Take it from a pro!
Flatout’s resident expert, Valerie Barthelemy, is a professional athlete who knows the importance of healthy food. Her interview and her own wonderful flatbread recipes will inspire you to use whole, unprocessed foods every day to fuel and feel better.
Valerie Barthelemy is a professional triathlete on the Belgian National Team. Her parents – both born and raised in Belgium – came to the USA for grad school and ended up starting their family in Ann Arbor where Val learned to swim competitively. Her talent and love for the sport continued through college where she competed in the Big Ten Championships for the Division 1 University of Michigan team, while earning a Masters degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. It was during her years at Michigan that she also discovered a love for running and cycling. We talked to Val about her Olympic dreams, traveling the world, and the integral role that food plays in her success as an athlete.
Q: Did you always want to be a professional athlete?
I told my parents when I was 11 that I was either going to be a professional swimmer or baton twirler when I grew up. I don’t know where the baton twirler came from because I never have twirled a baton in my life. I was happy to swim in college, but I was focusing on completing my engineering degree and being able to swim at Michigan was a bonus. I never dreamed I would be in a position to make the Olympic games. It’s been an unexpected journey so far.
Q: How did you transition from just swimming to triathlon?
I was pretty burnt out from being in the pool all the time. Swimming can get kind of monotonous. You spend a lot of hours just staring at black lines. So I thought trying triathlons for a summer would be a good break. Growing up, anytime we had to do a mile test I was always one of the fastest kids in the class. I never really thought running was that interesting, but it was fun to beat people, I was really competitive. I never really biked, and I bought my own basic road bike. What really got me hooked was the change of scenery you get – every race is in a different location and you are challenged by different conditions. It’s amazing how much you can see when you’re running or biking 20-some miles. The contrast to being confined to the same pool every day – it’s a little more interesting when you get to look around you and appreciate what’s out there.
Q: What role does diet play when you’re training as a professional triathlete?
Food is just as important to the equation as the swimming training, the biking training, the running training, and the recovering. Food is an integral part of your recovery process. You finish a really hard session and you really deplete yourself of a lot of energy and you need to really re-fuel right away. Pre-workout I make sure I have had a good lunch and maybe a small snack before I head out. For longer sessions, during the ride I make sure to bring some sort of fuel. Afterwards it’s all about recovery and the sooner you can re-fuel the better your body recovers. Without the food component it doesn’t matter how good you’re training, how fast you’re running, how strong you are on the bike if you’re not really fueling your body properly it’s like running on an empty tank of gas and you won’t get very far. It’s just as critical as the actual training.
Q: What are some of your favorite recipes to make when you are training?
Pre-race, I like to keep it basic, so I make a PB&J Fold it or a Protein Up and that’s simple enough that when I’m nervous before a race that’s something I can really digest well. I also just really enjoy a classic deli style wrap. An hour or so before a run or a training ride, it’s nice to have a little snack. One of my favorites to indulge is a cream cheese, pecan and blueberry Fold It. The other night, my Boyfriend and I made what we call Flarito – it’s a Flatout fajita-burrito – we put some rice, chicken, veggie mix and roll it up burrito style and it was delicious. But my all time favorite is a breakfast Fold It. After my morning swim session I use that as part of my refueling process with a piece of fruit and a glass of chocolate milk. It’s a good, hearty, refueling snack. They’re all really good.
Q: When you’re traveling how do you maintain your diet?
I definitely try to avoid airport food because I think you end up eating bags of chips and things you normally wouldn’t. I have found that bringing something like a wrap that is easy to make, and can fit in a ziplock bag, is the way to go. Sometimes, you are traveling extended periods of time without much control of when you get to eat. I make my meals a priority, actually, I pack my food before I pack my clothes. I always really appreciated learning about other cultures and trying their food, it’s just one of the best ways to get in touch with the cultures you’re experiencing. I’ll be traveling in February to Spain and also Belgium and it’s really exciting to look forward to. I have a lot of warm memories of Belgium because a lot of my extended family is there. One of my favorite dishes is called Tomate Crevettes which is tomatoes stuffed with these little shrimp – it’s really delicious.
Q: Do you have any advice for kids who want to be pro athletes or maybe baton twirlers?
I think that you should try your best. You never really know what might happen. If somebody tells you no, don’t be afraid to prove them wrong. A lot of people have told me no a lot of times. I really believe that if I stay true to myself and do whatever I believe is right, then good things will happen.