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My Focus: How Paratriathlon Champ Allysa Seely Turned Food From An Afterthought To A Strength

By Doug Williams | Dec. 13, 2017, 1:05 p.m. (ET)



Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.

Allysa Seely doesn’t daydream about her favorite foods or excitedly search out hot new local restaurants.

In the age of fervent foodies, TV cooking shows and indulgent food photos on social media, Seely is the outlier. Eating, she says, is not her favorite thing.

“I’m so weird in that sense,” she said. “Everybody loves to eat. Food is just not my favorite thing. I’m definitely one of those people that eat to live. They always say there’s two types of people: you’re either live to eat or eat to live, and I definitely eat to live.”

If you’re an elite athlete like Seely, that can sometimes be a problem.

Seely, who won a gold medal in the Paralympic debut of paratriathlon in 2016 (in her PT2 classification), has to pay extra attention to her nutrition because just getting enough calories often is a struggle for her as a swim-bike-run athlete.

In the year since Rio, Seely changed coaches, altered her workouts, didn’t monitor her nutrition as closely as she should and endured some medical problems. That led to some disappointing results. After winning consecutive world championships in 2015 and 2016, as well as the Paralympic title, Seely in September finished second at the world championships at Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

“This past year I lost some muscle mass and lost some strength, and it showed big in my results,” she said from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she lives and trains. “I don’t want it to happen again so we decided it needed to be a major focus.”

About two months ago, Seely, 28, decided to focus on two things during this offseason to get ready for 2018. First, get the right nutrition. Second, put on some muscle.

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She’s been working with sports performance dietitian Jacqueline Scaramella, who is based at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California.

In their short time together, Seely has made some changes in her eating. She’s tracking and counting her calories more intently and supplementing her diet with more protein, often in the form of shakes, Greek yogurt and nuts. For now, Scaramella’s guidance has been mostly general, but it will get more specific.

Recently, during a video shoot about her nutritional focus at the teaching kitchen at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Seely demonstrated the preparation of one of her go-to, protein-rich recipes she learned from her parents, grilled chicken and quinoa with vegetables.

“I adapted it to what fits my diet better, adding more vegetables and more greens,” she said.

She felt a little bit out of place as a confessed non-foodie suddenly under the lights and the focus of a kitchen camera, but enjoyed it.

“It was kind of crazy,” she said. “I’m definitely no professional chef, but it was really fun to be able to show everybody one of my favorite, easy meals that’s packed with protein and veggies. It was fun to go through all the steps and do all of it.”

Travel is constant for Seely, so she’s also paying more attention to how she’ll fuel her body when on the road. Often, she takes a blender so she can buy fruits, vegetables and yogurt to mix with protein powder in a smoothie. She also puts together packets of brown rice and quinoa that can be popped into a microwave and mixed with a grilled chicken breast — or another available protein — for an easy meal.

Seely has been resilient and determined in her triathlon career. She was an able-bodied triathlete at Arizona State and has been a top paratriathlete since her lower left leg was amputated in 2013, the result of severe neurological complications from Chiari 2 Malformation, Basilar Invagination and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome she was diagnosed with in 2010. She’s confident her renewed attention to nutrition will pay off.

“I think a good diet will help with recovery after hard workouts, to be better prepared with muscle for the next day,” she said. “Really good nutrition adds so much more than just strength. I think it will help me be an all-around better athlete.

Of course, to be effective, it will be combined with more vigorous strength training.

“Prior to Rio I was doing strength training three to four times a week, and after Rio we dropped that down significantly,” she said. “So we’re bumping that back up to doing heavy strength training several times a week on top of what we consider injury prevention (workouts). … That will really help utilize the good nutrition to build muscle, strength and power.”

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Allysa Seely