Kat Darry - Nutritionist To Our All Blacks
WORDS GEORGI WADDY IMAGES LUCY HUNTER-WESTON
Kat Darry has had her own nutrition practice for 20 years, specializing in sports nutrition. She has a wide range of experience dealing with athletes from both team and individual sports. In 2008 she landed her ‘dream job’, to work with New Zealand’s top rugby players, which led her to work with the All Blacks during the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups. She has previously been the lead nutrition provider to NZ Women’s Hockey, Silver Ferns Netball, Super Rugby teams and is well known on the school rowing circuit and amongst sports individuals throughout the country.
Food has always been a big part of my life,” Kat laughs, recalling her childhood near Hadlow where she grew up on the family farm with two brothers and a sister.
“We had our own veggie garden, fruit trees, and grew our own meat, we baked everything from scratch. Buying a packet of biscuits was an absolute treat! My mother was always cooking for shearers or preparing food for horse events or bottling fruit from the orchard. Now we live on the outskirts of the city and have a small farm of our own, food is still a big part of my life and the freezer is always full, we love growing and producing our own food.”
After secondary schooling at Craighead, Kat decided she wanted to study medicine but was discouraged by the seven years of study required. Instead she pursued a degree in Consumer and Applied Science at Otago, before studying post graduate Dietetics at Christchurch Hospital. She then returned to Dunedin to work in the Dunedin Hospital for a couple of years before pursuing her passion in Sports Nutrition. What followed was an extensive period of tertiary study and altogether she studied for nine years, longer than her initial plan to study medicine!
Kat has always loved sport and nutrition; she was a keen equestrian and at University trained in triathlon and long distance running.
At the time there was no Sports Nutrition available in the area so she set up a private practice in Dunedin at Les Mills and lectured on the subject.
It was now 2000 and she was married to Hunter Darry, who, like her brothers was a keen rugby player and supporter, their first child Alice was five years old, son Tom was two, and Sam was just a baby. Kat was juggling family and work and her first contract was with the Otago Highlanders Rugby team. Professional rugby was starting to take off and people were aware of the importance of diet, realizing that ‘good food created great athletes’.
News spread through the rugby world fairly quickly and by the next year the coach of the Highlanders, Tony Gilbert, who had just become the coach of the All Blacks, asked Kat to start some contractual work with them. At the same time Steve Hansen had asked her to work with the Canterbury Academy.
In 2002 the Darry family moved to Christchurch in time for their youngest daughter Charlotte to be born. Once settled, Kat set up a private practice clinic at Sports Med, and started working for the Crusaders.
Over the next few years she also became the lead performance nutritionist for the Silver Ferns netball team and NZ Women’s hockey, worked for a number of Olympic athletes, whilst juggling work and family.
In 2008 Kat applied for the All Black position and is now in her ninth year, the season running from May through to the end of November.
“Originally the contract was for being ‘away with the team’ for three days a week and I thought, how am I going to cope with four children under twelve? My mother stepped in and has been amazing. I started off working three days a week and didn’t travel overseas, but now, as they are older, Charlotte is now 14, I’m working full time with them.”
When she’s not busy with our National rugby team she helps athletes at her clinic with sports-related issues; weight loss, energy requirements, teenage nutrition and medical related nutrition.
“When working with clients, I try to look at what they are doing, and set goals, the key is to get back to wholefoods in the diet as much as possible, the same goes for any sports person. It’s exactly the same when you are an All Black, each player is seen individually and a food plan is put together, I work closely with our trainer and medical team with the aim to maximize the right food intake to get an overall better performance.
Each athlete comes with their own specific needs and I work with them through the season. They learn what they need to eat and appreciate what a difference it makes to their performance. We have goals on weight and body fat and I help them plan each day, looking at the quality and quantity of their food choices, vitamins, antioxidants and the timing of meals around training.”
After each game and training season, recovery is vitally important Kat adds:
“The recovery window of 30 minutes after exercise allows you to absorb more carbs, protein, vitamins, minerals, it’s the same discipline for any sport. We often make smoothies for the All Blacks, they are the perfect convenient food choice as they concentrate a large array of foods, are easily made and quick to digest.
“I am not a diet witch, I am here to assist them be their very best. They become very motivated to eat well once they see and feel the benefits both on and off the field.”
Today when touring Kat will work with hotel kitchens, liaise with chefs and make sure there is plenty of food between meals and each meal and snack is monitored for its quality and quantity.
So what has changed in an athlete’s food intake over the last 20 years?
“Today, alcohol is very limited as players realize the impact it has on their performance as a professional athlete. Processed, high sugar and low quality foods are kept to a minimum and we try and have natural food; lots of fruit and vegetables, home baked foods, brain balls made from dates, nuts and seeds, and good fats from avocadoes, fish and nuts.
“People are always happy when the food is good! And if they are still energetic at the end of the game or when they come out of the training session then I’ve done my job well.
The goal is to keep them pumping, keep the nutrition up as it is vital to their performance the next day.”
After all this work Kat hardly has time to take a breath herself, with each match comes a big pack up and a move of all the food, supplements and equipment required to another hotel.
“I have to be incredibly organized with menu planning, logistical planning, food deliveries and up-to-date with food and seasonal availability.
“The days are long and very busy during the All Black season, so naturally you need to pace yourself but you are part of a great group of management; coaches, physios, doctors, media, trainers, and support staff, everyone is working hard and looking after each other.”
Kat loves every minute working with such incredible sportsmen. She also rates meeting Prince Harry after the World Cup win at Twickenham as a huge highlight, but most of all having the privilege to work with the top All Black team in history.