Emma McCrudden

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

Emma McCrudden

Emma McCrudden isn’t going to prescribe everything you should eat but she will tell you how to make better choices — for energy, athletic performance, improved health and wellbeing. Holding down two roles at UBC as a sports dietitian for Athletics & Recreation and lecturer for the School of Kinesiology, Emma is in high demand as a coach, mentor, teacher, and even a chef.

Emma’s curiosity for sport nutrition came from the unique experience of growing up with a father who was a champion at tug of war with multiple World and European titles to his name. Emma took a keen interest as she watched him dehydrate, restrict food and sweat to make weight every week while competing and this sowed the seeds for her future career focus.

UBC Brand and Marketing sat down with Emma to discover what inspires her at work and learn some insights and advice how nutrition influences our health. We were happy to hear that there are a few diet exceptions for Emma (and for us as it turns out), over the holidays.

UBC Thunderbirds athletes Kat Kennedy and Winnie Hyun, from left to right

Q
You were living and working in both Ireland and England for a number of years before you came to Canada. How did your career evolve in those years?

A: After completing my Masters, I was very lucky to receive an internship with the English Institute of Sport in Bath for a year. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there being mentored by great practitioners and working with Olympic athletes.

When the year came to an end, an opportunity came along to work part time as the dietitian for a very successful rugby team in Ireland. I felt I couldn’t turn it down so, rather than move back to Ireland, I actually flew between England and Ireland every week for almost three years to do both jobs!

Q
How did you find yourself here at UBC?

A: My husband loves to travel and we really wanted to live abroad for a little while. My boss [in England] at the time was from New Zealand and she was a big believer in travel and international experience. She actually sent along an opening with the Canadian Sport Institute in Vancouver. Neither myself or my husband had been to Vancouver before but the more people we spoke to, the more good things we heard. I decided to apply and that’s pretty much how we ended up here.

Emma McCrudden with Thunderbirds athletes, Jero Abad and Dallas Akin, from left to right

Emma McCrudden with Thunderbirds athletes, Jero Abad and Dallas Akins, from left to right

Q
How is living in Vancouver going so far?

A: I love it. We were very lucky. We could have ended up anywhere in the world, but Vancouver really is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever lived in. My lifestyle involves spending a lot of time outdoors skiing, running, hiking, kayaking. Everything is conducive to the outdoor lifestyle in this city.

Q
Are there challenges to being a nutritionist?

A: I definitely think it’s a challenging area to work in at times because people can be very dogged in their views about food and nutrition. The world of nutrition has become pretty confusing with so much information is now available online. People can be easily swayed by sensationalist headlines or celebrity endorsement and often those messages lack scientific support. So that can be difficult.

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I think you see a high-degree of nutrition awareness with the best athletes. These athletes care not only about how much they are eating but also the quality of the food, the timing of when they eat it, and the cooking methods they use — the complete picture really.

Q
Can you tell us about the work you are doing with the School of Kinesiology?

A: I teach sport nutrition classes for the School of Kinesiology and I’m currently developing an introduction to a nutrition course for kinesiology students as well. Nutrition and physical activity go hand-in-hand so the school recognized there was a need to educate kinesiology students in nutrition. I really enjoy working with the students.

Emma McCrudden
Q
You work with over 600 UBC Varsity athletes. What does that look like on a day-to-day basis for you and how do you manage the scope?

A: I think that’s probably the biggest difference between my previous job and my current job — I simply can’t be with the all the teams during training. There are over 600 varsity athletes and it’s a part-time role. In my previous job, I travelled with the teams and was involved on a weekly basis with athletes and coaches.

Because there are so many varsity athletes, I’ve had to think about how to scale resources to help more athletes improve their nutrition. I developed information sheets for the Go Thunderbirds nutrition website which now sees significant use by athletes across campus. It’s also being accessed by lots of athletes in the lower mainland area as coaches and athletes are sharing the resources with their sporting communities. It was an investment of nearly eight months of work but I knew I needed a system to keep up with the demand for information from the athletes.

Throughout the year, I run group presentations with the teams and the coaches on relevant themes, such as recovery, hydration, or for our female athlete population, it might be an iron-deficiency anemia workshop. In addition to the group work, I will see individual athletes if necessary, when they are referred to me by their physician or coach. For instance, they may come to see me if they have gastrointestinal problems, stress fractures, concussion or Celiac disease. There are quite a lot of referrals so this keeps me pretty busy.

I also run cooking classes with teams during the year, which are great fun.

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Despite what advertising companies will tell us, Christmas doesn’t start at the beginning of December and end on New Year’s day!

Q
On your remarkably in-depth page of recipes for Thunderbirds athletes, you have eating plans that range from 2,000 calories per day to 5,000. Why the range?

A: We have athletes with varying needs. Some athletes may need a lower energy plan because they are trying to lose weight or change their body composition. Other athletes, like heavy weight rowers for example, need the very high calorie plans.

An athlete won’t be on a high or low-calorie plan throughout the year though — it’s cyclical and reflects changes in training volume so they’ll consume higher calories in pre-season training when they burn a lot of energy and this will change throughout the season. For example, training volume for some athletes can drop off in-season when they’re competing and focusing on recovery, so a lower calorie plan is needed. It’s very individual.

Q
What is your go-to advice for students who are trying to balance sports and academic goals?

A: It’s really challenging as the demands on this group are huge. I try to make their nutrition goals sustainable, otherwise they will only follow the advice for a very short period of time. For example, with student athletes, it’s unrealistic to expect every athlete to sit down to a home-cooked, made-from-scratch meal every night of the week. Instead, I teach them how to read ingredient labels and look for a better-quality pasta sauce and suggest buying a rotisserie chicken to boost their protein. I look at making a healthier diet achievable in the context of a busy student life.

Q
How do you take care of your health in your spare time?

A: I feel so much better when I make time for fresh air and exercise. I try to fit something in each day. It might be a very quick 3k run, a HIIT or yoga class or a long bike ride, depending on how busy I am.

Staying in contact with family and friends from home is also something I prioritize. So I spend quite a lot of time on Skype!

Q
Emma, any last words on how we can cope with the lashings of carbs and sweets coming towards us over the holidays?

A: Despite what advertising companies will tell us, Christmas doesn’t start at the beginning of December and end New Year’s day! Eating more than you need to for this length of time will likely mean an unhealthy start to 2018. It’s all about balance, so pick a handful of days in December and enjoy treats on those days.

The office can be a tough place with lots of cookies and candy around. Try bringing in more savoury snacks like the avocado and cottage cheese dip or hummus recipes from our athlete nutrition resource page. Fruit or smoked salmon and light cream cheese on crackers works great too. Prioritize exercise if you know you’ll be eating a rich Christmas lunch or dinner and be mindful of portion sizes. And lastly, make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day!

A healthy holiday recipe from Emma McCrudden:

Black Bean Brownies

1 x 15oz can black beans
2 eggs
½ large ripe avocado
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
½ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp fine salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
⅔ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp crushed walnuts (topping)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350℉ (177℃).
  2. Spray an 8 x 8 baking tray lightly with olive oil.
  3. Rinse and drain the black beans.
  4. Blend all ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor until there are no lumps.
  5. Fold ⅓ cup of chocolate chips into the brownie batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the baking tray. Sprinkle with nuts if you are using.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes until cooked (if you insert a knife it should emerge relatively clean).
  8. Cool completely and cut into 12 servings.
Recipe adapted from Ambitious Kitchen
NUTRITION FACTS Servings: 12
PER SERVING Calories (kcal): 132 Fat (g): 4.6 Carbohydrate (g): 19 Fibre (g): 3.6 Protein (g): 4
TIPS & HINTS These brownies freeze really well so make a batch, cut them up and pop in the freezer.
Story Credits

Special thanks to our story partner: Emma McCrudden, Sport Dietitian, Athletics & Recreation, Lecturer, School of Kinesiology

Story team: UBC Brand & Marketing — Margaret Doyle, Digital Storyteller; Paul Joseph, UBC Photographer; Lina Kang, Web Coordinator; Adrian Liem, Manager, Digital Communications; Mark Pilon, Graphic Design; Mormei Zanke, Assistant Writer.

Published: December 2017