With a total of 14 gold medals, Dame Sarah Storey is the most successful female British Paralympian of all time.
And the swimmer turned cyclist, who was born without a functioning left hand after her arm became entangled in the umbilical cord, said it’s her intense focus on her performance that has helped her reach her peak physical capability.
Storey competed at the 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Paralympics as a swimmer, before switching to become a cyclist in 2005.
She also competes against non-disabled athletes. Storey qualified to join the England team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where she was the first disabled cyclist to compete for England at the Commonwealth Games, against non-disabled cyclists.
As well as setting her sights on Tokyo 2020, Storey – together with her husband, British cyclist Barney Storey – runs Storey Racing RT, an elite women’s cycling team sponsored by Eisberg.
So what does it take to become the number one female Paralympian? Extremely hard work, a nutrient-rich diet and a group of supporters. Storey spilled all in the latest in our ‘Fit Fix’ series.
What do you credit to your success in your sporting journey?
“Definitely the support of my parents in the early days and now, alongside them, my husband who is a stay-at-home dad and runs our cycling team, which allows me to perform optimally. My coaches (Alastair Johnson, Dave Calleja and Colin Hood in swimming – Gary Brickley and Chris Furber in cycling) have all been pivotal to my growth, they’ve created an environment that allows me to succeed despite the surrounding challenges.”
What’s one of the most memorable moments in your career and why?
“This is a tough question because I’ve been fortunate to be a multi-event athlete my whole career. Winning on my debut in Barcelona (1992) was a surreal but very memorable time. I literally leapt onto the podium and nearly over-balanced!
“Then of course last year in Rio was the first time I’d competed at that level with my now four-year-old daughter in attendance – this was extra special because of her reaction to the whole experience.
“London 2012 will always stand out because it created so many opportunities in para-sport that’d never been experienced previously and to win four gold medals in front of a home crowd is something I still pinch myself about.”
Was there ever a low point and how did you get past it?
“I don’t think the low points have ever resulted in me wanting to throw in the towel – rather, reinforce my motivation to either overcome the adversity of the injury/illness or disappointment, or to prove the doubters wrong. When times get tough, it’s usually the point that my husband and I get our heads together to work out a new strategy.”
Talk us through your week of training.
“No two weeks are the same for me as I’m not based in one training location. More than 90% of my training is on the road with the rest being split between 6-8 weeks of the year where I do track-based training, and 12-16 weeks of the year where I do altitude and lab-based training.
“I have a fantastic relationship with Manchester Metropolitan University who give me endless access to their Environment Chamber, which is a vital tool for me at key times of the year.”
What’s your favourite type of workout and why?
“I don’t have a specific favourite but I do enjoy the challenge of training that goes beyond what I’ve achieved previously. The best sessions for me are when I’m being challenged to break new ground, whether that’s over five hours of hilly terrain in Lanzarote; a test set over 30 minutes up a mountain; or, a series of efforts in the altitude chamber.”
What’s your favourite way to spend your rest day?
“I try and have one rest day a week but sometimes it will stretch to 10 days or even three weeks without a full rest day. When I have a rest day, I’ll spend time with family or friends, enjoy a nice meal and just chill out.”
What do you eat throughout the week to complement your training schedule?
“My food intake varies according to the energy demands of my training. I will usually start the day with porridge and have a glass of fresh juice with my multi-vitamin supplement. My porridge contains cinnamon and dried fruits like dates, sultanas and apricot, plus some chopped apple that softens as the porridge cooks. On top of that, I always have fresh berries and a cup of strong coffee.
“Throughout the day I’ll ensure I have a mix of protein and nutrient-rich foods. Salads with oily fish, nuts, avocado and beetroot are a favourite as well as omelettes or homemade meatballs with fresh veg and usually fruit and yoghurt for dessert. If I’m having carbs it’s usually rice with maybe some quinoa mixed in, or starchy vegetables like sweet potato.”
What are your pre and post-workout snacks?
“Porridge tends to be a pre-training/race meal because so often I’m out straight after breakfast. In big competitions and at Games time I can struggle to hold my weight so I tend to be well-fuelled with carbohydrate rich snacks at these times. Post-race or training protein becomes the priority so I’ll usually have a protein shake followed by a healthy meal.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about food?
“Food is just as important as training – and the type of food is vital too. It’s like any engine or machine, unless it’s fuelled correctly it won’t function optimally. It’s an easy trap for inexperienced athletes to fall into because they don’t realise how much they might be relying on one type of fuel source: whether that be having too much refined sugar, not enough complex carbohydrate or skimping on protein because someone told them they’d get huge muscles.
“Often the biggest mistakes are under-fuelling and in cycling trying to lose more weight than is natural for your body type.”
Do you have a motivational mantra that keeps you going?
“It’s not so much a mantra as a way of life. I choose a process-driven approach that ensures I’m searching for the best version of me. My biggest motivation is to find the peak of my physical capabilities. I hope this allows me to keep adding different stimuli and trying different approaches, alongside my tried-and-tested methods to push the personal best times and performances.”
Do you have any body goals you are aiming for?
“My goals are always training and performance-related. I have an optimum race weight range and it doesn’t have to be bang on because I know I can operate with more muscle and more power when I need to. As an athlete, it’s important to focus on performance because the way your body looks isn’t part of the criteria for delivering the best performance you have.”
What’s your ultimate workout track and why?
“I don’t have music on when I’m training because I’m generally out on the road and want to be able to hear my surroundings (traffic, etc.). Plus I’m so focused on the numbers coming out of my bike computer I wouldn’t be paying any attention to the music anyway!”
‘Fit Fix’ is a weekly dose of fitspiration from leading athletes and fitness fanatics. Each week we chat to stars about their weekly workouts, the food they eat and what keeps them going.