Improving Nutrition Habits for High School, Collegiate and Professional Athletes

Improving Nutrition Habits for High School, Collegiate and Professional Athletes

Tavis PTavis Piattoly, who played football and other sports in high school, dropped 50 pounds in the summer after he graduated, before he enrolled in Louisiana State University as a pre-med student. Now he offers High School and other athletes the expert nutrition he wishes he would have known as a 17-year-old who got used to fast food before practice and Chinese buffet afterwards.

“I wish I’d had the knowledge then that I have now,” Piattoly says. “I wouldn’t have made such bad decisions. There was no one there to tell us.”

NO Saints croppedPiattoly switched his major to dietetics with an emphasis on sports nutrition and achieved his goal of working with the New Orleans Saints, for seven years. He’s worked 12 years with Tulane University and now operates his own My Sports Dietitian (www.mysportsd.com), an online education and software platform for athletes, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and coaches that offers phone apps for tracking nutrition, one-on-one counseling for athletes, and a mentorship program for young sports nutrition students and practitioners.

Logo Tulane croppedSince he started at Tulane in 2003, Piattoly has seen rapid growth in staff Sports Dietitians in Division 1 schools, now totaling about 75. He believes the focus is spreading to the 8 million high school athletes and their parents who are seeking safer and more effective performance.

Focus on When and What You Eat

“You can change behavior more with a 14-year-old than a 28-year-old,” says Piattoly, who starts with a focus on when the athlete eats and then focuses on what they eat. “Now we know nutrition can give athletes a performance advantage if they time their intake correctly. High school athletes are underfueling their bodies to support their activity. Nutrition can make a good athlete great – or a great athlete good.”

Athletes who train five hours a day, maybe in two different sports, should eat about every three hours, he says. When Piattoly advises an athlete, he starts with a three-day food log to be sure they’re not energy-deprived – then starts replacing the breakfast doughnuts or toaster pastries with shakes, eggs, and oatmeal.

It all starts with timing. That’s the first nutritional strategy I employ.

“It all starts with timing,” he says. “That’s the first nutritional strategy I employ. If we can fix the ‘when,’ we can fix the ‘what.’ Ninety percent of the kids I work with are highly motivated. They realize nutrition is the piece they’ve been missing all along. Parents are a critical piece, especially Moms. Mom is usually the food provider for the athlete, or sometimes it’s a single dad.”

Piattoly helped a small-framed high school linebacker gain 50 pounds by his senior year and earn a college scholarship. He worked with a high school quarterback to add 20 pounds of lean muscle so he could attract college scouts.

“It’s all about teaching them to get enough calories to support what they’re trying to do,” he says. “It’s the missing component, it’s the secret weapon, it’s the component that leads to success in everything else.”

The food-first approach incorporates supplementation where appropriate, including The Right Stuff for heavy-sweating athletes and those susceptible to cramps. “In the New Orleans area, it’s really humid,” Piattoly says. “We use The Right Stuff with a lot of our athletes that are heavy sweaters. It’s good for any athlete. We get a lot of sodium in our diet, but when we sweat it out at accelerated rates, we need to replenish it. Our body needs it.”

Interest in nutrition is expanding to younger ages because it both helps prevent injury and enhances performance. “We’re going to see this field continue to expand throughout the collegiate level, high school, club teams,” Piattoly says. “It’s going to trickle down, just like athletic trainers did in the past”

2010 and 2012 NCAA Football Champion University of Alabama: Nutrition is Critical to Athlete Success!

2010 and 2012 NCAA Football Champion University of Alabama: Nutrition is Critical to Athlete Success!

Amy BraggAmy Bragg was the eighth full-time college sports dietitian in the entire US when she was hired at Texas A&M in 2004, a position created when the Athletic Director came from the pioneer athletic-nutrition focused University of Nebraska. As the profession has mushroomed in the past decade, Bragg, who moved to the University of Alabama Alabama Univ ofin 2010 (Editors Note: In 2011 & 2012 Alabama was the College Football Champion), hopes to see nutrition awareness expand into other fields.

Nutrition is a big, broad concept, beyond sports nutrition,” she says. “It affects every person. It’s something I would like to see grow.”

Bragg credits her interest to a nutrition and foods course she took as a high school senior, taught by a dietitian who was ahead of her time on the subjects of herbs, recipes, and sustainability in the 1990s. “Nobody was really thinking of sustainability in the food supply back then,” Bragg recalls.

Bragg earned a degree in Finance from the University of Texas, where she supported the athletic program as a football hostess, and went on to earn a nutrition and foods degree at the University of Houston. She became a Clinical Dietitian at the Texas Medical Center in Houston in 2001 and also started consulting with athletes about nutrition before she joined Texas A&M. Bragg, one of the founders and past-president of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA), witnessed the early days of the athletic nutrition movement.

Athletic Nutrition Movement

“Back then we were just getting connected, creating a listserv, starting to talk, about a dozen of us networking, going to meetings, running into each other and sharing ideas, how to navigate challenges,” she recalls. “It was slow initially. The growth has really happened, I think, in the last three years. It’s really evolved.”

…when you manage the food supply you get better outcomes, when you manage nutrition rather than just react to it or treat issues medically. You get a much greater benefit for the athletes’ development and their long-term health.

“Those of us who have worked with Athletic Trainers and Strength Coaches for a while have been able to show…when you manage the food supply you get better outcomes, when you manage nutrition rather than just react to it or treat issues medically. You get a much greater benefit for the athletes’ development and their long-term health. It’s an important partnership with the other support staff. Parents and athletes value it. They value nutrition when you talk about it in a recruiting scenario and they value it when they come on campus.”

Athletes often overlook the importance of what they eat for their performance, Bragg says.

“Athletes don’t respond to lectures, and they don’t want to be forced to see a nutritionist,” she says. “They can’t see that they’ll get anything from it because they don’t have a weight problem. It shouldn’t be punitive. For every athlete, it should be about performance, it should be about health. They typically don’t eat well. Getting them to eat better keeps them on the field. You have to get them at the right time. Sometimes it’s when they’re injured. Sometimes they’re doing a rehab and you can affect them more – they’re more responsive. But really it’s for everyone.”

The nutrition plan includes The Right Stuff when needed to protect athletes’ hydration.

“There are occasions and specific athlete needs that require higher sodium intake,” Bragg says. “The Right Stuff is an effective add-on to whatever you’re doing for hydration. In the food plan, for some athletes, The Right Stuff becomes essential for them to perform well throughout an entire game. If you’ve ever had a full-body cramp, you’re responsive to anything that will keep that from happening again.  The Right Stuff is a powerful aid in prevention of cramps. [Editors Note: Studies show the formula also improves core thermoregulation, protecting the body from overheating and increases athletic endurance]

If you’ve ever had a full-body cramp, you’re responsive to anything that will keep that from happening again.

We try to have a full arsenal of things to get athletes through every situation, and The Right Stuff is an important part of that for us.”

Bragg hopes that the athletes’ nutrition education will impact the rest of their lives. “It’s part of their development and their performance and their lifelong health,” she says. “Athletes are going to go on and become parents, and they’re going to develop their children’s nutrition. We’re talking about the big picture.”

To learn more visit www.TheRightStuff-USA.com

Athletic Excellence in College Depends on Optimal Sports Nutrition

Randy Bird started a biology major at Virginia Tech because he planned to go to medical school, maybe becoming an orthopedic surgeon so he could stay connected to athletes in the sports that he loved. When prospects of a medical career lost their luster, he Randy Bird Hd Shotswitched to human nutrition, foods and exercise science to achieve the same goal.

Bird is Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Virginia as well as the president of the 800+ member Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (learn more about CPSDA at sportsrd.org), that serves colleges, pro teams, military and others.

“Back when I was starting at University of Kansas, in 2005, there were only 10 schools that had a full-time sports dietitian,” he says. “In the last nine years, we’ve gone from 10 to 45 schools, maybe close to 50 now,” including several schools with multiple staff members.

NCAA Lifted Food Restrictions at Universities

That growth likely will accelerate because the NCAA has lifted restrictions on food that universities can provide to athletes, scrapping regulations that once permitted bagels but not cream cheese or peanut butter.

That rule change should spark even more job growth because you need somebody who knows what they’re doing managing that food,” Bird says. “The profession was already growing. That new rule, or the removal of the old rule, really drives us forward even more.”

Some athletes imagined that the change would turn college into a cruise ship, with lavish buffets at every turn, but the reality involves strategic fueling that will be implemented differently at different colleges.

Randy Bird by BodPod“It’s going to be up to the school what they can afford to do and what’s best for their athletes,” Bird says. “In some situations, a school might be able to do a breakfast and lunch set up for athletes. For us, that’s not a viable option,” because of the logistics of classroom and practice locations.

“The athletes still have a meal plan, but we’re going to be using it more to provide the additional calories that our athletes need to make them whole, to repair the damage they’ve done from their workouts and to maintain their health.”  Improvements in nutrition can improve safety as well as health for the athletes.

“A big majority of injuries happen when the athletes are fatigued,” Bird says. “If they’re underfueled, they’re going to be spending a lot more of their games and practices in that fatigued state. If they’re underfueled, they’re not recovering as well so you’re going to be having more muscle injuries.

Fuel starts with food but includes appropriate supplementation, such as shakes to replenish calories and vitamins, and The Right Stuff to sustain hydration.

That’s where The Right Stuff comes in – to aid in hydration and replace the electrolytes during practice and games.

“We want to provide food as the baseline,” Bird says. “Food needs to be the majority of what our athletes are getting. However, there’s plenty of room still for supplementation too. That’s where The Right Stuff comes in – to aid in hydration and pre-loading and replacement of electrolytes lost during practice and games.”

Hydration is Critical for Collegiate Athletes’ Performance

Bird, who heard of The Right Stuff through the CPSDA, started using it at Kansas and brought it to Virginia, first for football, where the NASA-developed formula has eliminated the need for IVs during game halftimes and drastically reduced the number needed for practices.

“It has cut down on the amount of IVs we have to give,” Bird says. “To me, that’s tremendous. When I started working here, the first summer during training camp, we had IVs that we had to do just to make sure guys were hydrated when they were going out to that second practice.

“We’ve developed a strategy to help them hydrate. If they can come into the game hydrated and then maintain these hydration practices during the game, there’s no need for an IV. They’re not losing as much, and they’re replacing what they lose.”

Other sports, including lacrosse, soccer, and tennis, are also using The Right Stuff and have reported excellent results too, he says.

Each packet has nearly 1.8 grams of sodium in it, which is critical for those marathon runners and triathletes.  “A typical tennis player could easily sweat out five or six pounds of fluid,” Bird says, losing at least 2-3  grams of sodium. “Using The Right Stuff is an easy way to stay up with that electrolyte loss.”

Collegiate Sports Dietitians: Improving Sports Performance and Building Nutrition Awareness Across All Sports

Aaron CarbuhnAfter Aaron Carbuhn earned his master’s degrees in nutrition in 2008 and sport physiology in 2009 at Texas A&M, he moved to Houston and volunteered for 10 months at the University of Houston as a football assistant Strength and Conditioning coach and Sports Dietitian. A month after he took the job as sports nutritionist at the University of Kansas, Houston joined the fast-growing list of universities creating such positions.

“When I came out of school trying to find a collegiate Sports RD position, there were only 20 schools with a full-timer on staff,” he says, adding that the number has more than tripled. “My roles and responsibilities include assisting all of our sports teams with a multitude of nutrition needs – education, counseling, creating diet plans, team menu planning, and body composition testing.”

Carbuhn says, Athletes as well as schools are increasingly aware of nutrition’s key role in their academic, athletic, and personal lives.

Nutrition Awareness

“What’s the one thing that can affect all those parameters? Nutrition,” he says. “That needs to be addressed and improved in more collegiate athletic departments. When I was assisting as a Strength and Conditioning coach at the University of Houston, many athletes would ask questions about nutrition frequently.  I was definitely seeing that the need is there. There seems to be a lot of growth moving forward in the field of collegiate sports nutrition.”

Carbuhn first learned about The Right Stuff while volunteering as a Sports RD at Texas A&M under Amy Bragg. When he arrived at Kansas, The Right Stuff had already been introduced by his predecessor and current CPSDA (Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association) President Randy Bird. He set out to expand its use among more sport teams at Kansas.

The Right Stuff (hydration formula developed by NASA) is a vital thing

“It’s a vital thing,” he says. “You can’t just pound back a lot of salty foods in the middle of a practice or workout to help restore your electrolyte balance. I don’t believe that is going to sit too well in your stomach. The Right Stuff is available to all 16 sports. As a team approach, we use it primarily with our football and men’s and women’s basketball programs. For our remaining sports, we look provide it to particular athletes with difficulties in keeping a proper electrolyte balance, that can cause things like cramps, during training and competitive play.”

Carbuhn maintains his personal passion for strength training partly through lunchtime sessions in the weight room with coworkers.

“My love is in the weight room,” he says. “I still have the desire to improve my own athletic performance. To have the opportunity to use my knowledge in strength and conditioning as well as nutrition. I have been able to continue to physically develop further than I thought was possible at this stage of my life. I still love to write training programs and try different training modalities to keep it interesting and, of course, fun.”

The 6 Fundamentals of Athlete Fueling for Optimal Performance

The sports nutrition movement is accelerating so rapidly that Tiffany Byrd, Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Oklahoma, considers herself a second-generation beneficiary of Tiffany Byrdpioneers like James Harris III, currently at the Philadelphia Eagles with prior stops at University of Nebraska and University of Oregon, and Amy Bragg at the University of Alabama.

Byrd, who won a national title as a gymnast at Alabama, transferred to Nebraska where she was on the receiving end of Harris’s cutting-edge sports nutrition program. “He had such an impact on my life – not only as an athlete,” she says. “Food was his tool, but he was about life – setting me up to make my impact on the world.”

When Byrd went back to Alabama to earn a master’s degree in sports nutrition, Harris, who had moved to the University of Oregon hired her as a summer intern. During this time, Alabama hired Bragg as its first Sports RD, and Byrd became her first intern when her summer stint ended at Oregon. After she attended the annual Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) conference, she landed a job as Baylor University’s first full-time sports dietitian in 2012, then moved to launch the Oklahoma program in 2013.

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Hands-On Approach

“We opened the dining hall my first year,” she says. “If you are able to have a training table, you might as well use it as an education tool. It’s education to the athletes, the coaches, and even the administration. Day to day operations include providing a hands-on approach in working with athletes, with coaches, with administration, housing and food services, and even includes doing administrative tasks. It’s consistently being a presence and emphasizing to our athletes, coaches, and staff the importance of how to use food as fuel to gain a performance advantage.”

The learning curve involves top-tier athletes who may have eaten mostly fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, bacon, and pizza. Byrd emphasizes the importance of fueling for performance – using food as a tool to gain a benefit in performance by incorporating fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, while maintaining adequate hydration.

We strive daily to encourage our athletes to become not only better athletes, but healthier people.

“Food is very personal,” she says. “Most of the time we adopt our food habits from our parents or whoever raised us. Getting someone to change some of these behaviors can be challenging. We strive daily to encourage our athletes to become not only better athletes, but healthier people. It sets them up for life. OU is a three-, four-, five-year stop for them in this journey of life. You don’t ever get away from food. We hope that upon leaving Oklahoma, they have a good understanding and relationship with food. In doing so, we equip them to impact their families and future generations for the better long after their playing days are over.”

B.O.O.M.E.R.

Already, OU’s program reaches beyond the athletes. Other students and staff members in the athletics department can utilize Wagner Dining and benefit from the educational experiences. Byrd incorporated an acronym to help remind athletes of the fundamentals of nutrition while at OU: B.O.O.M.E.R.

  • Begin with Breakfast – emphasizes the most important meal of the day
  • Own your Protein – encourages adequate protein intake for muscle growth and development
  • Optimize Hydration – Hydration is vital, especially in the hot Oklahoma climate. “That’s where The Right Stuff comes into play,” she says. “It really helps us with hydration and it has been a huge asset for us here at OU.”
  • Must have fruits and vegetables – strive for all five colors daily for nutrients, vitamins, and minerals
  • Eat often – ideally every two or three hours
  • Rest and recover – “Nutrition plays a huge role,” Byrd says. “There’s a 30-minute window for recovering with carbohydrates and proteins to help replenish what was lost, to repair muscles broken down during practice and training.”

Her position has given Byrd a platform for providing nutrition education across the campus and beyond, including speaking engagements across the state, as well as an appreciated role with the athletes. She even has her own student interns, a reminder of her early start in the expanding profession.

“I pride myself on being the athlete’s OU mom,” she says. “Because of the support and encouragement provided to me by our Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and Head Football Coach (Coach Stoops), I’ve had opportunities to speak at different conventions in the state to help with the health in Oklahoma. It’s remarkable that this position has provided a platform that goes beyond our athletes and the University of Oklahoma but extends throughout the community, the state, into our OU alumni, and hopefully onto a national level.”

NFL Lineman Shares His Secret for Fighting Chronic Cramps

Chance Warmack, the All-American guard on Alabama’s national championship team and first-round draft pick for the Tennessee Titans, Chance Warmack - Combine croppedknew he was a heavy sweater ever since his family moved from Detroit to Atlanta and he started playing youth football.

“I was aware that I used to sweat a lot when I was younger, but it wasn’t to the point that I needed to add electrolytes in my system,” he says. “I began to see a change in my body because I was doing a lot more activity at the high school level.”

He first felt the pain of intense cramps during his sophomore year.  “It was really hot, and I began to start cramping for the first time,” Warmack recalls. “I didn’t know what was causing them, how I could prevent them, or why they were happening to me. I began to understand what to do to prevent the problem of cramping. Back then, I didn’t know what I needed to put in my body to avoid those things.

Pedialyte®, formulated for children who have lost nutrients, helped more than other products, so he would stock up before practice on a hot Georgia day. Pedialyte was my saving grace at the time, but even that sometimes it didn’t come through for me,” Warmack says. “I would have days when I would be close to full body cramps. My body was locking up on me and I didn’t know what to do.”

 

Fighting the Cramps

In his senior year in High School, his grandfather, a physician, recommended a concoction that helped enough for Warmack to win a scholarship to the University of Alabama, but trainers there balked at depending on the time-consuming mix.

“I put that solution down,” he says. “I was introduced to salt tablets at that time in my life. I was 17 years old. Alabama’s training camps are very hard. I would leave training camp practice soaked with sweat. Salt tablets can only do so much. My body was taking so much sodium, and I couldn’t store it all. I would have to take 50 tablets at a time every day.”

It was convenient, it was efficient, and it was easy to use. The Right Stuff literally helped me get through college.

Finally, in his junior year at Alabama, his Nutritionist introduced Warmack to The Right Stuff. He took six packets a day, 2-3 times as much as other teammates. “There was nobody on the team that sweated as much as me,” he explains. “It was convenient, it was efficient, and it was easy to use. The Right Stuff literally helped me get through college. I’ve done everything – salt tablets, pickle juice, mustard, Gatorade, you name it. The Right Stuff gave me the opportunity to play and not worry about cramping. I could focus on football, not how much sodium I had taken.”

Chance Warmack - Titans helmet onWhen he went to the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, he was the only one who was taking The Right Stuff. “Every trainer has the way they want you to hydrate,” says Warmack, who “pre-games” with The Right Stuff and has two in his system when he steps onto the field. “I didn’t want to change what I was doing because it works so well for me. When you know what works for you, you don’t want to change it, especially when you’ve got proof that it works.”

“They tell me when you sweat you lose a lot of minerals. You’re burning fuel. When you use The Right Stuff, it’s putting everything back. You feel like it’s a boost for you. I’m happy I was able to be introduced to it. It was a blessing in my life. I can be the best player I can be.”

How Can You Perform Like The Collegiate and Pro Athletes While Competing In The Heat?

Becci Twombley grew up in the beach volleyball town of Manhattan Beach, Calif., and played volleyball at Pepperdine University, where she graduated in 1998 with a degree in athletic training and sports medicine. She married Dennis Twombley, a Pepperdine baseball player who was drafted by the New York Yankees, and they spent five years moving among minor league cities where she took coaching jobs.Becci Twombley

Becci became interested in the importance of nutrition for athletes and earned her Registered Dietitian certification in 2003. In the years before athletic organizations recognized the need for such a specialty, she was a pediatric and neonatal nutrition specialist in a hospital – using nutrition to help children’s bodies recover just as she now uses nutrition to help athletes’ bodies recover. “You’re doing the same thing – whether it’s an exhaustive training session or therapy, you’re trying to replace nutrients and help the body recover,” Becci says.

In 2007, UCLA hired her part-time to run its sports nutrition program, a position that grew into full-time. In 2009, Becci was a founding board member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA), whose membership has grown from 20 to 65 full-time professional members (and over 800 in total) as awareness of the field accelerates. She is also a member of the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists (SCAN) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Two years ago, she became Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Southern California.

The athletes are really reliant on Sports Dietitians to make sure everything gets done the way it’s supposed to be done,” she says, adding that she emphasizes food first – milk, meat, vegetables, fruits, carbs, juices – and supplements as appropriate to provide balanced nutrition. For sweaty athletes, that’s The Right Stuff, says Becci, who rushes it to the practice field when coaches text that they are ready to practice.

The Right Stuff is Essential

shutterstock_39389809 FB hi“The Right Stuff is essential for football practice,” she says. “They all call it ‘the packet.’ I open it, mix it with water, and they drink it on the field,” she says. “The coaches notice it. The line coach has three guys that need it.” No-huddle offense means 95 to 115 plays per practice, compared to 70 in an ordinary offense, and the roster is down to 73 players, fewer than most schools. “Our guys are taking more snaps,” Becci says. “We really rely on The Right Stuff for that sort of thing.”

Sweating players in full pads can lose at least 1,000 milligrams of sodium an hour. The Right Stuff provides over 1700 milligrams in one packet, and instead of abrasive sodium chloride it’s sodium citrate, which is easier to digest and can help ease the buildup of free radicals that causes muscle fatigue, she says.

“It’s not just because they’re going to cramp,” Becci says. “We want to make sure their muscles are working efficiently. We’re minimizing any breakdown. Linemen need it most. They’re losing a ton of water, but they’re also losing a ton of salt. It’s imperative they have every asset they can.”

The Right Stuff is important for other athletes too, says Becci, who introduced the product when she became team nutritionist for the Major League Baseball Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this season.

One of the first things I did when I got to the Angels was get The Right Stuff there too!

“One of the first things I did when I got to the Angels was get The Right Stuff there too” she says, adding that some players have not suffered their usual cramps since they started using it. “They have to make sure they’re just as fueled in the ninth inning as they were in the first. The catcher uses it. The pitchers are using it so they’re well hydrated all the way through.

One of the things I notice most with it is, in talking to the athletes, they feel as though they don’t become as lightheaded as the course of the game goes on. It’s because it has a significant amount of sodium in it and you’re reloading that sodium. You’re losing less water, and you’re retaining sodium.

The guys that use it have to use it every time. There’s no playing without it after you’ve felt the benefit.