How Hidilyn Diaz’s diet helped in making her an Olympic gold champion

Published August 19, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Nina Daza-Puyat

Elite performance dietitian Jeaneth Aro shares her strategy

Season to taste

Photos from Coach Jeaneth Aro

PINOY EXCELLENCE Coach Ja with Pinoy athletes and coaches

Hidilyn Diaz may have won the Olympic gold medal single-handedly, but she is the first to admit she could never have done it alone. Over and over again, she gives the glory back to the Father and has consistently said in interviews, “Ang galing ni God! Grabe si God!”

Aside from Hidi’s strong faith, there is also Team HD, composed of weightlifting coach Kaiwen Gao, strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo, sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad, and nutrition coach Jeaneth Aro. These four individuals trained and honed the shy, soft-spoken, diminutive Zamboangueña into her best form, building her up physically, mentally, and psychologically, until she was ready to face the biggest challenge in her weightlifting career: to win the elusive Olympic gold medal for the Philippines.

Registered nutritionist and dietitian Jeaneth Aro is Hidilyn’s nutrition coach. She has been responsible for Diaz’ nutrition plan for more than three years, closely monitoring the national athlete’s daily food and drink intake.

While on hotel quarantine, Coach Jeaneth Aro kindly shared with MB how she managed Hidilyn’s weight, energy, and hydration levels during the training period and on competition day.

As an athlete gunning for gold, what was Team HD’s plan for Hidilyn Diaz’s nutrition management program specific to her sport of weightlifting?

The nutrition plan of Hidi is unique to her needs as an athlete. It matches the energy needed for her training program. It has a balance of macronutrients, which means she intakes carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. It’s not just a high protein diet but the proportion of macronutrients varies, depending on the training program for the day.

The main goal is for her to maximize training adaptation and to induce body composition changes needed for the sport.

Hidilyn was in Malaysia for the most part of 2020 while you were in Manila. How did you manage HD’s diet while she was in Malaysia? Does she keep a food diary?

I was closely monitoring her diet in Malaysia and never skipped a week. I was sending her a nutrition program, relative to her training program for the day or week. No, she does not keep a food diary because I tell her what she needs to eat for the day.

If there were any deviations on the meal plan, she would tell me and I adjust accordingly for the next day.

EAT RIGHT, WIN LATER Hidilyn follows a stringent meal plan, which she observed strictly during her participation at the Tokyo Olympics 2020

When did Team HD finally meet up on Tokyo? How many days to competition day?

Team HD reunited in Tokyo on July 18. Competition day was on July 26.

When she got to Tokyo, was Hidilyn’s weight at the target of 55 KG for the Women’s Weightlifting category?

Upon arrival in Tokyo, Hidi’s weight was 57 kg which was really our goal. We didn’t want to make her 55 kg a week before the competition because it was not necessary. That’s why

it was crucial to monitor what she was eating and drinking during that week.

‘The nutrition plan of Hidi is unique to her needs as an athlete. It matches the energy needed for her training program. It has a balance of macronutrients, which means she intakes carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. It’s not just a high protein diet but the proportion of macronutrients varies, depending on the training program for the day.’

Did you have to make her gain weight or lose weight?

I made her lose the last two kilograms on the last week for the weigh-in. Everything was calculated up to the last decimal; not just her weight but even her food.  Dapat tama yung timing namin sa pag cut ng weight. Hidi she does not like it if her weight is too low; she’s more comfortable and more confident if the timing for the weight cut is just right.

The Olympic Village had a Dining Hall open 24 hours. How satisfied were you with the food choices available to the athletes?

Maganda ang pagkain sa Olympic Village. Coming from a third world country, it was already a giant leap in terms of food quality and options because there were so many choices. Good thing our athletes are very flexible in terms of nutrition and I was there to guide them on what to eat, relative to their needs.

I got a copy of the menu beforehand and I listed everything Hidilyn could eat from the menu. She already knew her options and I gave her enough choices. The challenge was to avoid temptation (in food) and to make her stick to the plan.

Did Hidilyn consume a high-energy or nutrient-rich meal before the competition?

Hidilyn ate three full meals the day before. She had rice, fish, chicken, and even some sushi.

On the morning of the competition, she had a breakfast of bread, protein, rice, and fish, and even some coffee.

TEAM HD From left: Strengthening and conditioning coach Julius Narnajo, sports nutritionist Jeaneth Aro, Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, sports psychologist Karen Trinidad, and head coach Gao Kaiwen

After the weigh-in, there were two hours to the competition proper. Did you give her a special meal in between?

She had some rice and chicken after weigh-in. The recovery meal is really crucial because the amount should be calculated based on the absorption rate of the actual food, like how many calories the body can absorb in a particular amount of time.

I could not give her just any kind of food because I didn’t want her to get an upset stomach. The goal was to make her feel as comfortable as possible so she could rest during the two-hour period, prior to the competition.

What was your strategy for Hidilyn to gain the energy and stamina to lift the winning world record weight of 127 kg?

I gave her “liquid nutrition”—my own concoction, which is confidential.  It’s something that fueled her body and allowed her to maintain her energy level throughout the competition.  There was high anxiety and stress, which means her body was burning calories so I had to manage everything.

How important is hydration for an athlete, specifically a weightlifter?

We have a routine during the competition, which includes water and other rehydration beverages to provide more energy for her body. This is not just to give energy during the actual lifts but to sustain her energy level during the whole two-hour duration of competition. Metabolic activity is very high because of the anxiety and stress that the athlete often feels.

After the competition, what did you give to Hidilyn for her body to recover from that kind of power lift?

After the actual competition, I gave her a protein drink—my special concoction—just to allow her body to recover. But it’s really more about meeting her nutrient requirements for the day and managing her energy levels because she had to go to press conferences and a series of interviews.

When she could finally eat, we went to the dining hall where she had pizza and some Japanese food.

In a video showing Hidilyn vlogging on the plane going home to Manila, she said she was looking forward to eating lechon. What kind of food does Hidilyn Diaz enjoy eating?

Hidi is very adventurous when it comes to food, kahit ano kinakain. I know she sometimes misses the delicacies from Zamboanga. Mahilig siya sa durian—super favorite niya ‘yon.