“Hidilyn loves to eat. She loves durian, she loves Japanese food, she loves cake. All of that is what she’s thinking of eating after each match,” reveals the nutrition coach Jeaneth Aro of her charge, Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz.
This coach has worked with “H.D.” since 2017 and has supervised her nutritional prep all the way to the Olympics. Jeaneth Aro is a registered nutritionist-dietitian who obtained her degree from the College of Home Economics, University of the Philippines-Diliman. She creates “athletic fueling systems” for the country’s top-tier athletes but also “lifestyle-based nutrition systems” for what she terms the ordinary “Juan and Juana de la Cruz.”
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“With the ‘everyman’s program,’” she adds, “I espouse a weight-management system that is non-restrictive, highly personalized, and client-centered. Unlike other programs, the lifestyle-based nutrition system is designed according to your schedule and eating patterns. This way, my clients are assured of maximum program compliance at any time of the day whether they are at work, school, meetings, social gatherings, or even on vacation.”
This is not a diet; this is how people are meant to eat — so goes her mantra. It’s all music to the ears of this battered diet warrior.
It’s a tricky balancing act, keeping the star athlete’s weight down while allowing her to build the strength needed to best the opposition.
“There’s nothing extraordinary, there’s no magic food in Hidilyn’s diet,” Jeaneth maintains. Lapsing into techno-speak, she explains, “It’s just all about balancing the micro-nutrients in her food intake relative to her day-to-day training. The characteristic of the sport is strength and power — not stamina — while losing weight,” she says, noting that Hidilyn must maintain 55 kilos for her category.
It’s a tricky balancing act, says Jeaneth, keeping the star athlete’s weight down while allowing her to build the strength needed to best the opposition.
On top of all that, she explains, “The training diet is totally different from the competition diet. In training, the focus is improving her body composition so she will be able to adapt to the changing training demands.”
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But it’s not just all about eating your way to the gold. This Filipina Olympian has uncovered the three keys to winning the top prize.
Is it nutrition, body type, the perfect sport, and the right counselors — on top of one’s God-given talent and grit — that take you to honor and glory? What is clear is that it is never just one thing.
The first is finding the sport that Filipinos can excel in — and Filipino women are built for the task of weightlifting, notes Jeaneth. Ask the Pinay who must carry baskets of vegetables and fish, a small child on either arm, as well as the day’s washing up and down stony village roads, her precious cargo braced against her back or head.
It’s an undertaking that needs you to be small, strong, and stout of heart — basically, everything that makes up a champion weightlifter.
Now imagine hoisting the combined load of 224 kilos off the ground, which is about the weight of both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Chris “Thor” Hemsworth put together. What makes it even humanly possible is body mechanics: literally, the shorter the distance from floor to shoulders, the more reachable the goal.
Powerful legs are needed as well, along with a short torso and mighty shoulders for this athletic endeavor that also requires a low center of gravity. Shortness is a strength here. Filipinas all over the country can use that strength if they put their mind to it. It’s an entirely different body type needed for making jump shots, dancing ballet, or doing the “lava walk.”
But size isn’t everything. Jeaneth emphasizes that one of the top lessons from Hidilyn’s Olympic victory is that she “defied all odds, beat all the challenges” simply because of “her determination to achieve, whether for weight loss or for a higher purpose in life.”
And without diminishing H.D.’s talents, strength and fortitude, her win was also a team effort. She most certainly had the ability and foresight to assemble the right team that brought her to the very top. These “consiglieri” are composed of weightlifting coach Kaiwen Gao, strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo, sports psychologist Karen Trinidad and nutrition coach Jeaneth Aro.
Each of them played strategic — pretty much interlocking — roles behind the scenes.
Says Jeaneth, “Inside the warm-up area, even in the competition arena, we all played parts beyond those which we were there for. For instance, I had to familiarize myself as well with the strategies and tactics of the sport while the weightlifting coach and the strength coach would also involve me in the hour-to-hour decisions that had to be made to win. We would arrive at those as a team.”
Is it nutrition, body type, the perfect sport, and the right counselors — on top of one’s God-given talent and grit — that take you to honor and glory? What is clear is that it is never just one thing — and that’s a lesson the Philippine Olympic Committee, the moneybag sponsors, and the adoring public should not forget.
Photo from coach Jeaneth Aro Facebook page