Keeping our athletes strong

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Jeaneth Aro is a very busy woman. She is the nutritionist of IBF world super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas, WBC Asia featherweight champion Mark Magsayo, Asian Tour golfer Miguel Tabuena, the Philippine taekwondo team, the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines, TNT Tropang Giga, and Olympic silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz. Having clients in many different time zones is enough to keep anyone hopping. But Coach Jeaneth manages to keep things in order, out of her passion for keeping athletes at the peak of health and recovery. And well, they’ve in turn realized how important someone like her can be to their sustained performance.

When she was in the University of the Philippines, Jeaneth didn’t like the path she was going to be on, like food service or hospital dietetics. There were a few nutritionists venturing into sports, but none had any personal experience. Having been a taekwondo athlete herself, she realized there was a gaping vacuum in sports nutrition, and gladly stepped into that void.

“I saw the opportunity to connect the two: nutrition with sports and fitness,” Jeaneth recalls. “I told myself that this was what is very dear to me. I’d rather create my own path.”

This was when she discovered the diverse needs that needed to be filled.

“I really make an effort to understand the nature of the sport, then I take it down to the goals of the individual athlete,” Coach Aro explains in the vernacular. “They’re all in different sports and all have different physiological needs. Even in a sport like basketball, each player has a different individual goal based on the role that they play. So that’s the main consideration. I also look at the duration of their actual game, like professional versus amateur boxing.”

For example, for Hidilyn (who loves to eat), the main strategy wasn’t to win in the Asian Weightlifting Championships in her new, consolidated weight class of 55 kilograms. That would have been a bonus. It was her sixth Olympic qualifying event, guaranteeing her a berth in Tokyo. The strategy was to make weight, do what she could, and keep on getting stronger to peak at the Olympics. There was the added benefit of having the powerhouse Chinese lifters knock each other out, as Olympic slots are very limited. Besides, it was Diaz’s first competition in over a year, so there was no need to take unnecessary risks. She followed a strict, week-to-week plan.

For recovery of boxers like Ancajas and Magsayo on the other hand, Coach Jeaneth reminds them to take their recovery drinks after a bout, but also lets them eat what they want to celebrate their victories. After all, they’ve deprived themselves for months preparing for combat. Besides, the calorie intact would be practically the same even if immediate post-fight meals aren’t planned. The athletes also have the discipline to get back on their nutrition plan after a few days. During training, they are allowed one free day (or cheat day) each week, so they don’t feel too restricted, or else they would rebel and lose all the gains they’ve achieved.

“But for athletes with back-to-back events, I tightly watch over their recovery,” she says. “As long as the competition isn’t over, I don’t relax.”

And thanks to Jeaneth Aro’s guidance and vigilance, Filipino athletes reach success more often.

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