He’s represented his province and clinched national titles over the years. Within his division, he clocks in within the top 20 internationally. He is also currently working towards this year’s World Championships and Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships. Aaron Fanning’s day job, however, is in food research and development. And the journey began with fish oil.
“Most people who paid more attention to their diets tended to do so with the intention of becoming physically bigger or to fit into a specific weight class for the sport, but it was fats that got me intrigued,” says Fanning. The science manager at dairy company Fonterra explains that the many stories exploring the benefits of Omega-3s, polyunsaturated fats and fish oil started him thinking about how the right balance of nutrition alongside supplements would improve his performance as a powerlifter.
And as one does, he decided to pursue a degree in human nutrition while holding roles in IT support among a bevy of other jobs. In fact, Fanning actually began his career in construction, but as the local industry declined and his progress in powerlifting improved, he made the choice to delve into sport performance and nutrition.
“I participated in my first competition in 1989 and have remained active ever since with a few years off in the middle,” he retells how it was tagging along with his brother to the gym that grew his interest in weightlifting, and subsequently powerlifting after meeting a passionate local community.
He reveals how while powerlifting is often viewed as an individual sport, it can become a team sport at the higher level. At the World Championship, competitors in each weight class gain points for the position they achieve, which contribute to the country score, where the highest at the end of the meet wins the national prize.
Unfortunately, as with several other athletes, last year threw off his training schedule. The reduced activity and increased intake of comfort food during lockdown, coupled with a minor injury, posed different problems for his recovery. Still, he believes high-quality nutrition plays a huge role.
“High-quality dairy protein supports rehydration, repair and immunity in recovery. And most dairy-based proteins are complete, meaning that they contain all of the nine essential amino acids the body needs and is able to effectively stimulate muscle growth.” In particular, whey protein, which many gym-goers are familiar with.
“Consuming quality protein across the day is proven to help muscle mass and joint mobility as we age. After exercise gives the added advantage of being rapidly digested and the benefits and quick-acting.” Plus, making us feel fuller for longer aids in weight management. But while the ingredient has received a lot of attention in recent years, Fanning is firm to attest that it alone is not enough.
“It is not a magical solution that can provide the body with all the nutrients it needs.”
He goes on to advocate the traditional balanced mix of different food groups as well as what we often neglect, not compromising the joy of eating. A typical day for him might include enjoying a high-protein yogurt with whey protein concentrate mixed in, a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch, and a chocolate protein bar for dessert after dinner.
“Personally, I find it challenging to keep up with consuming the recommended intake of protein on a daily basis without getting bored, so incorporating diverse product formats and food types will help to ensure the body still receives the needed nutrients.” He notes that one common misconception most people might have is that dairy protein can only be supplied through milk or ready-to-drink beverages.
“There has been a huge uplift in everyday food products that incorporate dairy protein that’s not just professional athletes, like crisps, granola and nougat bars. NZMP’s range of SureProteinTM advanced protein bar ingredients can cater to different product formulations to provide the ideal texture tailored to consumer preferences.”
Just like his diet, Fanning’s workout regime is also tailored to himself. Even though science recommends training at night for better performance, he trains in the morning. “I noticed that when I train at night I do not recover as quickly, and training first thing in the morning makes me feel motivated for the rest of the day,” he adds.
Science may dictate certain rules for optimal results, but ultimately we’re all individuals. “It has been an interesting journey and, at the same time, rewarding. There is no one formula to balancing family, work life and my passion for powerlifting, and I have had to experiment to find out what works best for me.”