‘I am not saying that top sport is always healthy’

There is a plate in the kitchen of Susan Krumins (34). During the lockdown, she wrote down every day what she was grateful for. Andrew, her husband, at number one. Running of course. Strong coffee. And soon after: poffertjes with speculoos, caramel sea salt chocolate, freshly baked muffins.

Without corona we would not have been here, at the kitchen table in Hilversum. Without corona, she was now in Tokyo for the Olympics, for the ten kilometers. She has been working towards that for years. Last year she finished seventh at the World Athletics Championships in Doha at that distance.

And suddenly: nothing more. The day before she was due to fly to New York for the half marathon in late March, everything was locked. “There I was, with my top form.” Then she only ate a little.

She says it with a smile. Krumins is the coil spring type. Under her crop top she still has a bit of bare belly, flat and muscular. You can hardly believe the calories in that. On the other hand, it is also not normal what goes out every day. A middle-distance runner, like her, is a kind of power plant. Quite a bit of biomass is needed to burn. During a solid training session, she can run a half marathon together. About 130 kilometers per week.

Tokyo was postponed to next year, but her days are still all about sports. And exercising every day also means eating right every day.

Andrew Krumins, her Australian husband, is in the kitchen. He makes burgers with lettuce, tomato, pickle and his magic sauce. Serve with sweet potato fries with apple cider vinegar, Susan’s favorite dish. “Pretty healthy, right?” Susan says. “Salad on a bun!”

A day in the life of Susan Krumins-Kuijken: breakfast with coffee and two sandwiches with peanut butter, banana, honey and cinnamon. Exercise at ten o’clock, with water or isotonic sports drink in between. A protein shake immediately after training. Then have lunch. Bread with avocado and egg for example, or if she wants something quick some oatmeal. “I don’t like it, but it’s easy and it’s good carbs.”

Then a nap for an hour or two. And then coffee and food again. Something that contains everything: noodles with vegetables, a salad, bread or soup. Before the second workout, usually strength training and an endurance run, she eats some more, bread with hummus or something. Shake again after training.

And then there’s the evening meal, which Andrew usually makes. One day a bit lighter, the other a bit heavier, depending on the program for the next day. “But always a lot of color on the plate.” So vegetables. “If it’s Insta-worthy, the vegetables will be fine.” Finally, just before bedtime at 10 o’clock, she eats cottage cheese – “not so good” – or a protein shake.

So all that in one day. “Or actually two. Sleeping twice is like having two days in 24 hours.”

Eat, train, sleep. Eat, train, sleep. Structure is everything. Structure in the days, in weeks and months. She knows which competitions she is working towards and then she looks at what it takes to achieve her goals. Periodizing, she calls it. She changes her location a few times every year and with each phase she trains a little harder and adjusts her diet accordingly.

From Australia, at the beginning of the year, to Arizona on an altitude training course in the spring and then to Sankt Moritz to train very intensively. And she always eats something more sophisticated, healthier. More protein, to prevent her from losing muscle tissue, and lots of carbohydrates. “High-quality carbohydrates. So sweet potato, but no white bread.”

The mantra in all that training is fuel and recovery. “At the peak, in Sankt Moritz, I only eat healthy. There is a pizzeria there, and we eat there once. On my birthday.”

Bagels

She has been doing sports all her life. Gymnastics as a little girl and athletics from the age of twelve. Eating at home was especially enjoyable. “Wednesday pizza, Friday fries and summer barbecue in the garden.” It wasn’t until she was on a sports scholarship in the United States that she first learned about nutrition for athletes. “They were already working there with proteins and how to spread them out over the day, that was not common here in 2006. I remember the sports dietitian took me to the grocery store and showed me the aisles with the empty calories: chips, candy, cookies, cola. You can skip this one from now on, she said. I had no idea until then. I thought bagels were fine too.”

Top sport is fine tuning. Details can make all the difference when every hundredth of a second counts. Susan sees them too: athletes who go wild on dates. Weight, muscle mass, fat percentage, calorie intake – you can measure everything, you can dose your oatmeal accurately to the gram. Susan has nothing to do with data, she says. It’s not for nothing that she stopped with kinesiology and started studying sociology.

“I don’t weigh myself, I don’t count calories. I know what to eat to not get hungry and I know not to get all my protein for the day from one big steak. Just looking at the numbers won’t teach you what your body wants. You can also just ask yourself: am I tired? Am I not recovering well? Then I must be doing something wrong. You can only last if you are not strict with yourself all year – balance does not come in one day.”

The balance is precarious, though. When everything is focused on a championship, just before a match, she looks for the edge. As little fat as possible and as much muscle as possible. “You don’t hear me say that top sport is always healthy. When you are that light, your resistance is also less.”

Weight isn’t important to Susan, she says. A kilo of muscle is different from a kilo of fat. Yet. What is heavy? What is light? What does she weigh now? She doesn’t know, it will be somewhere between 52 and 55 pounds, more on the higher end now.

Obsession

Eating disorders are lurking in sports. It’s not talked about much, but everyone knows how close devotion and obsession are. Young girls, who follow her on Instagram, want to know everything about nutrition, about weight, about body goals. The ideal of beauty and the athletic ideal only seem to reinforce each other. “I always answer: I don’t have body goals, I only have performance goals. I show what I eat, including burgers. And I explain that you should eat after a workout and not leave out groups of nutrients. They are probably less likely to accept that from their parents than from me.”

Poor nutrition can ruin a lot for a top athlete, but an amateur will never win the competition with sports nutrition. “You can go for a run with a belt full of sports drinks and gels, but if you don’t just eat healthy – enough vegetables, no empty carbohydrates, good fats and proteins – it is of no use. Supplements are at most the icing on the cake. And that cake must be well baked. The basis of your diet has to be right.”

She still prefers a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich before the competition, she says. She won’t get on a plane without rice cakes and peanut butter. “That’s not superstition. I have now found out what works, you don’t experiment before a competition. And I just don’t like sports nutrition, I like normal food.”

Although she does everything she can for her sport, she knows that healthy eating alone does not make you fit. “Your head must be good. I also won competitions when I was heavier. When I’m happy, I run the fastest.”