When it comes to athletes, a lot goes into how they keep their performances levels high. One of those ways is through their nutrition. I spoke with Kate Davis, a registered dietician in Lansing, Michigan, on just how important it is to keep those things in mind for an athlete, as well as anyone trying to stay healthy.
Davis graduated from Michigan State University with a master of science degree in human nutrition, with an emphasis in exercise physiology. She is a member of the United States Olympic Committee Sports Dietician Registry and has consulted teams such as the USA women’s hockey team, Grand Valley State University Athletics, and the Gatorade GFEAT Employee Wellness Program.
KS: So, can you just tell me a little bit about what you do and your expertise?
KD: I am a registered dietician by training. So I am licensed and registered as a dietician just like any other medical professional. As a dietician, I can work in a lot of different areas with nutrition, but I specialize with athletes. So, I specifically work in sports nutrition with competitive athletes which could either be high schoolers, or college, pretty much any age bracket.
KS: What are some of the basic issues people come to you with?
KD: It varies. Some people are coming because they just want to generally see ‘am I doing everything I need to with respect to my nutrition to improve my performance?’ Others have very specific goals, like they want more muscle, they want to lose body fat. Often times, it will be something medically related so they maybe they’ve had a recent stress fracture, maybe they’re having issues with low energy levels through the day, maybe they’ve been diagnosed with some sort of mineral or vitamin deficiency like iron deficiency, so it can range. There’s a lot of different reasons.
KS: What is the approach you take treating someone as an athlete, versus someone who just wants to become healthier? Is there a difference of how you approach the different situations?
KD: It really is kind of the context of how I’m presenting information to the person if they’re an athlete versus if they’re not. I kind of put it more in terms of what matters to them and how you know ‘doing this can improve performance, doing that can prevent injury or doing this can decrease inflammation.’ So key things that matter to them in terms of how they should be eating for their performance. And then, obviously we some time during and around training time is definitely specific to athletes as a whole.
KS: I know sometimes with different sports, you kind of want to focus on different things, how do you approach those situations?
KD: Again, it kind of just depends on the individual and why they’re coming to see me. But certainly, different sports use different exercise systems so they have different energy needs and they use maybe different types of energy so you know with an endurance athlete I might be emphasizing you know, decreasing their carbohydrate whereas with a wrestler or something like that we’re still talking about it, but it’s just a different approach because of the different energies that are used differently.
KS: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that you’ve noticed people may have about nutrition?
KD: I think the biggest misconception is that there is a set way to do things when it comes to nutrition. There’s a science that nutrition is constantly changing and it’s really about context and even if one person nutritional needs can change drastically over the course of a training year, whether they’re in season or out of season, that sort of thing. So, I think just this idea ‘i read about this diet and it work really well for this person, so it must work well for me.’ That’s just not the case and I think that can be very frustrating for people because they want that immediate answer, they want something that’s very clear and nutrition really isn’t. So, that’s why it’s important to work with somebody who’s reading those studies and knows the science and can really put it in context.
KS: When you’re on a case with different athletes, how do you approach it? How do you find a starting point to assess them and then to give them expertise as they might need?
KD: Well, the first part is definitely just looking at where they’re at. So, whether they’re coming to me with a specific issue or not, I’m going to be asking them ‘what is your normal food intake look like?’ I’ll have them bring in some food records, I’m going to be assessing what their current training schedule is, maybe how that has changed throughout the year, their medical history, any supplements they’re taking. It’s a full workup just like what you would get at a doctor’s office or something like that. It’s really affecting everything about them so that I can really help them and give them what they need in terms of improvement instead of just saying ‘oh well you’re a runner so I’m just going to treat you like any other runner.’
KS: There’s a big, I personally think, misconception that ‘skinny’ means ‘healthy’ when that’s not always the case. What can you say about that?
KD: Certainly, the weight on the scale tells you very little about what’s going on internally and when we look at not only success at first, but also long-term health what matters more is what the composition of your weight is, not just the total number. Is that amount of body fat appropriate for you in terms of your long-term health, or is it going to increase your risk of heart disease or diabetes or these chronic illnesses? That’s kind of where this idea of, some people call it ‘skinny-fat,’ comes from. It’s the idea of if you look thin and small, but the composition of your body is not very favorable for your long-term health. There certainly is something to that theory.
KS: What advice would you give to people who are just standard athletes or people who might not be competitive athletes, but still are working out and staying fit. What advice can you give to increase performance, increase health from a very basic standpoint?
KD: I think generally just the idea of trying to eat regularly can do wonders. I think a lot of people will eat breakfast, maybe eat a salad for lunch but then they get to dinner and they’re starving and they eat a huge dinner and as the evening goes on they continue to eat large quantities, so I think the idea of really starting the day with a solid breakfast then continuing to eating frequently throughout the day is probably the best things that you can do that will have a huge impact. I think the other thing would be focusing on your water intake which is very simple. However, most people have a hard time deciphering between hunger and thirst, and a lot of times when you think you’re hungry you’re actually thirsty. So, trying to increase water intake helping the nutrients that we eat get to our muscles is really a huge piece of what you’re doing because we are primarily made up of water and I think a lot of time people overlook just basically drinking more water and how that can have an improvement on their health and their performance, whether you’re dropping body fat, water plays a huge role. So, if you are chronically dehydrated it actually makes it more difficult to make body composition changes.
KS: That’s all I have, thank so much!
KD: Thank you! Good Luck with everything.