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5 WAYS PROFESSIONAL STRENGTH COACHES APPROACH SPORT NUTRITION
How are they doing that? If you have ever found yourself in shock and surprise at the mastery of your sport by a professional athlete, you are not alone. Several factors influence a pro’s growth and success both in-season and off-season, and sports nutrition is one such critical factor.
The majority of athletes play as they do, and nutrition is no exception. That’s why exercise and diet habits are seen by strength and conditioning coaches as inseparable variables for the success of an athlete: one must help the other.
To learn more about how they treat nutrition to fuel optimum performance, we caught up with Mark Fitzgerald, Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Anaheim Ducks, and Bar Malik, performance director for the New York Knicks.
EVEN PRO ATHLETES START WITH THE BASICS
Both coaches agree that it is important to teach the basics of healthy eating throughout the year to fuel a well-nourished athlete.
Balanced and balanced and easy is ideal for the athletic community.” Mark says, and he focuses on providing his athletes with achievable and realistic guidelines on how to put together a healthy plate.” “It starts with real food, and from that food, it gets energy.”
Mark has a window of time to train players in-season with optimal eating habits. He uses a “teach by doing” approach to help athletes produce well-balanced meals with visual signs. This involves strategies such as teaching how much room protein, carbohydrate, and fat options can occupy with each meal on a plate, and how to use a hand to weigh each section.
During the season, Mark shows how both affordable and tasty safe food choices are, which he says is a major factor in adhering to off-season dietary guidelines. This advice empowers athletes to decide if they have the right kind of food to help their success, in the right amount, for each meal.
Even if a sports nutrition plan meets all the dietary needs of an athlete, it may still not deliver the best results if it is too complicated for a pro:
“Being on the road can be extremely difficult to get specialty food. So if I can’t deliver a consistent product, there’s no point in including fancy or trendy food because it’s not going to be consistent,” says Mark.
His simple, effective and replicable design approach leaves no room for confusion. The sports nutrition of an athlete should be uncomplicated and avoid focusing on any particular food or supplement.
“It’s your main source of fuel,” says Mark about the role of carbohydrates in hockey, a sentiment echoed by Basketball Bar. Both coaches cite the high-intensity nature of their sport as a reason for carbohydrate intake to meet the demands of rigorous training and play.
As for exercise increases in intensity, the body naturally begins to rely more heavily on carbohydrates for fuel. The high octane nature of both hockey and basketball requires coaches to think critically not just about the quantity, but about the quality of carbohydrates to fuel their athletes.
“It’s a necessity for the athletic population,” says Mark. “You need to find good sources of carbohydrate and do your homework.”
It’s easy enough for Mark to explain the difference between slow-acting carbohydrates and fast-acting carbohydrates and their performance roles:
“All in all, your slow carbs are better because they keep you level. Quick carb sure gives you a little burst, but it’s going to go away quickly; it’s kind of like cheap gas.”
YOU CAN COUNT ON SUPERSTARCH®
The world of sports nutrition is overwhelmed by fast-acting energy options that give athletes a short-lived burst of energy, often followed by a crash. Both Mark and Bar believe that SuperStarch® is an innovative solution that can help overcome the deficiencies of more traditional sports fuels.
“We use carbohydrates that are sustainable so that players feel the same in the first quarter as they do in the fourth quarter, when it matters,” Bar says. SuperStarch fits neatly into the strategy of his game-day. He’s got his players to fuel up with 1 serving of UCAN Performance Energy, powered by SuperStarch, about an hour after their pre-game meal to boost their energy before the game starts.
As most games are played at night, maintaining control of players’ blood sugar levels with SuperStarch throughout the night prevents them from experiencing “foggy, sleepy feelings” during the game. Bar says that the feeling of maintaining blood sugar is pretty obvious to players who try SuperStarch for the first time instead of their normal peanut butter and jelly sandwich or bagel.
Mark finds SuperStar’s subtlety to be its most powerful quality. “It’s a crash that they don’t notice. This product has to work I know it’s working. That’s what resonated with me and the athletes, especially those who had different products thrown at them with promises of ‘x, y, and z.’ With UCAN it’s not about promises, it’s just consistency. That’s a big deal for me as a coach. You want to be honest with your players.”
A daily sports nutrition survey during the season keeps bar athletes honest about their dietary patterns-including whether they have eaten breakfast and how many meals they eat outside the training facility. Monitoring these habits provides metrics that Bar takes into account during his 1:1 biweekly meeting with the support of the team nutritionist. “We are setting short-term and long-term goals,” he says, and managing simple day-to-day nutrition and lifestyle behaviors is part of reaching those targets.
While it is important to consume the right amount of calories, Bar has laid the foundation for quality calories from day one: “Nutrient density is something we focus on. A lot of people rely so heavily on calorie counting. We focus more on choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods and simply eliminating sugars and processed foods.
Ultimately, applying the principles of optimal nutrition performance to a diverse group of individuals is a balance of science and art that requires Bar to constantly reassess its approach.
Laughing as he recalls a memorable instance when a young athlete came to workout, with a bag of chips, Bar admits that he used to think that any kind of calorie was enough to support him through rigorous training. Creating ambivalence about pre-training food choices like chips helps Bar to open a conversation about calorie quality:
“There are a lot of athletes who just don’t know the value of nutrient-dense foods and how they can help improve performance,” he says. The bar regularly learns how nutrient-dense foods can enhance performance, health, and body composition more than nutrient-poor counterparts of similar caloric value.
“There are a lot of athletes that just don’t know the value of nutrient-dense foods and how that can help improve performance,” he says. Bar finds himself regularly educating about how nutrient-dense foods can superiorly support performance, health, and body composition over nutrient-poor counterparts of similar caloric value.
IT’S OK TO HAVE A TREAT
Is there a better indulgence than a pizza? Mark doesn’t think so, and after many of their games away, he orders it for the team. Considering that his athletes eat healthily for most of their meals, a well-timed pie serves as both a morale boost while away from home and a delicious treat. All in moderation, of course: “Their caloric losses are so great that they want tangible food. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s holding them back until they get on the plane.”
The bar is in the same camp, sometimes giving in to chocolate after a hard workout. As long as it is part of a longer, longer-term sustainable approach that is aligned with the athlete’s goals, Bar maintains that a sweet one is fine now and then.
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