Fueling The Houston Texans

January 12, 2012


Texas Children's CEO and staff cheering for the Texans

Texas Children's supports our Houston Texans!

I have been fortunate to work with the AFC South Champion Houston Texans since the doors opened in 2002. I was one of the first people hired by the legendary strength and conditioning coach, Dan Riley. Dan was the strength coach for the Washington Redskins before coming to Houston and has been to 4 Super Bowls. The Redskins won 3 of them. As a visionary, Dan realized sports nutrition was an essential component to the protection and performance of elite athletes. When he interviewed me, we had an immediate connection and shared goals; the protection and performance of the Houston Texans.

Why protection first?

Research has shown that the average life expectancy of an NFL lineman is 57. The average life expectancy of an adult male is 75. This is unacceptable. Clinical dietitians, yes dietitians, have the expertise to integrate wellness principles and performance nutrition into one plan.

The weekend certification "sports nutritionist" programs don't come close. Only an RD can do this job. When you are looking for great nutrition advice for your children, don't compromise. The dietitians here at Texas Children's are world class. Demand excellence, demand an RD!

In the “old days” feeding a meat and potatoes diet was the standard fare but as in all areas of health, the science moves on and so have the sports nutrition principles. These athletes are sons, brothers, husbands and daddies. One of our goals is to provide a sports nutrition program that prevents chronic illness. A personal goal of mine is to educate players about their individual risk factors and how to prevent rather than treat chronic illness. I am passionate about the prevention of disease. Football players die of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Not orthopedic injuries.

Through the generosity of Texans owner Mr. Bob McNair, we have created a program that focuses on prevention and performance at the same time. Mr. McNair is a tireless advocate for health and wellness and his employees enjoy the same meals as the players. We have developed a “lean line” designed for players who want to watch their body fat levels or have a risk for heart disease. However, the skilled positions, such as wide receivers and defensive backs, have calorie needs that exceed 5,000 calories per day and can’t eat only lean foods. So our “other line” called the “fat side” by the players, has foods cooked with more olive oil and often contain higher calorie casseroles. We also provide high calorie snacks, such as trailmix which contains valuable protein, carbohydrate and heart healthy fat. It contains about 600 calories per cup and so if you are watching your weight, steer clear of trailmix!

Enhanced performance and winning games is the objective of professional sports. Key goals include immune health and recovery, hydration and supplements.

Moderate exercise stimulates the immune system, but intense exercise suppresses it. Providing foods for recovery, immune support and injury is part of the performance program. Real foods that fight inflammation include fruits and vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids and whole grains. Low fat dairy provides invaluable calcium and vitamin D integral for bone health. Any given day, we have approximately 15 different fruits and vegetables available for players.

In addition to drinking fluids, fruits, vegetables, soup and milk provide additional fluids. Hydrating players is a shared role between athletic trainers and sports dietitians. Certified athletic trainers are the unsung heroes of professional sports.

Supplements are unregulated and provide a real challenge for today’s athlete. Supplements often don’t declare all the ingredients in the product or the quality control is marginal. So an athlete can take a product, trusting that the label is accurate. When it isn’t, the results are clear — a positive drug test, a 4-game suspension and a loss of 25% of your salary. So although supplements may be beneficial, some are dangerous. One of my roles is to provide education on supplements as well as investigate products that players bring in.

Although the program above has been designed for professional athletes, families can adopt these same principles for their children. MyPlate is a great way for parents to organize their children’s food. In fact, we have been using a similar approach at the Texans for years. Having 50% of your plate fruits and vegetables should be a goal for all of us.

I am proud to be the sports dietitian for the Houston Texans and so proud to be the Director of Sports Nutrition in Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine at Texas Children’s! GO TEXANS!!!

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