Nutritionist tells athletes how to ‘eat to compete’

Last Wednesday, sports nutritionist Tim Weirman spoke to student-athletes at the College about how best to prepare their bodies for competition. Weirman, president of Nutrition Education Services, Inc., received his M.A. in nutrition education from Immaculata University and founded Eat to Compete, the program responsible for the talk.

Weirman’s take on nutrition is, in many ways, based on an age-old adage: everything in moderation. He discussed the series of fad diets that have trended over the years and explained that, although in some cases these might offer good results, the only consistently dependable diet is one of overall consistency.

He also noted a few foods that should be strictly monitored – fried food and, sparking a greater reaction, cheese – and preached the importance of a balanced diet including elements of all food groups.

“Quick fix weight loss trends are not what you want,” he said. “Steady, slow weight loss is much healthier and more sustainable.”

These somewhat predictable comments on weight loss were quickly followed by a much less common viewpoint.

“Healthy body weight is a personal issue,” Weirman told the athletes. This reminder was particularly emphasized in the female athletes’ talk. Weirman explained why he spoke to the sexes separately. “I like smaller groups, and sometimes men and women focus on different questions,” he said. The issue of body image is almost certainly among those mysterious “different questions” that caused Weirman to request the split. 

“We don’t have to be thin to be fit,” Weirman said.

He presented the room with the example of Serena Williams, an incredible athlete whose body mass index would mark her as obese. Over and over, he reminded the athletes that, contrary to popular belief, losing weight is not a cure-all and is not guaranteed to improve athletic performance.

Following this line of thought, Weirman also took particular care to dispel the characterization of calories as the enemy.

“Calories are our friend,” he said. “Calories are our fuel.”

He addressed the problem of low calorie products, at which point one athlete sitting near the front laughed and put down her Diet Coke. He considers these products similar to fad diets.

Although, in some cases, they can have benefits, nothing compares to a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. For athletes, he highlighted the importance of the first group above all.

“[Weirman] stressed the important of carbs in the athlete’s diet more than any other nutritionist I’ve heard,” Rock Stewart ’20, a member of the men’s lacrosse team, said. “He did speak to how important proteins are in rebuilding muscle, and he really recommended fats to athletes doing long-distance, repetitive actions,” such as running and swimming.

Each group has its own role in the body of an athlete, and the food one eats is essential for fulfilling these roles.

As much as Weirman emphasized the necessity of carbohydrate intake, perhaps his most controversial statement was his dismissal of a pre-competition technique known as “carbo loading.” When a runner asked his opinion on the method, Weirman told her, “I’m not into the carbo loading.” Thinking ahead, he explained, is worth much more than taking in a lot at the last minute.

“If you have a crappy diet all week long, one good meal before competition isn’t going to make a difference,” he said. “And if you have a generally great diet, one bad meal is not going to break you either.”

In closing, Weirman reflected on those things that affect college athletes most uniquely: caffeine and alcohol. He deemed moderate caffeine consumption of one to two cups of coffee in a day as healthy for athletes. His concern was more about quick-fix caffeine drinks, such as Five Hour Energy, which are dangerous, because they put the body under stress.

However, Weirman’s next warnings about alcohol consumption were more urgent than his advice about caffeine. In addition to the fact that teams have strict rules about alcohol consumption before practices and games, he explained that alcohol has a profound impact on athletes’ bodies.

The main issue, he asserted, was that alcohol is incredibly difficult for the body to metabolize. While one gram of protein or one gram of carbohydrates contains four calories, one gram of alcohol – regardless of what form it takes – contains seven. These seven calories, because of the way they are processed, cannot be used directly by muscles.In fact, alcohol consumption interferes with carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism.

Weirman said, “When the liver is overloaded with booze, that takes metabolic priority.”

Depending on the level of consumption, alcohol can cause a metabolic lag for several days. Although college athletes may think their Friday night drinking affects them only the following morning, or that clear alcohol is low in calories, their thoughts are far from reality. Alcohol consumption, like consumption of anything else, must be in moderation for an athlete to best fuel his or her body for competition, Weirman said.

Katie Brule ’20, a member of the women’s basketball team, shared her thoughts on this philosophy.

“I think nutrition is important for an athlete,” she said. “If you aren’t fueling your body properly, you can’t perform to the best of your ability, and that’s really what athletics are all about.”