Celebrity Health - James Cracknell

A photo of James Cracknell

"How I stay motivated"

Olympic athlete and adventurer James Cracknell gives Liz Parry some tips on how to keep active, motivated and healthy...

He’s raced to the South Pole, rowed across the Atlantic and run the gruelling Marathon de Sables. But perhaps the toughest challenge James Cracknell had to face was recovering from a near-fatal cycling accident in 2010 which left him with a brain injury. The 42-year-old former British rowing champion and double Olympic gold medalist is made of strong stuff though. Earlier this year he teamed up with friend and fellow adventurer Ben Fogle for another challenge, crossing the Empty Quarter – one of the world’s largest deserts.

Q: You are well known for your epic adventures and gruelling physical challenges. How much preparation goes into these physical feats?

James: "It really depends on the challenge itself. If you have to learn an entirely new sport you would spend the majority of your time learning and practising it. But if it’s something you know well, like rowing, then you would focus on honing your technique and trying to make small improvements. It’s particularly good for motivation if you’re learning something new. How long you take to prepare really depends on your current level of fitness. If you’re doing a race, especially something that’s weight-bearing like running, you have to make sure you’re as light as you can be. But if it’s an endurance challenge you tend to bulk up a bit more."

Q: You’ve always led a very active lifestyle. How do you make sure that your body has enough fuel to keep you going?

James: "Having a good breakfast is absolutely vital to keep you full and to maintain your energy levels. I always make sure that I start the day with porridge and some Oatein. It’s a good low glycaemic index meal. I’d then have my biggest meal at lunchtime and a smaller meal in the evening. I always make sure I have a lot of protein and good carbs but less fat. When I was rowing I would have 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day so I would tend to have more meals throughout the day. I would always try to eat the same foods as my family but with an extra chicken breast or more pasta."

Q: How do you avoid the dreaded energy slump, when you just want to reach for a sugary snack?

James: "It’s all about balancing your blood sugar levels. I find that sticking to low glycaemic foods really helps with that and stops you wanting to reach for the biscuits or chocolate. The worst thing you can do is skip breakfast and then have one big main meal in the evening. It should be the other way round. I’ve always stuck to the old adage of ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.’ If your energy levels are stable then you’re more likely to stick to your fitness goals instead of feeling too tired to go to the gym because you haven’t eaten properly. It’s very hard to keep motivated if your body hasn’t got the right fuel."

Q: Have you made any changes to your diet, or do you take any particular supplements since your brain injury?

James: "I take extra omega-3 now as well as acai berry and a beetroot supplement. I also take glutamine and potassium but I used to take those before the accident. I discovered acai berries when I was in Brazil and I think they're great. In terms of sports nutrition I like the ActiVeman range, which is why I’m one of their ambassadors. Their products are great for fuelling your body, maintaining concentration and keeping your energy levels stable. You must have a very close and supportive family to have got you through a difficult few years."

Q: Is it important to you to make time to spend with your family when you aren’t working or doing a challenge?

James: "Of course. Like any parent I struggle to get the right balance. You have to work but you also need to make time for your family and there’s only so many hours in the day. When I had my accident I came pretty close to never seeing them again so I would be stupid not to make the most of my time with them."

Q: What types of exercise do you do now on a regular basis?

James: "I go running and cycling and I go to the gym regularly. I’m used to being very active though as when I was rowing I used to be in training for six or seven hours a day. I don’t have a problem with motivation as being active is a habit for me."

Q: Do you have any tips for our readers on how to stay motivated in their health and fitness regimes?

James: "I would recommend choosing a goal, whether that be an event that you want to take part in or a weight you would like to achieve. Then set a few targets on the way and reward yourself when you get there. Also it really helps to do things with a friend because then you’ve got more chance of sticking to the routine and reaching your goal. You can motivate each other along the way. I found this when I was rowing. When you’re in a team some days people struggle and you have to encourage one another. Your dream is in their hands and their dream is in your hands."

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