Olympic rower gets to the root of good nutrition

Will Dean grows, produces what he eats

— By Rachel Sovka

Here’s how I know Will Dean is serious about nutrition: he’s had his own chickens.

A lot of athletes I interview tell me how important nutrition is. And sure, they’re Olympians, they’re professional competitors, they’re in the top percentile of human physical performance, so no doubt their diet must be very serious. But how many of them are truly putting their mouth where their mouth is?

Dean, an Olympic rower, claims to value eating real whole foods, like many do, but he took nutrition to a whole new level with his very own urban chickens and vegetable garden.

Will Dean: "Eat like our grandparents' grandparents ate."

Will Dean: "Eat like our grandparents' grandparents ate."

Practising what he preaches, Dean took matters into his own hands and raised the eggs he fried for breakfast and grew the vegetables he tossed into salad.

Tilling soil for training

Dean, 30, is so serious about the nutritional benefits of natural healthy food in an Olympic diet that part of his training is tilling his own soil.

“Personally, I like eating more than I like cooking,” Dean says with a laugh. “But there are ways to make that experience more engaging.”

For instance, when he’s not in the garden, Dean enjoys cooking on his new BBQ, the Big Green Egg.

However, he maintains that making food that tastes good and is good for you shouldn’t require a bunch of extra equipment. For Dean, it’s all about simplicity and getting back to his roots in the ground.

Sharing what works

This dedication is not a surprise for anyone who knows Dean or has taken one of his workshops in Victoria, B.C., on preparing and preserving nutritious foods.

“In the workshops, I teach everything from explaining why broccoli is good for you to how fermentation works in kombucha,” he says. “I read a lot of nutrition books now and I like to share what works for me.”


Dean is the first to admit that when life gets busy it can be difficult to maintain a lifestyle around good nutrition.

“The state of my veggie garden and chickens fell into disrepair when I was busy with the Rio Olympics last year,” he admits. “It’s a lot of travelling and competing, and not much time for anything else.”

His classes are designed to help people make good choices and to make good nutrition more accessible — whether you’re an Olympian or not.

Making healthy eating routine

Adding that it doesn’t make sense to keep chickens as pets, Dean says making healthy eating a priority is easier when you genuinely like doing it, and when it’s ingrained in your daily routine.

So which came first in Dean’s routine, the chicken or the egg? Did Dean’s commitment to daily whole nutrition inspire his commitment to the sport of rowing or did being a better rower inspire him to commit to healthy nutrition?

“I think it’s both, of course,” Dean says. “But it was through rowing that I became interested in nutrition in college. I had a coach who was always trying to get me to be leaner, and of course being leaner was beneficial to being better at rowing.”

‘Eat like our grandparents’ grandparents ate’

Will insists that however you come to concern yourself with nutrition, the best advice is not to complicate the nutritional science aspect.

“Just eat good unrefined foods,” he says. “Eat like our grandparents’ grandparents ate, nothing too fancy, just simple and wholesome.”

Just eat good unrefined foods
— Will Dean

That’s what sets Dean apart when it comes to nutrition. You can see what he believes by the way he lives his life, mirroring his “I’ll do it myself” attitude in sport.

Like many athletes trying to eat whole and healthy, he sets an example for how to endeavor to be consistent even when life gets busy.

As the pace of life ebbs and flows, Dean says having your values aligned with your priorities is the only way to turn healthy nutrition into routine. But inevitably, whether you’re headed to the Olympics or a busy week at work, don’t count your chickens before they hatch.