NS EXCLUSIVE: Kerry Leech – From The Inside Out (Part 1)

NS EXCLUSIVE: Kerry Leech – From The Inside Out (Part 1)

By |2023-07-12T02:58:02+10:00July 12th, 2023|Categories: AUS, Exclusive Interview, Featured|Tags: , |0 Comments

Part 1 – “That doesn’t just mean body, but a healthy body and mind.”


Nutrition across international tournaments, changes in sports nutrition over the last three decades and Netball Australia’s Supplement Policy.

You are what you eat and Lead Nutritionist, Kerry Leech, has played her role in ensuring that the Australian Netball team shine like Diamonds. High quality nutrition is the cornerstone of high-quality performance, and as a consultant for Netball Australia for the last 30 years, she’s kept the Diamonds in safe hands.

A week in her life involves seeing clients in her own female sports nutrition private practice, stepping up for the Australian Diamonds when they go on tour and working with the Suncorp Super Netball teams leading into tournaments such as the Team Girls Cup. On top of this, Leech also does some work with the Golf program with the Queensland Academy of Sport and plays an active role in co-running her business which can involve mentoring dietitians and planning for upcoming events.

“I mainly work in female sports nutrition, in the injury and illness space but I also see non-athlete clients and more complicated patients.

“I can say that I have been a dietitian for over 33 years, but my role has never been the same at any one time. It’s always something new, and you’re always learning or doing things in different ways. It’s allowed me to stay interested in my career over a long period of time.”


Team Manager

To add another feather to her cap, Leech has also recently taken on the Manager role for the Australian Diamonds, which she said is a natural transition having worked with managers closely in the past.

“I’ve often always worked with the managers because they would be the eyes and ears when they went away regarding food. So, I would do the pre-planning for them, hand over and they would have to manage it on the ground.”

Now Leech says that she carries her nutrition role all the way from planning to execution, and is actively involved in the performance team, which is a change from the more hands-off roles she has occupied in previous years.

“I’ve worked at the Commonwealth Games before as a dietitian in catering. I went to Delhi and the Gold Coast – I could observe the team but wasn’t an active part of the performance team. Whereas this time I’m embedded in and working there.”

The managerial role also sees Leech get her hands stuck into some dirty laundry.

“I get to manage the laundry. We might have an explosion of laundry everywhere…. There are times when I have to organize sewing or putting names on uniforms.”


Kerry Leech is the Diamonds team manager and lead nutritionist. Image Netball Australia


Early Days

Thinking back, Leech was driven to become a sports nutritionist after attending the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) as an athlete, without the support of a dietitian or receiving sports nutrition education. After leaving her hospital job in Queensland and moving into sports nutrition private practice, Leech says that netball was one of the first sports to reach out to her and has been supportive of her throughout her career and the birth of her three children.

“Through my connections in netball, I got some recommendations to join a private practice, part of which I now own. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t involved with netball.

“The first time I did anything was with Joyce Brown, but I really started working with the Diamonds with Jill Macintosh. I remember taking my first baby with me to a netball camp when we were doing cooking classes with some of the netball athletes.”


Nutrition at Tournaments

At The National Level

A fascinating aspect of sports nutrition is the detail that goes into the pre, during and post-match meal planning.  If you have ever played tournament style netball, you would know the importance of regular and smaller snacks across the day, rather than a large meal at any one time. For tournaments like the Team Girls Cup that might even have two games on one day, this is the approach that Leech and the associated Team Nutritionists take.

“Each of the teams have their own nutrition support person. That person will also be involved with working with the managers, planning out how the players are going to eat and recover during an event. Any event where the games become closer together, you have to be more aggressive about your nutrition strategies to ensure that the girls are able to recover and maintain nutrition stores that they need for the games.

“At the Team Girls Cup… that will often mean more frequent smaller meals to allow for that timing and more of a bigger meal at the end of the day.”

Meal and recovery plans are highly personalized, as each athlete’s requirements are different.

“That may involve what type of snacks they take on the court. You might see some of the girls with a little pack with a gel in it or a sports drink, and they will be using those things during that time. You may find they might have specific recovery drinks after the game that might be taken on court with them cooling down or signing autographs and then they would progress towards more food as they go through.”


At The International Level

Food planning and preparation also depends on the movement of the team and the facilities available.

“Internationally when we go away, we plan around jetlag and then time the meals around that. If it is something like a Quad series as compared to Constellation Cup touring, the planning might be slightly different because if we were just touring with the Australian side for the Constellation Cup, we would be staying at one hotel, and I could plan the meals to be specific for our players; it would be only our team.

“And we will do a combination of planned meals in the hotel that are around performance time, so we will often have very structured meals the night before, the day of the game and the night of the game and then we might give the athletes more freedom on days in between so that they don’t get bored.

“The athletes probably get a little more done for them as it gets elite. While we are touring away, the athletes won’t cook any of their meals. Sometimes people miss that ability to control their own meals so we try to make it as home-like as we can and as specific to their requirements as we can.”

The large amount of variability in the resources between different environments means that Leech must adapt to what is available, which sometimes makes food preparation difficult.

Quad Series saw all four teams sharing the same food services- a buffet style. We had to negotiate that – you had to ensure it had the right timing and it may not have everything the same way that we would do it. We can often review the menu beforehand. We look at things such as food safety – is it clean? Is it hot enough? Is the food being changed over enough?”

The Quad Series served as a trial run for the World Cup, and the more prepared that Leech can be, the better.

“These were the great things about the Quad Series this time – we could go and see what it was going to be like for World Cup and do a bit of a review. I am lucky being able to combine the dietician and manager role, so that I could do a review with my nutrition hat on and provide some recommendations for the organizers of the World Cup.”

Leech also must manage food preferences and medical conditions like Diabetes and Coeliac disease when developing or organising meals for the group.

“You have to have a good diet. And that’s part of my training. You first of all need an understanding of the clinical requirements of those individual diseases and how to manage them, and then you need to be able to adapt that to the athletes’ individual preferences and then the food service system that you’re using.

“In 2015, at the World Cup, I was embedded with the team, but primarily doing their catering. We stayed in self-contained apartments, and I physically prepared all the performance meals for the whole group. So, I was cooking for 50 people at a time, sometimes four meals a day.

“It was an experience, and it was tiring. We had someone who was a newly diagnosed coeliac, and we had a couple of people with food intolerances, so every meal has those options in it, you can’t ignore them. I need to make sure that we’re communicating with hotels, that there are always choices for those people on the menu and that they’re clearly outlined.”

Leech also considers what mealtimes can mean beyond the nutritional outcomes, drawing on her counselling and social work training that consider the contextual and symbolic meaning of food.

“Food choices aren’t always about performance, they’re sometimes about social needs that someone will have as well.”


Food choices for the Diamonds during camp. Image Netball Australia


What Has Changed?

  1. A More Holistic View

Over the last 30 years, nutritional science and research has evolved, improving the methods used to optimize performance. Leech reflects how this has translated into a more holistic perspective across several domains.

“At the start, I would go into the camps more frequently and it was often focused on body composition and skin folds. I would do a presentation and more of an in-out kind of thing.

“In the last 10 years though, I am much more embedded in the program, working with the girls holistically, working with a whole network of other dietitians to manage their day-to-day stuff, with me guiding that group.

“We have all learned to change our emphasis on body composition – we use body composition and testing when we need to, but we don’t make it a standard part of what we do anymore.”

Considering the body and mind is a vital step towards ensuring athletes can sustain optimal performance.

“You don’t get a well performing athlete if you don’t have a healthy athlete to start with. That doesn’t just mean body, but a healthy body and mind. You never separate any of these aspects.”


  1. Eating Disorder Awareness

Eating disorder awareness has also been brought to the forefront in recent years in Australian sport.

“The last five years there’s been a real emphasis on ensuring that we are aware of eating disorders or disordered eating and working to manage them; lowering the risk and supporting athletes when they are there.”


  1. The Use Of Wearables

Another interesting development in performance optimization is the use of wearables, which are fitness trackers, like a watch, that monitor fitness-related metrics, such as steps and calories burned.  Images have been seen of players wearing a specific type of fitness tracker called a WHOOP, which aims to ‘unlock human performance’ by providing highly personalised data on biometrics such as skin temperature, blood oxygen, sleeping, training, recovery, stress, and health.  The nutritional needs of players may also be influenced by this feedback.

“It’s great now, because we have wearables, so we can look at the intensity of things. We know that the intensity of our players, even when they train against each other, is really high. We look to the data to give us an indication about how well our players are recovering. It’s almost like an education system on the run for them so they can get an idea of how they’re sleeping, for example.

“Each of those wearables has its own weaknesses, and no matter how accurate they are, you have to be able to be interpretive of what’s happening. So, they will never take over from the skills of the practitioners. But it gives the athletes some immediate feedback on what’s going on.”

Interestingly, the energy requirements of netballers are still very hard to accurately predict, says Leech, and the current technologies are either not entirely accurate or would be unsuitable to wear while playing or training.

“This is because of the amount of jumping that’s in there. So, whereas if you’re running or cycling, you can get a good measure of the power output and energy requirements from it. Netball is probably still developing the type of tools that you need to be able to measure the energy requirements. How applicable the recommendations that come with the software are to the actual requirements, they are probably still down a little bit.”


A Whoop wearable device.


  1. How Netball Is Seen

The biggest change, however, has been in how netball is seen.

“Netball is a real power sport. It is a power sport that needs strength- it is not an endurance sport.

“Really matching that specific nutrition information to what the girls are actually required to do [is the goal], and that’s to be a powerful and strong body with lots of strength training in there, with lots of sprints.”

The Netball Australia Supplement Policy

Working in the high-performance space comes with guidelines and requirements around supplementation. In preparation for the Team Girls Cup, Leech was heavily involved in providing information on the Netball Australia Supplement Policy and related guidelines, through integrity presentations to each of the clubs to ensure that no violations to the policy took place.

“What I am talking to them about is Netball Australia’s supplement policy. That policy is there to keep the athletes as safe as possible from a doping violation. I’ll just be reinforcing what the policy is, what is allowed and not allowed, risks that they need to be looking at.

“I have been doing some education around the protein fortified food space, so where foods you see in the supermarket that have extra protein added, like drinks or muesli bars or yoghurts, but there are now many things sitting on the shelfs that are classified as supplements.

“Just helping the girls to be able to differentiate what they are and weighing up the risks and how to check things to see that they are suitable. “

This also applies to branding and endorsements.

“Other parts we have done is working with players’ agents so that if they are to endorse a product, it is also low risk and something that we would consider good for netball and their image.”

Reducing and eliminating supplement violations is something that Leech is passionate about, and the AIS and the National Sporting Organisation have been working hard in this area to increase education and awareness. To mitigate the risk of supplement violations, the Netball Australia Supplement Policy is reviewed yearly and based on the AIS framework, which categorises supplements based on their efficacy and safety, and the substances that Leech and the team batch test for safety assurance.

“That third party checking helps to decrease the risk. Even the clubs; if they are providing things to the athletes, we ask them to give us a sample so we can review them and make sure there are safety aspects in place.”


Groupings of supplements according to their effectiveness, safety, and current status on WADA’s List of Prohibited Substances and Methods. Taken from the Netball Australia Supplement Policy, January 2023. Page 4.















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PhD psychology candidate who loves to watch, play and umpire netball, as well as listen to and share stories.
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