Power up: Healthy habits of the AFLW

These are the tips and techniques that keep Stephanie Chiocci, Sabrina Frederick and Kellie Gibson at their peak – and they can do the same for you.

Group shot of Stephanie Chiocci, Sabrina Frederick and Kellie Gibson

Sabrina Frederick, Stephanie Chiocci and Kellie Gibson

The players in the NAB AFL Women’s competition are downright incredible. They juggle training and playing games for their clubs with full-time jobs, families and other commitments. We spoke to our three NAB AFLW ambassadors to get their best ideas on fitness, mindset, nutrition, finding balance and more.

Do it with friends

“It’s important to surround yourself with people who are like-minded and have similar goals in life,” says Steph.

“Exercising with a friend or partner can help keep you accountable.” The Collingwood captain also credits her teammates with helping her stay motivated. “We work hard, but we also have great banter, which is important as football can be so serious at times.”

Start small

If you’re trying to get more exercise, Sabrina suggests gradually adding activity to your day.

“You don’t want it to be a chore, you want it to be part of your lifestyle,” she says.

“If you like swimming, do that; if you like going for walks, go for a long walk and get the steps up. If you love the gym, great! Go with someone you know and make it fun.” 

Choose the right fuel

While all three athletes follow a set nutrition plan throughout the playing season, they also emphasise the importance of healthy eating all year round.  

Steph says that her favourite weeknight dinner is a chicken stir-fry. “It’s very easy to make: cook up some sliced chicken breast, all the vegetables you want, add curry powder and soy sauce for the base flavour and serve with some brown rice,” she says. To snack on throughout the day, she turns to muesli bars and oat slices. “My go-to fruit are pears and frozen grapes. If I require more energy, I will often have avocado and tomato on Corn Thins with salt and pepper seasoning,” she says. “Hydration is also very important and I like to consume at least two to three litres of water a day.

Sabrina tries to stay away from processed foods as much as she can. “Being an athlete means you have to pay attention to what you’re putting into your body,” she says. “I follow a 100 per cent vegan diet. I normally start the day with coffee, water and a smoothie for breakfast. I have something nutritious but satisfying for lunch, like tofu scramble with mushrooms, kale, chia and pumpkin seeds with avocado on toast. My fiancée pre-cooks it for me – she’s an amazing cook. For dinner, I would often go for a tofu and vegetable stir-fry, a curry or anything that has high protein and some carbohydrates.”

Indulge occasionally 

Although they all follow a rigorous nutrition plan to keep them at their peak, the three players agree that moderation is key and the occasional indulgence is acceptable. “I’m not completely strict – I still enjoy sweets from time to time and my diet doesn’t change when I am out of season,” says Sabrina. “I like to be healthy all year round, so I can live longer and happier.”

Kellie admits, “I’m a sucker for naughty snacks when I’m sitting on the couch at night. I try to tell myself it’s all in moderation!”

Plan for success

Like the majority of players in the AFL Women’s competition, Steph juggles her football career with a full-time job as a teacher. She says that good time management is the secret to fitting everything in. “I’m quite an organised person,” she admits. “Some may even say I am over-the-top organised! I use my calendar on my phone to document everything so I never miss an event and always plan ahead.”

Equally important, though, is knowing when something has to give. Steph took leave from her teaching job earlier this year so she would be able to focus fully on the football season. “I was finding myself quite lethargic during the season in years gone by, so I wanted to make sure I put everything into my sport to be the best athlete I can be for the team,” she says.

 

Master your mind

Both Sabrina and Kellie credit their on-field focus to regular meditation. “I genuinely believe sport is more mental than physical, which may sound strange but your brain controls the body,” says Sabrina. “Becoming a student of the mental game has been a huge help and I continue to implement the likes of meditation into my preparation. I meditate often, especially on a game day – it is so powerful when you can quiet the mind.” 

Practise gratitude

According to Sabrina, practising gratitude towards her sport helps keep her motivated to train hard and play well – especially when she’s not feeling 100 per cent. She does it through self-talk, with positive statements like, “I get to go out and do what I love and that’s pretty great” or “I am going to get better today or tonight”. As she says, “It seems strange but it honestly works for me, especially if I am tired.” 

Take a measured approach

For all three women, achieving a sense of balance off the field is just as important as putting in the hours on it. “I tend to catch up with friends when I can for coffee,” says Steph. “I also love reading – crime books in particular – and could spend hours doing that. I have a beautiful golden retriever named Bentley who also keeps me quite busy.”

Kellie prioritises downtime too. “It’s really important to have time just for yourself,” she says. “I’m a huge believer in spending quality time working on myself away from the game and everything that goes on during such a busy schedule. I enjoy the beach a lot, it’s a really nice getaway and sometimes all it takes is some self-reflection and a coffee for me to escape!”

Find what works for you

When it comes to the best time to exercise, even elite athletes know that everyone is different. “I’m not really a morning person at the best of times, so I tend to schedule my nights for training,” says Kellie. “I feel I get a lot more out of my body then, especially if I’ve had a solid sleep. No two people are the same so why would you force a training schedule that doesn’t suit you? You won’t enjoy the hard work. Do something that makes the hard work worth it.” 

Carve out some quality time

When time is tight, Sabrina says to work out how to prioritise what’s most important to you. “This year, I’ve made an effort to get at least eight hours’ sleep and get up as early as possible, normally around 6am,” she says. “It’s important to give myself me-time every day – whether it’s a morning walk with my dogs, meditating for 10 minutes or stretching. You need to give yourself time to recharge or you can’t give.”

Be a leader at every level

“Playing a team sport has really emphasised the point that you do not necessarily need a title of a leader to model leadership behaviours,” says Steph. “We lean on each other and rely on each other so heavily in football, and I think that’s what makes teams successful. We all have our strengths and areas to improve on and it’s important to acknowledge these and work with one another to achieve success.”