Top Santé’s editor, Katy Sunnassee, speaks to Olympic gold medalist and British athletic star Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill as she today launches her new fitness app, Jennis.
Your career has been incredible. What personality traits helped you achieve such great success?
So many factors led me to getting to the level I did including my parents taking me to summer camps and guiding me in direction of athletics, then meeting my coach when I was 13. I’ve always been very focused and organised – when I set my mind on something I keep going! I was at my grandparents the other day and they reminded me how we used to play the card game rummy and my granddad said I never wanted to stop until I’d won! So I’ve always had a competitive streak, which obviously helped.
You had an ankle injury in 2008 that meant missing the Beijing Olympics. How did you get through that mentally?
It was a huge shock as until that point I’d sailed through my career with very few injuries. But that was so devastating; it put everything in perspective and made me appreciate what I’d achieved. I became even more focused and determined not to end my career at that point. When you face any kind of setback or disappointment it’s really important to have good people around you as they have such an influence on how you come out of it. When I look back on it now, I wouldn’t change it as it made me appreciate things and gave me motivation to want to train better and smarter.
Which medal means the most to you?
London 2012 was my ultimate dream – I still to this day don’t believe it happened! But also, winning my World Championship medal in Beijing in 2015 was massive because it was the year after my son, Reggie, was born and I didn’t expect to even be there let alone win. I’d had to make lots of sacrifices along the way and that was first time in my career I really questioned myself and wondered what I was actually doing, and whether it would all be worth it. So to come out with a gold –also in the same venue as the 2008 Olympics, which I’d had to miss due to the injury – felt like it was meant to be.
How often are you able to train now and does it differ much from what you used to do?
Now it’s a case of fitting it in, which can be hard with two children (her second, Olivia, was born September 2017). When I retired I said: “I’m never doing circuits, hills or weights again!” Then I stared to miss it and now I do all those things I said I wouldn’t do! But I’ve adapted them to fit my life now. All my workouts are of the circuit-style, high-intensity, short-recovery kind where you blast your body but maintain good form – that’s so important.
When you were in serious training, did you watch your diet carefully or did you eat what you liked?
I did have a balanced diet and ate healthily though it was just a lot of food! I trained in the morning and afternoon every day so I was always hungry. Now and again I’d have an Indian take away as a treat. I didn’t cut carbs – I’d be loading them on! When I retired I still wanted to eat those same-sized portions but realised I couldn’t – I have to be conscious of portion sizes now. But I still pretty much eat the same healthy meals.
What’s a typical breakfast in the Ennis-Hill household?
Breakfast is hard as it’s a rush, so I just grab a slice of toast with my kids or I’ll have some granola with yoghurt and honey on top, and always a coffee to keep me going. For lunch I have a lot of eggs, salmon, soups I make from scratch, then an evening meal with the family of vegetable moussaka or maybe steak. Recently I’ve been doing the Mindful Chef (mindfulchef.com), where they deliver you a box of nutritionally balanced ingredients with a recipe – it makes it easier to work out what to eat.
Have you ever cut any foods out of your diet?
There are constant fads and people cutting out food groups and I understand why they do it if they’re trying to lose weight in a certain time frame, but it’s not sustainable for me. I could never cut out carbs as I need the energy. Having a balanced lifestyle is about eating well and exercising too.
Do you take any supplements?
When I was training full time I would only take necessary supplements prescribed by a doctor as you’d hear horror stories of athletes innocently taking vitamin tablets, only to find they had been contaminated or contained banned substances. Now I take everything! Although I do think you should get as many of your nutrients as possible from food rather than relying on supplements. One thing I take regularly is vitamin C supplement Altrient C (abundanceandhealth.co.uk). It’s amazing at helping my immune system. If I have a cold or a sore throat coming on I take one or two sachets and the cold never materialises. Also, my skin feels healthier when taking them so they are my current go-to.
Are you able to find time for self-care and, if so, what do you enjoy most?
I did quite a lot of yoga leading up the Olympics and through my pregnancies, and I do enjoy that – especially having the meditation time at the end to zone out. There’s no other time in the day to just to completely switch off from all the jobs and everything. Yoga and meditation time really helped clear my head and I need to get back to it. I’d love to have a massage every day but just don’t have time, although I still visit my soft tissue therapist now and then but these days I have a relaxing massage, not a hard-core sports one.
What’s your favourite motivational quote?
There was a quote I read at the Rio Olympics – I can’t remember who it was by but it was very appropriate at the time. It was: “Winners focus on winning, losers focus on winners.” That really summed it up: focus on yourself, your performance and what you want to achieve, and don’t worry about anyone else – if they’re focusing on you they’ll mess up anyway.
More about the Jennis app
Jennis – so called because that was Jess’s nickname at school – contains workouts for both pregnancy and after the birth, as well as for anyone who wants to get back into exercise, regardless of whether or not they have had children.
Following on from the pregnancy and post-natal workouts are two low-level workouts suitable for anyone, followed by a section for full fitness that consists of beginner, intermediate and advanced workouts of around 20 minutes each.
All the exercises have been designed by Jess’s physio and are about making sure you do the right exercises in the right order to build strength in the areas you need, and to get back into more dynamic workouts if you’re new to or returning to exercise. It starts with low-level Pilates-style moves to activate your deep core muscles and switch everything back on.
‘These are the workouts I do at home. My husband joins in too,’ says Jess. ‘They are quick, easy, and don’t need too much equipment, if any. It’s about blasting your body and feeling good afterwards so can suit anyone. It’s about having good form – doing the moves well.’
The accompanying website contains nutrition advice and recipes as well as how to structure your own meals and snacks.