Mariko Whyte: How getting strong improved my mental health

Mariko Whyte

How many women do you know that can physically pick up a car and flip it over? Strongwoman competitor, Dymatize ambassador and all-round boss athlete, Mariko Whyte, is one of them. 

The qualified Personal Trainer and strength and fitness enthusiast tried her hand at a range of sports, including powerlifting and bodybuilding, before the empowering community of Strongwoman stole her heart. 

‘It’s a sport of misfits; a collection of people who love yelling at their mates hitting a personal best (PB) on the weekend,’ says Whyte.

‘The Strongwoman sport has given me the confidence to work through problems and overcome obstacles – I’ve learnt to become a more resilient and independent woman.’

In the below interview, Strong Australia asks Mariko to share the nutrition, training and mindset secrets that have supported her through some of the toughest challenges of her life. 

SFMA: How did your health and fitness journey begin?

WHYTE: In high school, things got pretty tough at home. My mum was managing a mental health disorder and was very ill for many years, often in and out of hospital for weeks a time. I felt very isolated from my peers and lonely.

I found a way of coping and managing my emotional stress levels by taking the family dog for a run in the bush. Exercise gave me an escape; it was a way of distracting myself and feeling good again. 

The feeling of pushing my limits and seeing what I was capable of has always excited me. I’ve always had a strong competitive spirit; during physical education classes at school, I pushed myself to keep up with the fittest, including the boys. Eventually, I was able to surpass them!

Image: Dymatize

SFMA: What do you love most about the sport of Strongwoman?

WHYTE: Strongwoman has given me so much – I feel like it’s the type of sport that just keeps on giving! It’s the community that appeals to me the most: I’ve never met so many encouraging people who want to see you achieve your goals just as much as you do.

SFMA: Anything you dislike about Strongwoman?

WHYTE: The fact Strongwoman is not a drug tested sport can make it challenging for natural athletes to be seen as equals on stage. Drugs are prevalent and can create unrealistic expectations for what’s achievable. Then again, it also makes the feeling of making it to the top as a natural athlete that much sweeter. 

SFMA: What is your best piece of advice for Strongwoman beginners?

WHYTE:
1. I would recommend building a good foundation of strength training before launching into Strongwoman. This will help prevent unwanted injury and prepare your body for the impact the sport has on your muscles, bones and tendons.
2. Get a coach who has real world experience in the sport, who is encouraging and who supports your growth.
3. Have fun – it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and you won’t regret it!

SFMA: What has been your greatest challenge?

WHYTE: Competing in United States Strongman Pro Women’s Worlds in 2017. The amount of emotional and physical strength it took to prep, cut weight, and build strength for all of those epic events was a battle. 

It was also the first time I had put my mind and body through so many competitions in a row. I was petrified I wouldn’t make weight, which led to a lot of self-doubt. 

On the day of the competition, I injured my hand in the first event and contemplated pulling out to prevent serious injury. In the end, I grinded through the pain; I reached what I thought were my limits and overcame them. 

SFMA: How about your greatest achievement?

WHYTE: Flipping a car at the Battle of Ballarat competition in 2018. It was so exhilarating – I felt like I had finally made it in the Strongwoman world and I had proved myself. Better yet, my parents were there to witness me compete for the very first time.

Lifting a 140kg Atlas Stone onto a 1.2m platform while training for the Arnolds Strongman Competition 2020 was also right up there! 

Image: @thefunksolbrother

SFMA: What does being a STRONG woman mean to you?

WHYTE: For me, being a strong woman is to be independent and resilient. It’s about overcoming battles, acknowledging your weaknesses and struggles, and being confident in your ‘why’.  

SFMA: What’s your average week of training?

WHYTE:
I train four days per week using a split-body routine:

Monday – lower body
Tuesday – upper body
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – lower body
Friday – upper body
Saturday – rest
Sunday – yoga or stretch

My coach, Michael Smits, prescribes primary compound lifts at the start of my session: squat, deadlift, overhead press or bench press. I then move into Olympic lifts, such as snatches, overhead squats or split jerks.

Overhead pressing is dominant in the sport of Strongwoman, so I’m always working on it. 

SFMA: What’s your average day on a plate?

WHYTE:
Breakfast
Training days: A smoothie with Dymatize ISO100 Fudge Brownie, banana, peanut butter, spinach, half a carrot, frozen blueberries, greens powder and a touch of cinnamon.

Plus, protein porridge, made up of cooked rolled oats with a scoop of Dymatize Fudge Brownie ISO100 mixed in. I’ll then add raw walnuts, frozen blueberries, sliced banana, and almond or soy milk. I’ll also drizzle a bit of honey on top and a sprinkle of cinnamon. 

Rest days: Either a Dymatize smoothie (as above) or eggs with avocado, spinach and mushrooms on toast with a black coffee.
Snacks
*Muesli bars with seeds, nuts and dried fruit
*Trail mix of nuts and seeds
*Orange and mandarins
*Peanut butter on rice crackers

LunchA stir-fry containing a mix of vegetables, onion and a protein source, such as chicken, beef or fish. I’ll drizzle this with a sauce containing soy sauce, minced garlic, ginger, corn flour and water. I’ll serve with rice.

DinnerI love pan-fried salmon with vegetables on steamed rice. I’ll add a little soy sauce for taste.

SFMA: What supplements do you take?

WHYTE: I always have Dymatize ISO100 Protein Powder in my post-workout breakfast smoothie – it’s the highest quality protein I’ve found! It’s light, never clumps, and always tastes ridiculously good!

I also take Dymatize ZMA every day. Magnesium makes such a difference to my training recovery and lessens my experience of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 

SFMA: Why Dymatize?

WHYTE: I’ve been using Dymatize products for over three years and I absolutely love them. I was originally introduced to Dymatize at a Doncaster health food store where I worked at the time. I’ve viewed Dymatize as a top tier and high-quality brand ever since.

When they asked me to come on board as an ambassador, it was a no-brainer. I was honoured to be given an opportunity to join such an amazing company.  

SFMA: What’s your favourite Dymatize product?
WHYTE: The Dymatize ISO100 in Fudge Brownie flavour because it literally tastes like brownies! I get to indulge in something sweet but that helps to regulate my blood sugar levels, rather than sending them haywire. 

SFMA: How do you support your recovery?

WHYTE: I love to support my recovery with healthy meals, tracking my solid eight hours of sleep each night, and lots of mobility work pre-training and stretching post-training. 

I also try to create peace and rest within my home, allowing me to tap into my parasympathetic nervous system and re-energise for my training sessions. Listening to frequency music has helped me find balance post-training, and I try to practice gratitude every day.

What’s next for you?

I’ll continue to prep for local Strongwoman competitions, with a focus on slowly building strength.

I’m working hard to build the Strongwoman community, particularly in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. There aren’t many gyms that cater to Strongwoman athletes and I’d like to change that. I run a weekly Strongwoman class at CrossFit Chirnside Park (CFCP) and I’m hoping to organise future competitions and community events in the future. 

Together with my amazing best friend, Kerryn Taylor, I’ll also be looking at running another of our Sisters in Strength women’s empowerment workshop in 2021. So keep your eyes peeled!

Main image credit: @thefunksolbrother

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About Katelyn Swallow 36 Articles
Katelyn Swallow is a journalist, editor and communications professional based in Perth. She is the Editor-in-Chief of STRONG Fitness Magazine Australia, the previous editor of Women's Health and Fitness magazine, and a regular contributor to STRONG in the US.