Thursday, March 15, 2012

Diet & Funding Explained

Someone left me a comment on my 2012 All England blog and I felt that I should address it in a new blog instead of replying in that blog posting because it was quite unrelated to the tournament:


So I've been reading a few of your blog posts now, and I've noticed a particularly disturbing trend; your diet. Now, I realize you're not posting pictures on a meal to meal basis, but should aspiring Olympians really be consuming pizzas, bowl noodles, hot dogs and the regular junk food? I may be overly analytical, but this speaks volumes as to how little you are willing to sacrifice for success. Say what you will about training and career changing decisions: if you're not even willing to forego junk food, you don't deserve to be a winner.

Also, the notion that Canada should increase funding for athletes, even to a reasonable level, is ridiculous. It's simple supply and demand. Further taking into consideration how you (and other Canadian team members) spend their cash on food and flashy accessories, I would say Canada is right to deny funding. I'm all for encouraging and recognizing sporting activities, but is the national team anywhere close to achieving that?

I'm sorry if I offended anyone, but I really felt this needed to be said.


Thank you for your comment and I appreciate your thoughts. However, I would like to clarify some things with everyone... mainly my diet and funding issues.


The first question I want to ask everyone is... "What should an Olympian eat?" It seems really easy to point out things people shouldn't do, but with constructive criticism, then what SHOULD I be eating? I've seen nutritionists at the odd team training camps, I've gone through nutrition in school, I've read magazines and the unfortunately useless Yahoo! articles, but what should an Olympian eat? I wouldn't know. What I do know is that the things an individual chooses to do may or may not have the same effect on another individual (see Michael Phelps). As far as I know among the Canadian National Team members, I would say Michelle Li has the best diet, as she more or less only drinks water and is cutting out certain 'bad' things from her diet (e.g. fried food). My brother Derrick likes to try new things and totally changes his diet, but he also believes in his MonaVie stuff. Adrian Liu prefers to have rice as often as he can, while Alex Bruce loves sandwiches. A few of the players also do the protein shakes and some also take creatine. But what do I do?

Well, I prefer to get my protein from natural dairy sources, so I try to eat yogurt and cheese more often. I go with low fat cheese and unfortunately they don't have drinkable yogurt in Canada at an affordable price. Unfortunately, drinkable yogurt is quite limited in protein, so I go for fortified soy milk over regular milk because I have some minor lactose intolerance. The price point of fortified soy milk is slightly more than regular milk, but nonetheless lower than lactose-free milk or other fancy products. I don't eat organic food because it's more expensive. I eat fruit regularly, but only what is cheap. I tend not to buy fruit that is more than 99 cents/lbs so I really never shop at Safeway unless I need bananas. I also eat a lot of whole-wheat bread... but only if it's cheap. I try to eat at home as much as I can with my family to save money, but I do have sushi the odd time. I do eat a lot of white rice as my family traditionally cooks white rice. This is my regular diet at home... why? To SAVE money.

So what happens when we travel? Doesn't that simply mean eating out most of the time? It's quite hard to control your diet when you're on the go. Do you know what the first thing I look at in a menu when I travel? PRICE. It's that pathetic. Why do I choose to eat pizza? Because the salad costs more and I would probably need to eat two of them. Also, the salad has a low carbohydrate supply and if I was training/competing all the time, I would need fuel from my carbohydrate sources. Pizza on the other hand has carbs (along with fat and massive amounts of sodium), but I know what I'm eating. The only time I eat hot dogs are when they are FREE. I know they're unhealthy, but I would rather eat cheap/free food over spending money (I'll address funding below). I know eating steak would be a much better option most of the time because it has more value for your dollar and it could be one of the best menu options, but the burger seems more affordable. Fries or salad? Sometimes I have to think about what FILLS my stomach over what is healthier... because of the money. What are my options then? Pay a premium for better nutrition? If we could control all variables and ONLY changed nutrition, how much of a difference could it make in badminton? It's been a LONG time since I've lost a match and blamed it on my fitness... so how much do I think adjusting nutrition affects our badminton in Canada? Not very much. It's also comforting to see other International players eating where we eat, even at the odd McDonalds now and then. So what's my formula for my diet? Simple... (Calories INPUT) < / = (Calories OUTPUT).


Let's clarify: our funding used to be 10 of these... 'cards' and we got stripped down to '5'. A reasonable level was '8'. So would it really be 'increasing' our funding? Yes and no... yes, because 8 is 3 more than 5, what we have now, but 8 is also less than 10, what we had before. So to a reasonable level, seems... reasonable based on what we had before. But perhaps you are right. Maybe it's not worth funding a player in each event, thus decreasing our carding quota even more, but Badminton Canada doesn't treat all events equally... so we continue to fund someone in Men's Singles even though it is poorly represented on the World stage. So the 'reasonable' level can be decreased to 7... and if someone is doubling up in two events (e.g. Michelle Li), that can decrease the number of cards to... 6. But too bad, we only have 5, so now everyone is out playing tournaments that can guarantee them funding, instead of trying to improve their level of badminton Internationally. Hey, I tried that once but I lost funding for that year... so I learned my lesson. Is this how an Olympian should train or orient his/her goals? Heck no. Even I know that's a terrible way to develop a player, but I guess we all follow the money. Nutrition, training programs, quality of life... follows the money.

However, I need clarification on "Flashy Accessories". I, for one, own a lower end phone, a Samsung Wave and do not have the fancier "Galaxy S II's" or "iPhone 4S's". I have a Kobo E-reader, $200 CAD compared to whatever the iPad 2 or the NEW iPad costs. I own a Sony mp3 player, which costed $99 CAD compared to whatever and iTouch/iPod costs. So what if I'm not an Apple fan? I have an HD camcorder which I've purchased a few years back to video tape matches, but it's not like I'm super tech-savvy. The most expensive thing I've purchased recently was a Samsung Ultrabook, but I've had to save up a long time for it. I've been using a netbook for almost 2 years now, which costed $400 but I need something that can actually play and render HD video, because my computers at home are actually close to 10 years old.

So what REALLY needs to be said is that I don't have to do any of this blogging, video taping, or anything else because a REAL aspiring Olympian would get sponsors or endorsements or have someone else doing this for them. They can spend their time and money towards something more EFFECTIVE because their sport is more highly recognized than mine. They can be media icons, spokespeople to kids in high schools in their communities about nutrition, goal setting, or whatever... but not for badminton. So I operate a very large volunteer operation here promoting my sport in Canada the best I can... why? For money? Do I even have a 'Donate' sign anywhere on my blog? Maybe I just want to show the World how tough it is for the struggling amateur athlete in Canada... there are still those who try because they love their sport.

Oh... and before I forget. People can win even if they don't deserve to.


  1. Thanks for your detailed thoughts Toby. First of all, I think it's fantastic for you to be personally managing your PR (ie youtube matches, blogging). It's a great way to promote the "true" nature of the sport.

    Second, I realize that your performance and funding inherently share the same fate. However, in no way does this push aside your responsibility to figure out a financially sound, yet healthy diet. You mentioned that it's obvious to avoid what you shouldn't eat, yet you also didn't know what an Olympian SHOULD eat. I find this very hard to believe. As someone who has been pushing to qualify for the highest level of competitive badminton, don’t tell me you don’t know how to take care of your body. And by the way, a full diet plan goes beyond simply where you get your protein sources from.

    And there’s the issue with cost. Without the funding, you can’t eat right, and if you can’t eat right, you can’t perform and win titles. If I can tell you one thing, you’re NOT going to be able to break out of this loop by asking for funding. As I said before, you still maintain the responsibility to figure out a healthy diet. You want to save money? Don’t eat out at restaurants, buy raw food and make it yourself, even on the road. And even if free food is presented, it doesn’t mean there’s a green light to consume it. By that logic, if you were sponsored by a hot dog company which would supply you with a year’s worth of hot dogs, would you give up your fitness just so your wallet won’t take a huge hit? I believe you owe a higher duty and standard than those simply strapped for cash.

    Lastly, I was very disheartened to hear you say people can win even if they don’t deserve to. I really hope this isn’t what you tell yourself while you’re training, that you can make it to the top undeservedly. The principle be true in reality, but what are YOU trying to achieve? We’re talking about sports, and the Olympics for you are mere smoke and mirrors; a dream. Sure, Lin Dan was born with all the talent in the world, but you don’t think he paid a huge price to get to where he is now? The man lives and breathes badminton. I even heard all his conversations with his wife XXF are about badminton tactics. At any rate, I would bet that if Lin Dan were given free hot dogs, he wouldn’t touch anything but the bun.

  2. Wow, Lin Dan is quite a far stretch for a comparison. It would be quite a difference, living, training, and competing in the Chinese badminton system. I'm sure a lot of Canadians wouldn't even make it very far, but have you ever thought of placing a high level player and putting him/her in the Canadian badminton system? Would you think Lin Dan would eat hot dogs if he had to pay for his own training in Canada, including living expenses and transportation? I don't know the Chinese badminton system, but I've seen the Korean one. I've even visited their National training center. They don't have to worry about what to eat because they have their meals provided. They don't have to cook or buy groceries, they just train, eat, sleep, and win. They have instant noodles and other junk food at the National Center as well, but I guess they're doing pretty well.

    I would LOVE to be sponsored by a hot dog company or even better, McDonalds. At this rate, anything helps more than criticism of a full diet plan. What should this diet plan consist of? Other players don't have to worry about making their own diet plans, and it's tough to get an accurate diet plan prescription in Canada because I don't suppose there are too many nutritionists that have worked with International badminton... is it like... tennis? Ha... what do you think? What would you suggest if you were in my position? I've been to obscure locations where your options are very limited. Whole-wheat pasta so I can have more fiber and complex carbohydrates? Poly-unsaturated fats from vegetable sources instead of animal ones? Animal proteins to get my essential amino acids? Sure... I've dabbled in the science. You'd be surprised how my fitness levels are despite my diet. If I had to choose between diet and let's say, physiotherapy... I would choose the latter.

    People can win even if they don't deserve to, because it seems everybody else deserves to win because they eat better, train more, have better sparring partners, more experienced coaches, more funding, and apparently more time on their hands because they don't have to come up with diet plans. So yes, I'm training so I can see how far I can make it with my 'deficiencies'. There has always only been talk on what we should be doing, what we need, what we don't have... but it's always been just talk. My goal has ALWAYS been to get as far as I can, given my constraints. I always wanted to make the Top 16 because that would probably put me in a good Olympic position anyway, but stuff happens... like losing funding for a year, having your coach move back to Korea... but yeah, oh well... maybe that happens to other people too?

    I would LOVE to do well in badminton, but in reality, I don't deserve to win. I shouldn't beat the players that have trained longer than I have, I shouldn't beat the players that eat better than I do, and I shouldn't beat the players that train longer than I have... I mean, we don't even have a coach when we play tournaments, SO DO WE DESERVE TO WIN?! Hahaha what do YOU think.

  3. I guess if there's one thing we both agree on, it's unfortunately that the majority of the Canadian team don't deserve to win.
    However, I won't beat a dead horse. You made some great points, and I see the situation in a much better light now

    Good luck in training

  4. Fair enough, but I respect my fellow Canadian teammates as it's really an uphill battle and I hope they start winning, whether they deserve to or not. The number one seeds don't always win the tournament, by the way.

    Thank you for your comments and I'm sure many will appreciate our discussion.

  5. Hi Toby. Long time reader of your blog - first time commenting. Just wanted to address a few points:

    1) I think that your case is very unique in that because of the system being the way it is you have no choice but to travel to tournaments around the world non-stop in order to obtain enough ranking points to maintain funding and to qualify for the olympics, all on a shoestring budget. When you need to consume lots of calories (a full-time athlete needs to consume a LOT more calories a day then a normal person) have neither the time (what little you have would be better spent on practice) nor the money (what little you have would be better spent on physio), it's easy to see how diet can suffer a bit. I would expect that when you have an extended stay at home you would have a more regimented diet (and training program).

    2) People don't realize how little funding Canadian badminton players get. Consider how underfunded Canadian soccer (to the point where Canadians would rather play for another country) or tennis (where time and time again talented juniors get passed by their peers in the pros)gets; well Canadian badminton gets a fraction of that. In terms of funding justification yes it's a two-way street but the 'Own the Podium' program has proven that a lot of funding CAN improve athlete performance in a fairly short amount of time.

    On a separate note I justed wanted to say keep up the great work with his blog. As a sports fan (and obviously a badminton enthusiast) this is the ultimate underdog story and really typifies the olympic dream of the majority of athletes out there who aren't medal hopefuls and aren't playing a sport that the general public follows.


  6. Interesting food for thought here!

    "Deserve to win". I see our Canadian players work very hard. In any sport, some do that more than others, some have natural talent more than others, some are just passionate about the game and keep on playing. Who deserves to win? Only the ones who win. And the other players will still keep working, training and trying hard to get to the podium. And I applaud all, win or lose.

    As for food? I suspect most players do the best they can with the resources they have (money, nutritional counselling, organic/not, availability, and frankly, interest). And no one has mentioned the mental fitness training aspect of being an elite athlete. That's an discussion in itself!

    So, I send out congratulations to our National Team athletes, and hope that they go as far as possible on their amazing journeys. I look forward to seeing as many Canadian badminton players as possible in London this summer!

    And thanks Toby for your blog.

  7. Thank you both, Hugh and Cindy for your comments and support! Much appreciated :)

  8. Toby that is a very good blog read, I just wanted to comment on the diet part.

    I have been in Asia (vietnam, Korea, and Japan) for the past 3 weeks almost and I agree that finding healthy and cheap food is hard to come by lots of times (Id imagine Europe would be a pain with the exchange rate). I guess I was lucky since "healthy" food was very cheap in Vietnam and in Japan meals were provided most of the time. But what I really wanted to say is that I saw the top seeds at the tournament chowing down on mcdonalds day after day as well as other junk meals too.

    So I feel that if you have a good fitness level and are constantly working hard what you put into your body doesnt have as large as an effect, it will have an effect but not as big of one. But yes it is always good to try and eat healthy, things just get interesting when you are on a budget.

    Anyways keep working hard Toby, I love your passion for badminton and what you do. Keep it up!

  9. I support all the Canadian players trying to make it right now, but this is concerning. Some of the things said in this post and comments are such a huge turn-off to sponsors it's no wonder the support is lacking.