The Science of Sports Nutrition: It’s Not Just a Kid Thing

imagesWhen I started speaking to young athletes about nutrition, I did it because I hoped to get kids and young adults to understand the importance of food as fuel; to make them see that what they eat and when they eat it matters, and to help the most competitive kids get that “Nutrition Edge.” What I didn’t realize at the time is that it is about SO MUCH MORE! I have learned over the last couple of years that food matters, it REALLY matters when it comes to sports. That “Nutrition Edge” is real; food determines the ability to train harder and more effectively, and it has a real impact on injury prevention and even recovery from illness.

What I have also noticed is that attention to nutrition has become the “new way” for professional athletes as well. Yes, athletes that grew up eating junk and still made it to the top. Teams are realizing that it’s not just about performance; it’s about staying healthy, with minimal injuries and faster healing times, and about edging out the competition any way they can. So, teams are starting to hire professionals to help them formulate a program for “a burst of energy, a plan for rehydration and recovery, a remedy for inflammation.”

With football season starting, I wanted to highlight a team that has done just that: the Green Bay Packers. Sports at all levels have become more competitive and sophisticated, to the point of an athlete’s nutrition becoming a science. An article posted yesterday in the Miami Herald Football Wires highlights the Green Bay Packers’ newest member: nutritionist Adam Korzun. Korzun was hired to educate players on the benefits of food not only for performance but also for injury prevention. Music to my ears!

According to the article “Everything is organic, there’s no sugar,” safety Charles Clay said. “So whenever you grab something from there, you know it’s not bad for your body. I love their chocolate muffins. They’re sugar free, preservative free, it’s got protein. Every day I grab one.” Players have fresh juices available, which are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. There’s a smoothie bar, where superfoods like kale, spinach, chia seeds and flaxseeds can be hidden in sweet fruits. I laughed when I read this because I always tell my athletes, “if you don’t like it, BLEND it! It’s what my husband does!”

The article also discusses the importance of hydration; we know from science it tops the list as the starting point for good health, top performance and injury prevention. “Some Packers said they have been advised to take their body weight, divide it in half and drink that every day in ounces. So the 204-pound Clay should have 102 ounces of water a day, or more than 12 cups.” Perfect!

This was my favorite part of the article: “Kleiner said football players need plants. All vegetables and fruits, in variety and in abundance, especially beets, kale, spinach, collards, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage. They’re all high in antioxidants. They need lean protein in small amounts throughout the day. Fish and fish oil, lamb, avocado, grape seed oil, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, and seeds.’There’s nothing wrong with eating an apple and banana. But if that’s all you eat, you’re missing everything else,’ Kleiner said. The carbohydrates are equally important: yams, whole grain carbs, beans, starchy vegetables and even dairy. What not to eat? Sugar and bad fat in the form of fried or processed foods.” These foods are inflammatory and particularly important to avoid when trying to heal from illness or injury.

The Green Bay Packers are not the only ones paying attention to nutrition at this level of detail; Susan Kleiner was hired in 1990 to be the nutritionist for the Cleveland Browns. The LA Lakers recently hired doctor Cate Shanahan, a nutrition expert, to oversee the team’s nutrition program, and even our Olympic teams travel with their own chefs, dietitians and sports nutritionists when competing abroad.

And now I realize that what I set out to do is much bigger than originally intended, and hopefully some of these kids, as they reach college level athletics and beyond, will already be well educated in the do’s and don’ts of eating for sports from Doctor Jacq.

Full Miami Herald article

Interview with LA Lakers’ Doctor Cate Shanahan

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