial to your job as a chef?
I’d probably say my little laptop. Although I’m not very technologically minded, I’d be lost without it.
What are your hobbies away from work?
I don’t really have any! I collect cookery books; I’ve got about 10,000. Food, and eating, and I enjoy going to the gym occasionally.
What do you typically do on your day(s) off?
Sunday is typically my day off. I always have a lie-in. I always try and watch a film in bed with my five year old son. Then we’ll go and have a coffee together somewhere and a bite to eat, possibly brunch, followed by a walk by the river. We’ll maybe even watch some rowing! After that we’ll go to the pub for a pint, home for a Sunday roast, and then off to bed. And it’s pretty much like that every single week!
Which event, other than rowing, are you most hoping to see at next year’s Rio Games?
I think it has to be the 100m final to see if Usain Bolt can retain his Olympic title, and to see just how fast he can go. It’s fascinating to see him play that game of not doing too well, and everybody questioning whether he’s too old, or is he injured; and then he turns up to the final and just destroys everyone. It’s got to be everybody’s favourite event.
In your opinion, what makes GBRT such a force to be reckoned with in world rowing?
From my perspective it’s the togetherness. We have that word ‘Team’ at the end of our title; in some sporting organisations that word can be very fragmented and it actually doesn’t mean too much. Here it really does mean everything. Everybody in the GBRT plays a really vital role in essentially helping these boats go faster in the water. If you take one tiny component out, it just won’t be quite so good. It’s a real honour to be here and it’s something that I don’t ever take for granted. I wake up every day and have this desire to want to be here, and want to make the Team better.
Favourite place that you’ve visited in your time with GBRT…
It’s got to be Aiguebelette. Well, it’s the only place I’ve visited with the team! But it was incredible – such a beautiful lake in the middle of the Alps. The sun was shining for the most part, and it was just an incredible atmosphere. It was such a stunning place that I’ve decided to go back next year for a bit of a holiday.
When you travel with GBRT what’s the one thing that you rely on?
It’s got to be that little laptop again. I have this really crappy Asus laptop that is the absolute bane of my life, but I also love it dearly. It contains every part of my life. However, I didn’t take it to Aiguebelette, and I was lost for four days!
WENDY MARTINSON OBE – GB ROWING TEAM, LEAD NUTRITIONIST – BIOGRAPHY
Wendy is the Lead Nutritionist for the Great Britain Rowing Team and Lead Performance Nutritionist and Intensive Rehabilitation Nutritionist for the English Institute of Sport.
A graduate from Kings College, London University, Wendy is a Registered Dietitian with the Health and Care Professions Council. She also holds the International Olympic Committee Diploma in Sports Nutrition. Wendy is a board member and High Performance registrant with the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register.
Wendy started her career within the National Health Service and has worked in both clinical and managerial roles in several London teaching hospitals.
Since developing her career in sport, Wendy has worked with a wide range of elite athletes. She was Consultant Sports Nutritionist to the British Olympic Association (BOA) for over four years, worked with British Gymnastics for eight years and since 2005 has worked as Nutritionist for the Great Britain Rowing team. Wendy was the Sports Nutritionist with World Class Hockey for four years and also worked for the English National Ballet School for three years. She worked a season with West Ham United FC in 2002 and consulted with the England Football squad in preparation for the 2002 World Cup and 2004 European Championships.
Wendy has experience working at three summer Olympic Games. She worked as a consultant for LOCOG in the run up to London 2012, where she was based at Eton Dorney as consultant Sports Nutritionist for the BOA, supporting rowing and sprint canoe. She worked in China as the HQ Sports nutritionist for Team GB at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was the HQ Nutritionist at the Barcelona holding camp prior to the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.
Wendy is also a qualified group exercise instructor and teaches a variety of classes at Nuffield Health fitness and wellbeing centres in central London. In the 2010 New Year Honours List Wendy was awarded an OBE for services to sport and nutrition.
Q&A WITH WENDY MARTINSON OBE, GB ROWING TEAM (GBRT) LEAD NUTRITIONIST
How many calories do GB rowers typically burn a day when training and in competition?
It’s very difficult to measure accurately, but the range is somewhere in the region of 3,000 for a lightweight and 6,000 for a heavyweight per day, although this is of course dependent on the type of training/competing that they’re doing. That information is based on estimates gathered from equations, which look at their actual calorie intake compared to how much they’re expending, as opposed to direct measurements of energy expenditure.
What is a GB rower’s typical diet on race days?
It varies, as the athletes are so individual. General principles across the board that the rowers would follow on a race day: first of all, we have to bear in mind that they’ll be nervous, so their appetite might not be as good as it normally is; they might actually struggle to eat anything at all. We’d focus on making sure that they’ve taken on board enough carbohydrates within their diet on race day, as that’s of course the main fuel source during the race. We’d drop fibre content a bit, which is for two reasons: firstly, in case their guts were a bit, shall we say, ‘overactive’, and secondly, particularly for the lightweights, we may just manipulate fibre so as their gut contents weigh less to help them achieve the weigh-in target. Fat content in race day diet would be lower, as fat sits in the gut for longer, which can be quite uncomfortable when you’re racing. And lastly, easily digestible protein. Essentially, foods that are easily digestible, that they feel comfortable with, and that they can get down if they’re feeling nervous.
How many calories will GB rowers consume in the 24 hours before a race?
Again, this is very variable, and there’s even not very much information in the literature on this. They’re likely to eat less in the day leading up to race day, and on race day, than on a normal training day. Simply, this is due to the volume of training leading into a competition being much less, so their energy requirement is smaller.
How has the increased use of data analysis in rowing helped you in your role at GBRT?
It’s definitely been beneficial, particularly from being provided with data by the physiologists in terms of athletes’ performance, such as the measurements that they take and the information that they record on the system. I then have the ability to liaise with the physiologists, and see what areas of performance need to be improved, and how nutrition can impact on that.
What role do you see data analytics playing in the future of rowing?
The more information that I’m provided with about how the athletes are performing in training and in competition, the more I can try and influence that through improvements and tweaks in nutrition.
How often do GB rowers eat when training?
They tend to eat 5-6 times a day, with the sixth meal being a bedtime snack – usually some kind of drink, but maybe solids.
Are there any foods that rowers aren’t allowed to eat when training or during competitions?
We tend to have a balanced approach to food; we don’t say: “you can eat this, but you mustn’t eat that”. There are some types of food that people like to eat – chocolate, fried foods etc. – and we believe it’s normal to have that in your diet in moderate amounts. When we’re designing menus for competitions when we’re away, then it tends to be not too much fried foods or high fat intake. Healthy fats are fine, just not lots of saturated fats. Good carb choices which have a low GI (Glycemic Index) are encouraged. Apart from booze, there aren’t really any no-no.
With next year’s Olympic Games taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; does that present any issues for you in terms of allowing the rowers to maintain their diets?
Whenever we travel abroad, be it Rio or Beijing, there are always going to be challenges regarding the sorts of foods that we can and can’t source readily. Rio really doesn’t stand out as being a major issue. Largely, we stay in good places and the quality of the food tends to be of a high standard. One issue we do face wherever we go is hygiene: athletes will be exposed to different environmental viruses and bugs, so they need to be diligent in terms of washing their hands frequently, and who they mix with.
Team Sky use their own brand of extra virgin olive oil to boost muscle recovery; are there any innovative foods/drinks that GBRT use to aid recovery?
We are very much of the belief that there isn’t a magic bullet or a superfood, which is all-encompassing in terms of energising or recovery. It’s all about what they eat on a day-to-day basis, and keeping a balanced diet. Omar, our GB Rowing Team chef, creates fantastically varied food with plenty of fantastic protein, lots of fruit and vegetables for antioxidants, polyphenols, and great carbohydrate choices. It’s all about balance, rather than relying on a magic ingredient – that’s the key.
Wendy Martinson was speaking on behalf of SAS, the Official Analytics Partner of British Rowing and the Great Britain Rowing Team.