We spoke to Registered Dietitian and Olympic 400m hurdler Wenda Nel. We got to know her a bit better; from the deep things, to her secrets and even the silly things like her favourite foods. She is truly an inspirational woman and amazing RD flying our profession-flag high!
Read on and be inspired.
Tell us a bit more of yourself?
I grew up in Worcester in the Boland and matriculated there. I’ve moved to Pretoria thereafter and started my studies at Tuks. Throughout my life I’ve always had a big interest in sport, participated in athletics, netball, tennis and swimming. As the years passed, my passion for athletics grew bigger and I’ve pursued a career in track and field.
Although athletics has always been a big part of my life, I’ve also made an effort to not let it define who I am and form my identity. I am a follower of Jesus Christ (Christian) and my faith is the thing that I base all the values of life and I seek my identity in Christ. It brings me a lot of joy if I can help anyone in need. I like celebrating life and believe no matter your circumstances, we all have a story to tell that will inspire people.
I have a huge passion and love for this sport, but there are many other interests in my life I like spending time on to celebrate life.
I am part of a big family and like spending time with them. A lovely weekend ‘braai’ might make the top of my list 😊. I treasure the small things in life. Having a nice cup of coffee with my husband is the best example of how I like to spend some quality time together.
I like to read books, watch movies, bake and experimenting with new recipes. Even when I’m not on the track training, I like any other form of exercise and spending time in nature.
Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?
Sport has always been a big part of my life and what I enjoy spending my time on. I’ve also always had a big interest in food 😊. Being an athlete myself, the curiosity grew over the years of how different foods can play a role in sports performance. Becoming a dietitian gives me the opportunity to give guidance to fellow athletes to help them to look better after their nutrition to aid in better performance. I like to help people in one way or another, but believe I can somehow make a difference in the sports world being a dietitian.
What would you have wanted to do if not Dietetics?
In high school I thought I would like to be a physiotherapist as it is also something I could have combined with my sport. Looking back, I am happy I’ve landed in the dietetics field.
Where did you study (degree and/ or postgrad)
Univeristy of Pretoria (TUKS)
Where do you work and what does your job entail?
Currently I am not working as a full time dietitian. I am a professional track athlete, preparing for the Olympic Games in Japan, Tokyo.
Walk us through a day in your life?
A typical day in my life will be planned around my training sessions. The main track session will mostly take place during the morning at Tuks with a gym/technique session in the afternoon. In between sessions I will usually schedule appointments such as physiotherapy, recovery massage, sport psychologist and the occasional catch up with friends😊. There is also always general admin on a daily basis to give attention to.
📷: Reg Caldecott
📷: Reg Caldecott
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?
I am fortunate to use my sport as a platform where I can get in contact with young athletes to not only help them with advice directly sport specific, but also try and make a positive impact in their lives in how I live my life on and off the sports field.
It brings me great joy to see how my life choices, how I react on setbacks as well as achieving my goals, can influence the people around me in a positive way.
What has been your career highlight?
I’ve had the opportunity to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, that was an amazing experience which many competitive sports people dream of and work towards in their sporting careers. Although becoming an Olympian will always be a special memory to treasure, my biggest career highlight will be achieving a bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. The medal will not define me, but I treasure the journey I have taken to get to the Games.
What are the most challenging aspects of your career?
Being a professional athlete requires a lot of patience on different levels and I had to learn to be adaptable as things can change on a daily basis. It can range from travel, accommodation, food and also competition challenges.
It is also challenging to give up family time and being away from home for long periods of time during a year.
What is something that people don’t know about you?
If they don’t know it, I guess it is a secret😉…
Being a dietitian amongst professional athletes, many of the people assume that I am on a strict diet…so I guess what most people don’t know, I basically eat anything, and yes, that includes ice cream and chocolates…a lot of chocolates😊. I think I am fortunate to have a better idea of how to manage my nutrition with my sport in a way that works to my benefit. So I can say, being a dietitian helps me to understand the nutritional needs of my body better to assist me in better sports performance and to also know that a treat can occasionally fit into my diet.
What are your favourite foods?
I am a huge foodie, just to gather with family and friends having a nice meal together is always a celebration.
Some of my favourites will have to include most dishes with chicken, pasta dishes (my favourite being my mom’s lasagne😉. Pizza, nacho’s and sushi are always a treat!
I am a fan of having a variety and colour on my plate for example a fresh Mediterranean bowl with quinoa, falafel, peppers, olives, feta, cherry tomatoes, avo, cucumber is always a winner in my eyes😃. I also have a soft spot for eggs.
I am also crazy about dairy products…milk (great recovery drink), yogurt and cheese!
I guess in summary, my favourite will have to be food😃.
- What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?
- What can I eat to lose fat?
- You probably don’t eat any sweets
- Give me your diet