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Nicola Browne

Nicola Browne is a former New Zealand international cricket superstar that competed in 125 WODI’s, 54 WT20I’s and 2 WTESTS. Nicola played in the 2005 and 2009 Women's Cricket World Cups, and was named player of the series in the 2010 ICC Women's World Twenty20 tournament. Throughout her outstanding career, Nicola was diagnosed with coeliac disease. The Gluten-Free Athlete was very fortunate to chat with Nicola about her experiences as a gluten free athlete, the challenges she faced throughout her career and her tips for other gluten free athletes.

Nicola Browne at the 2010 ICC Woman’s World T20 Tournament where she was named player of the series.

You had an amazing international cricket career for New Zealand, was there a particular highlight for you when you reflect back on your journey?

Off the field- The people you meet and cultures you experience.

On the field - a period between 2009-2011 where we made 3-4 world cup finals, unfortunately not quite clinching the gold.

When were you first diagnosed with coeliac disease and what symptoms led to your diagnosis?

2010, 8 years into my International playing career. In the 12 months leading up to that I felt low and started to lose motivation to train. To the extent, that even after a 6 week holiday I which I tried to reenergise motivation, I still felt flat so decided to retire. It wasn't until after I was diagnosed and started eating gluten free that my world literally changed in 2 weeks and I had a huge amount of energy again.

How did coeliac disease effect your training and performance?

The best way to describe it was I could never get my second wind, recovery took longer I was easily agitated and eventually lost motivation.

What challenges have you faced in maintaining a gluten-free diet, both in terms of finding suitable foods and in social situations? 

Not too many, better now I'm not an athlete as I don’t need to eat as often. I was always a simple eater so it's relatively easy to find substitutes and often on menus there is at least one meal GF. I'm relatively lucky that I don't have any drastic reactions to cross contamination like I hear about others. However, in my last tour to India I did take around 30kgs of food with me.

What improvements in your athletic performance and recovery did you notice since going gluten-free?

Mentioned above, the ability to recover quicker. I did however lose 4 kgs on a relatively lean body back then (those were the days, wouldn't mind that body back haha). It took 3-4 year to gain that weight back to a healthier/stronger 72kgs. My main athletic weight. No trouble gaining weight these days, really mastered the process haha.

How did you ensure you were getting enough nutrients and energy to support your athletic endeavours while adhering to a GF diet?

To be fair, my diet was simple and fuel focused....but it could have been better around more variety and better span of nutrient etc. So not much changed in way of diet for me.

Have you found any particular gluten free products that you would recommend to other athletes? 

GluteGuard, helps with cross contamination. Apart from that I enjoy the sultana bran out recently and the odd ginger biscuit. See simple eater.

What advice would you offer other gluten-free athletes?

I think view it as part of having a disciplined and balanced diet. You have to do your homework, decide on what your body needs from a fuel perspective and deliver on it. Be prepared, I always had a chilly bin (aka eskie for the aussies) with fruit and nutmix/trial mix and muesli bars. Items that weren't to perishable and could at least keep fuel topped up in case I couldn't find anything to eat.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Like most of life, products and information evolve. Plenty of options around now and better education. Sites like these are important as not only those with the disease but also those having to cater food. Them understanding cross contamination and how you can politely educate someone around that. Anything you can do to help educate someone else, may just prevent someone else being impacted.

Click here to see Nicola’s interview with ICC 360 about her career and managing coeliac disease whilst competing at the elite level:

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