Popular sports nutritionist Jeaneth Aro has been working in the corner of veteran weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz the past four years, the last was when the superstar Filipino athlete captured three gold medals in the Roma World Cup more than a year ago in Italy.
Their partnership started in 2017, a year after Diaz earned a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and decided to form her own “HD Team” with Chinese mentor Kaiwen Gao and strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo.
As for Aro, her main duty is to help Diaz with her nutrition program.
But what actually a sports nutritionist does? And why the 30-year-old Diaz reiterated the importance of Aro’s presence when she targets another podium finish in this year’s Tokyo Olympics in Japan?
Aro told the Manila Bulletin that it was some sort of a trial-and-error thing when she started with Diaz, until they finally got the right combination of nutrition plan, and other things before, during and after competitions, plus the off-season when Diaz still needs to maintain a specific weight.
“We learned a lot from each other over the years until Hidilyn became comfortable with the food intake she’s having especially in training and the event itself,” said Aro in a phone interview Monday, May 3.
“That is why maintaining a specific weight before was very challenging for her. Sometimes it won’t suit the physical training of Hidilyn. So now her weight loss is set on the intensity of training.”
“For us, what we do is to set a goal with Hidilyn’s weight one week before the competition. It would be easier for her to reach the target weight of her category in the competition,” the 39-year-old Aro added.
Diaz placed fourth overall in the Asian Weightlifting Championship last month in Uzbekistan that also served as the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) for Asia, which formalized her entry to the Tokyo Olympics.
Diaz, who earned a silver medal in the Rio Olympics, will compete in the 55 kilograms women’s category in Japan, and Aro said they already have a strategy in their bid for a medal finish.
According to Aro, Diaz normally maintains a body weight of 58-59kgs, and they usually start to slowly lose weight until a few days before the event with the food intake and right diet.
A day before the event, Diaz is already on the competition weight category in time for the weigh-in for participants, which in the case weightlifting is two hours before the event. After that, a participant has two hours to what most weightlifters call ‘recovery period’ where they can have food intake.
In the case of Diaz, Aro said they already know what to do since they have already accomplished the same strategy during the 2019 World Weightlifting Championship in Thailand, the Southeast Asian Games the same year here, and in the World Cup 2020.
Diaz settled with a bronze medal in Thailand, and won gold in both the biennial SEA Games and World Cup.
“After she meets the cut-off weight, we have two hours to recover and prepare for the event itself. For her, Hidilyn and I, we are really very particular with her weight cut,” said Aro, a BS Community Nutrition graduate at University of the Philippines, with a post-graduate diploma in Sports Nutrition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Aro, who also handles other elite athletes like professional boxers Jerwin Ancajas and Mark Magsayo, as well as pro golfer Miguel Tabuena, and the four boxers in the Tokyo Olympics, Eumir Marcial, Carlo Paalam, Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno, said that she plays a crucial part in ‘Team HD’ aside from being the sports nutritionist.
Aro missed the last Asian Weightlifting Championship because of safety reasons, and it proved that her absence affected the performance of Diaz – reason why the latter reiterated the importance of having a complete ‘HD Team’ with Aro on board in the Tokyo Olympics.
“We tried that in the OQT, but even doing it online, it wasn’t enough. There is a particular job that I fulfill inside the warm up area. Coach Gao has a particular job, coach Julius too. But for me, aside from being her sports nutritionist, I also calm her down,” said Aro.
“We really learned a lot of lessons over the years, and the OQT gave us a preview how important and crucial to have the entire team for Hidilyn. The small things we do, one mistake is crucial in a high level competition.”
“Hidilyn’s a medal prospect in the Tokyo Olympics, she has a strong chance to accomplish her goal – and that’s to win. If she’ll have a complete team inside the warm up area, it’s a big help for her,” she said.
However, the problem for Aro is that she has no accreditation and has no idea if she would get one. That falls to the Philippine Olympic Committee, which provides a list of athletes, coaches and officials to the organizing committee of the Tokyo Olympics for accreditation.
Aro said that if she gets an accreditation, she could also provide assistance to other Filipino athletes in the Tokyo Olympics, although her priority, she said, are the four boxers and Diaz.
“It would all depend on the accreditation. I am not part of the official delegation, that’s our dilemma now. The POC might send a sports nutritionist in Japan, but now we don’t know who that might be,” said Aro.
“But if I get accredited, I am willing of course to extend and provide help to the other Olympians of our national team.”