My name is Tony Azevedo, and I’m captain of the USA Men’s Olympic Water Polo Team. This is the first of a series of blog entries that I will write leading up to the Rio 2016 Games. Stay tuned for more posts on a monthly basis.
Today’s post centers on proactive eating habits. Over the years, I have become a better player by developing a solid nutritional routine. Other athletes who hope compete at the top of their games, and maintain longstanding careers, should do the same. While this might seem obvious, I am continually surprised by the fact that many water polo training programs fail to take nutrition into consideration.
In some cases, young athletes might get away with eating whatever they want, while still training intensely. But eventually our bodies begin to wear down. Professional athletes – myself included – take great pride in how we physically train (lifting six hours per week, swimming thousands of meters, and playing hours and hours of water polo). Then why not put equal energy into maximizing our food intake?
Even as an adolescent, I cut out fast food and soda in preparation for my first Olympics in Sydney. Later, when I started playing professionally in Italy, I immersed myself in Italian culinary traditions. This taught me the importance of eating real food, meaning nothing processed, refined or fake. I also became very aware of portion control, and developed a passion for cooking and choosing ingredients carefully.
I started to look carefully at where my food was being grown and raised. Soon, I began eating several smaller multi-course meals that were prepared with local ingredients. As often as possible, I try to eat meals with friends and family. Eating in this fashion gives me time to appreciate the fresh foods I consume. If I stuff food into my mouth alone, it’s harder to find the motivation to best balance my plate.
After Italy, I spent several years playing professionally in Croatia and Montenegro. The cuisine of the new region was very different, but my approach to eating remained the same. Eastern European diets are very meat heavy, so I made a concerted effort to prepare side salads. I planned out meals so that they would contain the most optimal proportions of protein, veggies, and carbohydrates.
A few years ago I began to suffer from bad acid reflux. Doctors gave me a slew of “quick-fix” medicines, but I was determined to address the root of the problem. Thanks to my own research, I realized that I was ingesting too many acidic foods. These included coffee, red meat and spices. To counter this, I adopted an alkaline diet which involved cutting out all processed foods, extra sugars, and highly acidic products. Within a few weeks I was feeling great. Now, every time I begin to suffer from reflux again, I buckle down, tweak my diet, and feel better.
However, I enjoy eating tremendously! This means I don’t overly restrict my diet. I’m a huge “foodie”, so I definitely let myself savour an occasional decadent dessert or greasy hamburger. But I eat these “splurge” foods in moderation. I make sure to eat very fresh, healthy, whole foods on a regular basis. Then, when I stray from my diet on special occasions, I feel as good as ever.
I often get asked about what supplements might best complement weight lifting and heavy training. I take only one supplement, a powder called Amazing Grass. It contains
100% natural raw protein or vegetable powder. I stir the powder into water every morning, or after a weight workout. I also make a natural protein drink with blended almonds (or other nuts), and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and ginger.
I think that many young athletes today turn to supplements instead of focusing on food-based nutrition. Supplements should never take the place of a healthy, balanced meal. Of course popping supplements takes much less time than preparing whole foods, but doing the former is a shortcut I don’t recommend.
Here is an example of a typical day in my diet:
Bowl of homemade yogurt (I make it myself) -banana – cacau nibs- raw homemade granola
Salad (kale, spinach, bell pepper, tomato, avocado, tuna or chicken, raw beets, kidney or black beans, cheese, cucumber, chives) with a dressing of olive oil, salt, pepper and apple cider vinegar or organic Italian pasta with a side salad
Portion of protein (salmon, white fish, steak, chicken etc.) purchased at the local street market with a side of cabbage salad and another vegetable or brown rice/couscous Snacks are cashews, fruit, raw vegetables with hummus, fresh white cheese.