“It’s not what you know; it’s what you can get the athletes to do.”
If this sounds like something a coach would say, you’re right. A coach did say it. However, Carl Valle, a track and field coach at Spikes Only, believes this advice isn’t just for coaches; it also applies to sports dietitians whose role in an athlete’s and athletics program’s success is right up there with head coaches.
We found a blog he authored on six factors to look for in an effective sports dietitian. It was such a good read for the Thrive Ice Cream team, we’re sharing his points – paraphrased just a bit – on what it takes to be a sports dietitian. They are:
One: The right person is a nutrition coach, not a consultant.
The new model is nutrition coaching, working with people instead of working with diets. Lecturing about broccoli and calories in soda may work for moms and dads with their children, but rarely does it work with athletes. Athletes are people and have people problems. The goal of nutrition coaching is to address solutions and motivate them on the benefits changes will create.
Two: They focus on engagement and enjoyment rather than education.
Dietitians should strive to make nutrition a healthy celebration of life versus a fueling strategy. Making food too biological and scientific – even though it is – takes all the fun out of meals and can actually decrease adherence and compliance. When food is celebrated and properly consumed, it inspires a lifetime commitment to eating right.
Three: They interact with data daily.
Record keeping isn’t just about calories consumed. Carl points our four essential data points dietitians should be mindful of following to make changes in an athlete’s performance and injury rate:
- Body composition should be seen as a health marker, and measuring should be done at a frequency that is healthy to the population. Nutritionists should be part of the responsibility for keeping people in athletic form safely.
- Bone density. Building bone health is an area that needs more attention. Workload and nutrition can improve or impair bone health. Bad things happen when athletes get stress fractures due to vitamin D deficiencies.
- Glycogen stores are the high-octane fuel for sports. Some pro athletes have issues with consuming enough carbohydrates because they may be very large and still have normal appetites. Add busy schedules and long practice times to the equation, and normal eating results in poor energy stores.
- Biochemistry. Getting blood cell and vitamin/mineral status are the direct way of knowing what is going on with an athlete. Subjective food logs or other estimates are useful, but not always reliable.
A 300-pound lineman has very different nutritional needs than a 110-sprinter. And, when you get right down to it, the nutritional needs of two 300-pound lineman can be as different as night and day. Which is why a dietitian must know individual athletes. Carl offers “four P’s” when developing a nutrition plan for an athlete:
- Profile – understanding the athlete’s nutritional background.
- Preferences – what and where the athlete likes to eat.
- Patterns – how they eat (successes and failures) and modifying behavior.
- Planning – ways to keep individual athletess focused on their diet and not what others are eating.
Five: They focus on meal systems rather than food logs.
Food logging is okay for some and burdensome for others. It’s better to have a meal system in which one logs lack of compliance rather than recording everything after the meal or snack.
Meal systems are ways to eat, rather than just listing meals. Many variables can make meal plans fail, so it’s better to focus on conceptual and important variables rather than exact food lists. An essential part of successful monitoring is always giving back something useful or rewarding inputs, which keeps athletes engaged and on-track.
Six: They focus on teaching athletes to cook rather than recipes.
Teaching athletes how to cook basic meals empowers individuals to be independent and removes barriers. This is as simple as teaching athletes how to use blenders to make smoothies; use crockpots and microwaves to make easy meals; and eventually progressing to baking, grilling and stir-frying. Athletes will find pleasure in cooking healthier meals and avoiding the temptation of high fat, high salt, high sugar options sold in fast food joints.
A final bit of advice…connect with
Thrive Ice Cream.
Our nutritious ice cream was specifically created and backed by science to deliver complete nutrition to athletes and others who rely on foods that are as nutritious and real as they are enjoyable. A growing number of sports dietitians in the NBA, NFL, and NCAA have added Thrive to their menu as it supports a variety of goals, from scientific to satisfaction. You can learn more about Thrive for Athletes here. We also encourage you to email Info@ThriveIceCream.com and request a conversation with Jeff Holtz, the food scientist behind Thrive Ice Cream.