Nutrition: Your missing link?

Eating the right foods makes a significant improvement on performance.
"I've got my training down to a science, but nutrition is my missing link."
"My diet is horrible. I'm so good at exercising, but I'm so bad at eating."
"I'm training hard but not getting the results I want. I guess I should eat better?"

Some athletes joke about their seafood diet. They "see" food, and they eat it. Sometimes they eat too much, and often they eat the "wrong" foods. While it's no secret that some good athletes have junky diets, the question arises: How much better could those athletes perform if they were to eat better?

The answer, as documented by research studies, suggests six percent to 20 percent better. Wow -- that's a lot! Eating the right foods at the right times makes a significant improvement, not only in today's performance and weight, but also in tomorrow's health and well being.

I've helped many very good athletes build bigger muscles, run faster marathons and compete with higher energy. I've also helped many fitness exercisers to train better, lose weight and improve dramatically. Perhaps this can be your year to significantly enhance your health and performance by fueling your body appropriately.

Don't just eat; eat right

To their demise, many athletes not only fail to eat well, but they are also unaware of the benefits to be gained by consulting with a sports dietitian. The common explanation is, "I know what I should eat, I just don't do it."

If this sounds familiar, you undoubtedly do know you should get your Vitamin C from fruits and veggies -- not from C-3 supplements (translation: Chocolate Chip Cookies). And you undoubtedly know you shouldn't dive into the half-gallon container of ice cream the minute you return home from the health club. But why do you continue those behaviors? And how can you revise those habits? These are the issues that deserve your attention.

Nutrition information often goes in one ear and out the other, without getting stuck in your brain and put into action. That's because you may be confusing "eating well" with undesired feelings of denial and deprivation or with a deficiency of fun-foods and an excess of duty-foods. Life without ice cream can seem dark and gloomy. Plus, on a sub-conscious level, you may be responding to media messages that persuade you to indulge. You deserve a food reward today. Right?

Given that you know what you should eat for health and performance, you have no need to team up with a sports dietitian -- right? (After all, why would you pay someone to make you confess your quirky food habits and embarrass you in the process?) A sports dietitian can help you have your cake and eat it too -- and find a livable balance between a "junky diet" and real sports nutrition that is both enjoyable and benefits your training and performance.

Knowledge is power

You don't know what you don't know. I work with a lot of highly intelligent athletes with lots of nutrition knowledge. However, they are not registered dietitians (RDs) with at least four years of undergraduate education related to food and nutrition sciences and another year or two of a dietetics internship and/or graduate school.

Your coach, exercise physiologist, personal trainer or teammates may appear to be nutrition experts and offer nutrition advice, but only registered dietitians (RDs) have the training that makes them professionally recognized as the true nutrition experts.

RDs who specialize in sports nutrition can now take an exam to become Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). CSSDs know the ins and outs of foods and fluids as they relate to physical activity and athletic performance. The American Dietetic Association, the nation's largest group of nutrition professionals, acknowledges this specialty niche -- just as they have for RDs who specialize in renal disease and pediatrics.

What can you learn from a CSSD/sports dietitian?

  • How many calories you deserve to eat, and how many of them can be from junk food (if desired).
  • When to eat so you optimize fueling, muscle growth and repair and performance. No more running out of energy during workouts -- or at work, for that matter!
  • The right balance of carbohydrates to fuel your muscles and protein to build your muscles -- with sample menus and food ideas.
  • How much dietary fat is OK to eat -- without clogging your arteries.
  • How to sneak more fruits and veggies into your daily food plan so you effortlessly enjoy these health-protectors.
  • How to tame the cookie monster. (Hint: The cookie monster visits when you get too hungry; front-load your calories.)
  • How to get enough protein at meals -- even if you are a vegetarian. The money you save on protein supplements can likely pay for your nutrition consultation!

The bottom line

If you show up for training, physical therapy, massages, etc., but do not show up for sports meals, think again. If your goal is to move to the next level of performance, consulting with a sports dietitian may be your best-kept New Year's Nutrition Resolution.

Make an appointment today

To find a local CSSD sports dietitian, use the "Find a SCAN Dietitian" referral network at, the Web site for the sports nutrition dietetics practice group of ADA. Or go to, the ADA's website. Put your zip code into the Find A Nutrition Professional referral network.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD counsels casual exercisers and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Food Guide for Marathoners and Cyclist's Food Guide are available at For her workshop information, see

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