Are you eating enough? Especially when you love your workouts and training but too often, you might be pushing too hard, then get fatigued by the whole experience.

25-year old budding runner, triathlete and part-time sports dietitian, Amber Chew might seem to be the perfect person to balance her nutritional and sporting goals. ToughASIA spoke to the medical sales representative hailing from Batu Pahat, Johor, on her tips for our energetic and enthusiastic readers.

ToughASIA: How, when and why did you get involved in running?

Amber: I’ve been running on and off since primary school but wasn’t serious back then as I focused more on karate. In 2017, I was invited by one of my university seniors to participate in Pacemakers Anniversary Run (PAR) relay.

I was too shy to reject and that was how I got to know how passionate the running community can be and that was how I fell in love with running – the community.

Initially, I started to train on my own, for only 5km everyday until 2018 when I was invited to join the Pacemakers Malaysia running group for training. It was then when I started to get into running seriously.

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ToughASIA: Does your passion in medicine or health influence the runner you are today?

Amber: Absolutely. As a dietitian, I’m more aware of what I take in to optimise my performance and recovery to ensure I can push my limits further in a shorter period of time. I also love to share some nutrition knowledge with my running friends so that we can all benefit not only in performance improvement but overall health.

ToughASIA: Do your team members usually ask you for advice as a dietitian?

Amber: Of course, a lot of them do. Generally, I will advise the general population or athlete-to-be as well as professional athletes to ensure that they have adequate intake of nutrients from natural foods, if possible.

A few tips for runners and triathletes:

1. Eat Enough carbohydrate and protein.

It is important to ensure that we eat enough carbohydrate as it is our energy source to fuel us for long intense training as well as protein for recovery and muscle building. If athletes were to train every day with a structured training program, supplementation of whey protein might be needed to ensure your body and muscles are well recovered.

2. Moderation is key.

A lot of athletes might feel guilty over the cheat meals they have and then to compensate it with another session of training or exercise to burn the calories. The fact is, as long as you eat in moderation, it is totally okay to eat an ice cream or a chocolate bar once in a while without feeling guilty.

Besides, there is no specific need to go into a particular diet or to eat one particular food every day just because people say it is good for our body.

Moderation is key, anything to be taken excessively could be potentially harmful to our body too.

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An invitation to participate in a relay run, sparked Amber’s love for running.

3. Supplementation is important when we cannot take in all the nutrients we need daily.

A lot of athletes in Malaysia do not understand the importance of having supplementation. Therefore, some get injured or having micronutrients deficiency here and there without realising the reasons.

As athletes, our need for nutrients is much higher than general populations and some of us just couldn’t eat enough due to satiety or difficulty in obtaining the food. This is when supplementation comes into play with an important role to ensure our body is in tip top condition to support us during training and races.

4. Proper hydration.

Ensuring that we get enough fluid throughout the day to support our daily activities is one thing. Rehydration before, during and after the training and races is another.

Dehydration and over-hydration can greatly impart our performance as athletes.

Therefore, it is important to understand our individual needs and hydrate accordingly. Usually for the general population, we need about 30-35ml/kg body weight and it means a 60kg individual will need about 1.8 litres of water for normal daily activities.

For athletes, you will need to replenish what you have lost during the exercise depending on the duration and intensity of the training itself. Usually we can top up 1-2 litres more water than our usual daily need.

5. R&R is a must!

Rest and recover – or recharge – is crucial for athletes to ensure our body stress level goes down before another intense exercise so as to minimise our injury risk and maximise our training effect. We can either have a total rest or active rest by doing a super easy recovery run or bike or swim or anything you feel like it and which is meant to be relaxing.

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The hills of Hulu Langat fits right into Amber’s passion for hilly terrain

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ToughASIA: What is your best practice to replenish your body and recover from your training sessions or races?

Amber: For me, actually it is pretty easy and general. As I train almost daily nowadays, I have not been eating spicy foods for a really long time.

I will avoid anything that is potentially irritating to my body like spicy foods or foods that might cause stomach discomfort a few hours before training and few days prior to races.

Besides, I will ensure that I eat enough or slightly more carbohydrate such as rice and hydrate myself well one to two days before a half-marathon race so as to carbo and water-load my body. An hour prior to the race, I will make sure I eat a proper breakfast with good carbohydrate load but avoid fruits to prevent stomach discomfort during the race.

I will usually take one energy gel with me during the race and take half at KM-8 and another half at KM-15 or KM-16. The number of energy gel or bars needed is very individualised and it is normal to refuel up to 3 packs in a half-marathon. After the race, we can reward ourselves with anything as our wish but good carbohydrate and protein must be included and if possible take it within 2-3 hours post-run. Then I will give myself a good nap to recover!

ToughASIA: What inspired you to pursue duathlon or triathlon?

Amber: I’ve been eyeing this sport for quite some after I get to know some runners who also do duathlon and triathlon! They encourage me to try out duathlon after seeing my progression in running and I get interested!

Then I started to notice a well known triathlon training academy – RC Coaching which has produced a number of national athletes in triathlon and duathlon. I feel lucky to enrol with them through a friend’s recommendation!

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After running and cycling, duathlon seems like the natural progression for Amber.

ToughASIA: Did the lockdown imposed during this MCO interfere with your plans to pursue duathlon or triathlon? 

Amber: Definitely. As group training is not allowed and I am still very new to cycling, I was confused initially on how to train cycling alone especially when I don’t have a smart trainer yet. The same goes to running when it comes to hard sessions.

Luckily, I have very supportive groups like RC Coaching, Calibre Academia and a lot of running friends who I can go to whenever I have any doubts. I have also been receiving training plans from RC Coaching and Calibre Academia for my duathlon and running to keep myself on track all the time. All these support and training plans have been helping me in giving ideas of ways to improve progressively!

ToughASIA: Where are your favourite running locations or routes?

Amber: I run almost every day ranging from easy run, intervals, fartleks, recovery runs on weekdays to long runs on weekend. Usually, I will do around 8-12km per run on weekdays and a half marathon distance on weekend.

My favourite running locations are based in Kuala Lumpur – Titiwangsa, Lake Gardens, Petronas Sri Hartamas and recently Melawati. I particularly love hilly routes as I love the torture! Some of my favourite hilly routes for long runs on weekends are Petronas Sri Hartamas, Bangsar route and also Melawati route.

ToughASIA: Have you participated in any runs overseas?

Amber: Yes! I signed up for Hatyai Marathon 2019 and surprisingly won myself a huge trophy! To be honest, as I don’t like running on flat route, the running course is a bit boring for me but it is indeed a great route to break personal best for others. However, the event itself was very well organised and super fun throughout! The music, the crowd, the crew and the food.

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ToughASIA: What is your proudest achievement in running?

Amber: My proudest achievement in running is that I am able to inspire a lot of friends around me to start exercising and running!

For me, whatever prize or timing we achieve during races are just the fruits of our hard work and bonus when we get to stand on podium. But if our passion in sports influences people around us to start getting into an active lifestyle, that’s when we know we’ve been doing it right!

A lot of friends and even strangers come to me and tell me that my passion in running has inspired them to start and keep them motivated, I was totally overwhelmed!

ToughASIA: What keeps you going into 2021 and beyond as a runner and multisport athlete?

Amber: The burning passion in this great community! I’ve been seeing and inspired by so many people who train so hard even as a working adult. I seriously find no excuses to slack off at all. To be frank, it is not easy at all to juggle between training and working but with the great community I am in, I believe everything is possible with passion and discipline!

Photos provided by Amber Chew.

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