Thursday, October 25, 2007
Teams helping pro players get nutrition into the game
October 24, 2007
The Indians, Cavs and Browns and dozens of out-of-town teams including the New England Patriots use Colorado-based dietitian and hockey coach David Ellis and his three-step version of the food pyramid including produce, carbohydrates and lean, varied proteins, including soy. He explains in sports lingo how a good diet can help performance. He shares his message with those who cook for athletes at home.
"We've got millions invested in our players," says Cavs spokesman Tad Carper. "Every little inch of success can add up and make a difference. We can't control everything, but what we can control, we want to go deep on."
Control can be mighty elusive. Cavs trainer Stan Kellers, who previously worked with the Indians and the Browns, says changing a player's eating habits can be impossible.
"It can be harder than any training you can put them through," he says.
While none of the officials interviewed would finger a bad eater for this story, they said that the youngest players often need the most work, especially the generation of players more intimately familiar with pop and processed snack foods and less familiar with nutritionally balanced, sit-down family dinners. Some have money in their pocket for the first time, college-kid tastes, and a chance to call room service.
"Z [Ilgauskas] eats well now," says Kellers, "but not so much when he was 20 and first came to the team from Lithuania. I remember the first restaurant words he learned were 'chicken wings.' "
In contrast, Ellis, the Colorado consultant, says that the Indians' young centerfielder Grady Sizemore is extremely lean and "an example from his generation who uses diet and training to get ahead."
Ellis defends C.C. Sabathia, the Indians' extra-baggage pitcher.
"He does an outstanding job of eating well," says Ellis. "He's just always going to be the biggest pitcher out there."
"Players know they have to stay healthy," says Michelle Riccardi, a Cleveland Clinic registered dietitian who has worked with the Browns for seven years. "They understand they have to stay healthy not only to earn their position, but to keep their position."
That can be a difficult goal for a football player who downs 6,000 calories a day during the season and has to cut that number almost in half when the season ends.
Ellis says he gets a lot of questions from veteran players at their peak, who want to push themselves over the top. He's had players ask him directly what they should eat.
"But I don't want to give them a fish," says the solidly built consultant. "I want to teach them to fish." He says most players comprehend their fitness in the mirror rather than in their microbiology.
Ellis starts teaching with his DVD, "The Fundamental Fueling Tactics Sports Nutrition System," which he loads with big-guy attitude and healthy-guy smarts. He also gives them a poster listing foods and how they can be eaten strategically.
Eating well helps you "play harder and recover faster," he tells his DVD audience. Eat well and "you will not be the guy to get sick every time the weather changes."
Regulate your carbohydrate intake (pasta, breads, etc.) and you won't be "the guy or girl with the refrigerator on their back halfway through practice."
Dark, leafy greens, apple and pear skins, grapes, garlic, onions, herbs and spices have the kind of antioxidant properties that can decrease downtime due to illness.
Athletes can look to other types of food for specific needs such as energy critical for quality work, less muscle soreness and improved recovery time.
"You gotta learn to like the stuff," he tells a team in his program. "It's very, very potent."
And don't just pop a supplement, he warns. "Food is infinitely more sophisticated than any multivitamin."
Looking at food as fuel for sport
When an athlete eats is as important as what and how much he eats, he says. Binge eaters, those who don't regulate their intake with three to five smart meals in a game day, don't recover from workouts as well, don't lose body fat and don't gain muscle.
Ellis doesn't stop there. He warns players about the perils of a bad diet leading to obesity, diabetes and depression.
Trainers know a mere soft-sell approach can work for some players. A raised eyebrow, a polite request to see more "color" (fruits, vegetables) on a buffet plate, or just the example set by older players can be all the education necessary.
Newble said he got a head start eating well with nutritional lessons from his first Detroit trainer, Luther Campball.
"Plus, as a black man, I've always been concerned about heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes," he said. "I believe you get out of your body what you put into it."
He no longer eats pork, rare meat or foods fried in saturated fat, but has trouble carrying the message home to his children, who love going to McDonald's.
"Moms sneak all this stuff in," he says.
He knows if he gets "lightheaded" during a game, he hasn't fueled himself correctly. Ditto for Ilgauskas, who has discovered his game-day eating habits are crucial. He varies his diet, doesn't load up on protein and carbs moments before tipoff and makes sure he gets some protein right after a game, to aid muscle recovery.
Kellers says no trainer wants to turn into the food police. But if education doesn't work, says Cavs spokesman Carper, management can press for specific language in a player's next contract. That might mean committing to work one-on-one with a dietitian.
But among model eaters such as Ilgauskas and Newble, occasional weaknesses are well-tolerated.
"I love pork. I couldn't live without pork," says Ilgauskas.
Newble has a thing for jellybeans.
And although the kitchen in the Cavs' new practice center in Independence was built without a deep-fryer, one might be on the way, said caterer Jagielski.
"There was one person who asked for a deep fryer and if he wants it, he can get it. I can't comment on who that is, but ever since I've come on board, my goal has been, what can I do to get these guys from stopping at McDonald's?"
To reach David Ellis:
Nutrition is key player in sports
Diet plays an important position on every team.
In baseball, the dominant profile of the long, lean baseball player is not without its exceptions. What serious player is not prone to indulgence after giving it his or her all? “A lot of weight issues are in the outfield,” says David Ellis, a sports nutritionist based in Colorado Springs, Colo. All that standing around doesn’t facilitate sudden sprints. The true pros eat properly, he says, and can endure the long season.
Cavs assistant coach Melvin Hunt calls pro basketball players 7-foot hummingbirds, with LeBron James being the hummingest. “He can burn off anything he eats,” says Hunt. But the danger in basketball, says nutritionist Dave Ellis, is in losing too much muscle mass. Players have to keep well-fortified during the season, he says, but at the right times and with the right food. Binge eating once a day is a major contributor to failure on the court.
In football, where you want enough mass to protect yourself, players are always trying to figure out how much muscle they can carry on their frame. This will always make them look overweight and drive their insurance agents crazy, says Ellis. They can easily gain 5 percent of their weight in fat in the off-season and lose speed and agility. This makes sensible eating crucial, Ellis says, along with year-round training.