Kenny Bednarek on the importance of good nutrition, challenges in going gluten-free, and more

Olympic medallist and star sprinter Kenny Bednarek talks to the author on the importance of good nutrition, challenges in going gluten-free, favourite foods, and more.

Kenny Bednarek...“If you have a dream to become an elite athlete, it’s better to start [eating healthy] sooner rather than later, especially at a young age.”

Kenny Bednarek...“If you have a dream to become an elite athlete, it’s better to start [eating healthy] sooner rather than later, especially at a young age.” | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

Olympic medallist and star sprinter Kenny Bednarek talks to the author on the importance of good nutrition, challenges in going gluten-free, favourite foods, and more.

Why do you think nutrition is important?

I think it’s very important because for an athlete, it’s very important for your body to be at its peak. It’s very important for me because I need to make sure that I’m recovering right and that I’m having all the energy to be able to sprint the first 100 metres and then the last 100 metres and the 200 metres.

If you had to choose any food that really give you energy, what would be your best —  the good stuff  and  the bad stuff?

Well, we just ordered pizza, so I say pizza is the bad stuff. And the good stuff: I like steak medium rare and sweet potato with broccoli.

Awesome.  What is your advice to  young athletes who are watching you? If you had to go back in a time capsule and meet Kenny who is 14 years  old, from a nutrition point of view, what would you tell that kid?

I would tell them to do their best with their nutrition because when I was in high school and college, I ate trash — hot  CheetosSkittles before races. If you have a dream to become an elite athlete, it’s better to start [eating healthy] sooner than later, especially at a young age. It’s also just healthier for the body finding out that I had the whole gluten problems and all that. I didn’t find that out until later but it damages the body when you’re putting all those toxins in. So that’s the advice: if you have a dream of becoming an elite athlete start [taking care of your diet] early and it’ll make everything easier later on.

Taking a cue on gluten because I’m writing a book on gluten at the end of this year. How should  you do the testing and come to know about it?  Gluten found in pastries and bread and pizza  and  everything.

All my favourite things.

But now that you found out that you’re  gluten  sensitive and you’re eliminating it from your diet.  Did you actually see a difference in your training, in the weight room, in your performance?  And did you see a difference which is making you give up these things that you really like?

Initially it was really hard. I got the test done, found out my gluten levels were through the roof and went back home. I had to look through everything and it’s kind of like ‘Wow, I can’t eat this.’

So you’re more aware of it now when you go to places.

Yeah, I check for everywhere I go. I check to make sure if it is gluten-free or not. I have cheat days sometimes but that’s when I really deserve it and that’s usually in the off-season, but it’s a battle every day. I always go to the store, I’m like ‘what’s this (product)’ because I know it’s going to taste better, but you know I’ve got to make sure not to take it because I do feel better and it helps me perform better at a better level. What’s really hard about it is just the taste.

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When you travel for the  World  Championships and the Diamond  Leagues, do  you need to be prepared more than someone who is not on a nutrition plan?

Yes, I have to be more prepared. Usually when I go to competition overseas, I don’t usually eat the food that’s down at the hotel because it doesn’t taste that good and it’s not what I need. We have a plan to make sure that I get the job done at the race and what I usually do is just order from outside. I just make sure to get what I need and that it’s gluten free.

So that’s how I manage that aspect when I go overseas. But in the U.S., it’s a lot easier because I can bring my own stuff and I’m familiar with the companies. Overseas is a little tougher but I still get it done.

Weight room or track —  which is your favourite?  Depends on the training?

Yes, it depends on the training. If the track is really hard, I don’t want to go to the weight room but if it’s easy, I love going to the weight room.

Is there any favourite supplement that you have when you work out? Is it a hydration drink, is it a BCA, is it a protein powder?  What do you feel, and  what do you look forward to taking?

Well, it’s not the beet! Yeah, I take them and isotonic drink.

So you like that.

Yeah, because it quenches my thirst and it has a good taste to it.

What’s your advice to the people on working with professionals from the coach to the physio to the masseurs to the nutritionists to the mind coach? You’re up there with some of the best in the world    you won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. What is your perspective of working with the team?

It’s good for basic communication with everybody. The coach knows what’s going on with the mental health and the nutrition so we can all communicate with each other.

Does Kenny cook?

Barely.

If you had to make something for yourself, what would you cook?

I can make salmon, some honey-drizzled salmon. I just started cooking that and I can make a burger, but I’m learning right now. So far I’ve been ordering out all the time.

Now taste has been replaced with more planning: ‘Okay, I got to get my carbs, is there some protein in this?’

Yeah, but I also try to make sure it tastes a little good so I can enjoy.

Any last advice to track and field athletes across the world?

Just listen to your coaches and then make sure to find a good team because if I didn’t have a good team I wouldn’t be at the position I am right now. It would have been very difficult for me to even figure out what to do to make sure that I am running at the highest level.

But having a good support system — nutritionist, coach, mental health coach, lifestyle coach, everybody, family — is all very important because it’s going to make everything easier for you when you hear the gunshot off and then at the end of the race.

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