Hadley Hammer Talks Nutrition with Dietitian Mary Ellen Kelly

When things go wrong on the mountain, they can do so quickly. Within a moment, what you thought was under control, isn’t. No matter how talented you are, sometimes you’re at the mercy of the snow and mountains.

So it was with Hadley Hammer. If there’s anyone who should be confident hurling down a huge hill, it’s the Freeride World Tour competitor, alpine explorer, and Teton Gravity Research ski film star from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But on a heliski trip in interior British Columbia in April 2018, the hard charger aired off a cliff into what she thought was fresh powder. No such luck. A pile of jagged rocks was buried just under the snow surface. She crashed on impact, and was quickly hit by a wave of sluff.

Just like that, the trip was over, an upcoming trip to Norway was nixed, and a once strong body was left in tatters. The initial impact tore Hammer’s shoulder labrum, ripped her biceps tendon off the bone, tore all four rotator cuff muscles and fractured the ball of her humerus. Then came the deluge of snow, and with it a torn lateral and medial meniscus in her knee.

Such an incident could have defeated a lesser person. Not to mention the aftermath – double surgeries in one day, five weeks confined to a wheelchair, and several more months performing painstaking physical therapy. But rather than lamenting her bad luck or allowing the crash to crush her spirit, Hammer used the opportunity to rethink everything from training to nutrition to life goals. As part of her journey of self-discovery, she started using Momentous to aid her recovery and fuel her grueling path back to full function.

In this first of a two-part story, Hammer sat down with our performance engineer and Registered Dietician Mary Ellen Kelly to talk food, body image, healing and more. 



Momentous: What did the aftermath of your surgery look like?

Hadley: My doctor suggested having the knee and shoulder fixed six months apart, but I wanted it all done at once so I could come back quicker, even though that meant I’d be laid up for a while. I was in the wheelchair and slept in a recliner for the first three weeks after my parents took me home from the hospital because I couldn't lay down on my shoulder yet. The only place I went was to physical therapy. I wasn't consuming a lot of calories at that time. It was really hard for me to get food down in the beginning. I tried to stick to a lot of bone broth and fairly simple food.

Momentous: Other than the issue with keeping down food, did the rehab process change your approach to food?

Hadley: For sure. Before I wasn’t very conscious of what I was eating, and my diet was probably a little carb heavy. About six months after the surgery, I turned a corner physically. By this point, I’d gotten rid of the limping and other compensations my body had made to protect my injured knee and shoulder. So I was able to get back in the gym and really ramp my training back up. That’s when I began adjusting my approach to eating, thinking about the timing of my food, and incorporating protein powder right after PT or working with my strength coach. I started eating with more purpose because that’s what my body needed to continue healing and to fuel my workouts. Sleep was also huge – after a gym session I’d crash for four hours.

Mary Ellen: I love that you're saying that because so often the tendency is for people to say I started eating “clean.” But what you were doing before wasn’t eating “dirty.” You're actually being more intentional and mindful about your decisions.

Momentous: How did this purposeful eating approach manifest itself at mealtimes?

Hadley: After my injury I had a lot of time to do online research about food, especially for women. The biggest takeaway was that in every meal I should be getting protein, fiber, fat and some sort of vegetable. Eating this way is really easy for me, whereas I have a really hard time with restriction, and cutting stuff out has never sat that well with me. I travel all over the world and have never had a hard time adjusting what I eat in different places, even though when I’m somewhere like Bolivia they’re not going to be serving what I’d usually fix at home. But some of my friends who are super rigid with their food get upset stomachs because they’re not used to any kind of variety. 


Mary Ellen: Our society has gotten caught up in cutting this and cutting that. The truth is that varying our intake as much as possible and exposing our gut microbiome to a broad range of foods offers more nutrient density and can be more beneficial. What you’re saying about those friends having issues when they’re traveling makes sense, because they’re reintroducing things that they haven’t asked their body to digest in a while.

Dairy is a great example. If an individual doesn't really have a physiological need to eliminate it – like lactose intolerance – they don’t need to eliminate if they don’t want to.  If they reintroduce dairy while on the road, they may have a problem because they’ve self-induced a reduced ability to process it. There's no need to fall victim to society's rules and eliminate things for no reason.

 Mary Ellen: Do you feel like there’s pressure on athletes to eat a certain way now, or exclude certain foods?

Hadley: Definitely. It’s almost become a competitive thing: “This is how I eat, what do you eat?” And it makes me think, "Oh, I like croissants,” but I don’t know if I should say that because I might be judged.

Mary Ellen: I think you should scream it from the mountaintops. You should love your croissants. It’s not like that’s all you’re going to eat. Instead, you can say, “This is a food I love, so I'm going to fit it in within a balanced eating plan.” There's your carbohydrates and you're going to pair those with a protein source, healthy fats, and load up on fruits and vegetables. Build your base in plants and really load up on the good stuff, but enjoy having the things that you love mixed in. As long as you're fitting in a balanced eating pattern, then have at it.

Hadley: The other day I had the hardest workout since my injury. I came home and had a shake and then was ravenous a couple of hours later. Mary Ellen, why is that?

Mary Ellen:  I often encourage clients to avoid extremes, never getting too stuffed or starving. Obviously travel and other factors can get in the way, but ideally, you should fuel with food, use this fuel, then refuel again. This will help stabilize your energy levels, improve muscle recovery and keep your blood sugar in check throughout the day. So next time you could eat a bit more in the hours before you train or take in some calories during exercise. Then pack in a more calorie dense recovery shake, and try having your balanced recovery meal sooner.

Hadley: I’ve never really had body image issues, but during this recovery process I started to gain some weight that wasn’t pure muscle like when I’m able to train hard. I just felt like my body was getting soft and squishy. So I started to struggle with figuring out portion size. How are you supposed to tell if you’re eating too much or too little

Mary Ellen: This is a common issue for male and female athletes who are coming back from injury. To promote healing, it all starts with adequate calories because if we're living in an energy deficit, we're probably not going to heal appropriately. So it’s important to nail the macronutrients, including the protein you said you were including at every meal. It sounds like you’re eating more fruit and veggies now, which helps to get micronutrients [including vitamin D, zinc, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins] that are also key to healing.  A dietitian would look at your weight, height, age, and activity level and come up with guidelines or a starting point.  Beyond this, it is important to listen to your body and try not to be too restrictive with what you are eating. Take pleasure in your food and enjoy it!

Check back soon for part 2 in this series, in which you’ll discover how Hadley Hammer found a renewed sense of purpose after her accident.

Interview: Phil White

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