Springbok Women’s rugby player and firefighter, Zinhle Ndawonde, is determined about keeping her nutrition and fitness regime on par as it plays a major role in being a well-rounded athlete.
Ndawonde, together with her fellow athletes, have different nutritional and fitness needs than the general public as they require more calories, nutrients and a fitness plan to maintain strength and energy to compete at a professional level.
When the 32-year-old centre started playing the sport in 2006, she was not introduced to the importance of nutrition and fitness.
“When I started playing rugby I didn’t have a nutrition program because at that time we (my cousins and I) didn’t know anything about nutrition. We were just young, loved playing rugby and we were eating whatever that was eaten at home. I couldn’t afford the right food at home,” revealed Ndawonde.
“I didn’t even know the reason for nutrition up until I started getting to international level and we were taught why nutrition is important for you and your body and how it helps your muscles. Nutritionists were brought in to tell us what to eat and how it doesn’t matter if you don’t have those expensive foods. As long as you have alternatives like beans and sweet potatoes and that’s what we grew up having in our gardens, so it was easy to look at the food that I can’t afford and find out what I can replace it with.”
Currently, Ndawonde remains on a strict and disciplined food and exercise plan to ensure that she is in the best shape to fulfil her national team duties, as well as work as a firefighter.
The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain
– Dolly Parton
— Zinhle (@zinhlendawonde) February 16, 2022
“Usually from Monday to Friday, I try to eat as clean as I can, then during the weekends I can cheat and shock the body a bit.
“On a daily basis, I will wake up in the morning and gym then have black coffee – it wakes me up and gives me the energy I need – and then I’ll have grapefruit and oats with cinnamon and almonds or peanut butter. During the week, I don’t have red meat. I have red meat on weekends like when we braai,” added Ndawonde.
“For lunch, I have boiled chicken breast with greens (salad, peas, broccoli, etc) and sweet potato. I am not a fan of pasta but I know it’s important to have it the day before a game just to make sure you load enough nutrition for the day. I usually go with green apples because apparently they help a lot. Besides, I love them. Throughout the day I make sure I drink enough fluids. Later [in the day] I have fish and greens again.”
Athletes sustain various injuries when playing, in this case, individual fitness programs are then tailored: “We are given programs at camp to follow. If you have injuries, for instance, you are given a specific program that you have to follow that focuses on that injury. When I had hamstring injuries, I was given a program for my rehab and the program for the squad. If not injured, I follow the squad program and also do extra stuff like waking up and running 5kms for at least three or four times a week, especially after the weekend because we eat a lot.”
Even though injuries are inevitable, the after effects may either improve or worsen. Ndawonde says an injury can affect you mentally, you just need to push through and think about playing with the team again.
“Falling off the bandwagon affects your body a lot. I have experienced that with my injuries. As much as you do the rehab and training, I wouldn’t say it’s not intense but because you are not training with the team and you cannot run at that high level, it affects you because it means that when you come back, everyone else is ten steps ahead of you, so now you need to catch up. When I’m in that situation I make sure that I put in the right nutrition because I’m not running enough meaning that I need to be more cautious with what I eat since I can’t burn the fat.”
Ahead of a Match
The KwaZulu-Natal-based player also shares her daily routine when she is preparing for a game. She said besides resting, she also has to prepare herself mentally.
“The day before a game I make sure I sleep early because I believe that sleeping does help with making sure that you are fresh and prepared. If you don’t get enough sleep, during the course of the day you’ll feel the tiredness. Mentally, I would think about the things that are expected of me in position. When I sleep I make sure I don’t eat carbs when I’m not playing the next day.”
Ndawonde says the same way athletes receive specific individual rehabilitation programs when injured, it also applies to hydration for their muscle and weight.
“With hydration, it does differ sometimes because you find that there are players who are expected to be a certain weight. For example, you play centre like I do but I’m only sixty-something kgs and I’m expected to be 75kgs (of muscle and not fat), we are given some supplements to have after training to build the muscles. So it depends on the position you play.”
The rugby star has mentioned multiple times how being an athlete and a firefighter has become cohesive due to requiring similar needs and expectations in terms of fitness.
“Being a firefighter and a rugby player has actually played a much bigger role in my fitness because in most cases when I’m at work there’s a lot of high intensity, conditioning and strength. When I’m at work or camp, I’m able to get these types of skills and fitness,” she concluded.
Photo 1 Caption: Springbok Women’s rugby player and firefighter, Zinhle Ndawonde, is determined about keeping her nutrition and fitness regime on par as it plays a major role in being a well-rounded athlete. Photo: Supplied