Food is fuel. And athletes need fuel. Without it they cannot perform at their best. It all sounds so simple – but it's not.
To perform at their best they need the right type of fuel – and we’re not talking petrol or diesel here.
Every sport has different nutritional needs but the primary objectives are the same, to provide energy for performance while enabling an athlete to maintain weight, bulk up or lose weight as required.
And in no sports is nutrition more important than those with weight categories.
Judo is split into seven weight categories for both male and female competition so, with as little as four kilograms separating some of the divisions, finding the right weight to compete at, and maintaining that weight, becomes a key aspect of the sport.
Team GB are sending seven judoka to Rio for this summer’s Olympic Games, all of whom will face different challenges regarding their weight and how to make sure they are in peak condition come competition time.
The majority will train at a weight slightly above their competition limit and then shed weight in the days before, but there are numerous ways to do so.
While some will choose to sweat off excess water weight in a sauna, Team GB’s judoka instead use a controlled diet to shed the extra ounces in the hours before a weigh-in.
Alice Schlesinger competes in the -63kg category but will be above the limit in advance of the competition, before losing weight for her competition on August 9.
The 28-year-old says there are no tricks to cutting down though.
“Towards the competition you eat slightly less, it’s not really changing what you eat, it’s just eating less of it,” said 2009 World Championship bronze medallist.
“I eat healthily anyway, even if there is no competition.
“I am trying to eat more vegetables than I have done in the past but you still need protein to keep your muscle mass so we all have protein bars that we eat after training sessions – then we eat to refuel for the next session.
“Somebody once told me that being in a professional sport is not healthy anyway.
“Some people have sweating off and then some other sports have their own health issues so it’s part of what you do.
“As long as we know what we are doing, and we have people around to make sure we are doing it the right way, so it’s fine.”
Not everyone is like Schlesinger though, Natalie Powell is in the -78kg category and struggles to get her weight above 76kg.
After previously weighing in at 82 kg and dieting down to the -70kg category, the 25-year-old chose to go up a division and now, having sorted her diet out, maintains a steady weight just under her limit.
“I try to have five protein intakes a day, of more than 20g, and then increase my carbs depending on my training load,” said the current European bronze medallist.
“To get it all in food is just impossible, so I have two shakes a day. I’m lighter now than I was when I was fighting 70kg.
“For me I don’t think being underweight matters on the mat, maybe some of the lightweights notice more of a difference but in my weight you get a bit more speed if you are a bit lighter.
“So unless I put the weight on in muscle then I do not think it would be beneficial to put on fat to get to 78kg.”
Fellow Team GB member Nekoda Smythe-Davis does not begrudge having to cut out certain foods to be able to perform at her best though.
The 23-year-old – who is the youngest member of the team heading to Rio – sees making weight as just another part of being an elite athlete.
“Chocolate is always there in my bag for competition, because I have to cut it out when I’m making weight for a weigh-in,” said the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
“I have to cut out a lot of sugar and things that will not help you make weight or perform well.
“It is hard but it is all part of what makes you fight harder because if you have to sacrifice things to achieve something, then you want it more.
“So if I have to cut out the nice meals, chocolate and sweets to make weight and perform well, then that is just another part of the process.”
By Phil Jones