Most of Marie Spano’s clients could bench-press her body weight…for their warm-up set.
But that’s thanks, at least in part, to her customized fueling strategies.
Currently serving as a team dietitian to the Atlanta Hawks and working with college football players training for the NFL Combine, Spano has helped top athletes—including former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans and U.S. women’s rugby player Phaidra Knight—hone in their nutrition so they can reach their fitness goals. And never by dieting.
“What is a perfect solution for one person won’t work for another,” Spano says. “I want to take the nutrition changes each athlete needs for performance, recovery, and optimal training adaptations and make them achievable for that individual athlete. The right approach has to fit into their life and training.
“If I have an athlete who doesn’t like to cook, we can work around that and make it easy to eat healthy without cooking. Or, if I have someone who comes in eating fast food, we will find better quick-serve restaurant choices. It’s all about progress, not perfection.”
Plus, as she points out, what most people consider nutritional “perfection” is really just a prelude to failure. Super-strict eating plans and elimination diets can trap anyone into black-or-white thinking that does anything but make healthy eating sustainable all season (and career) long.
So, when you’re training for the NFL combine or NBA playoffs, what does nutrition progress look like? Spano shares her top tips for elite athletes and everyday gym-goers alike.
Eat a higher-protein breakfast
Protein up-regulates the muscle growth and repair process, which is why most people need to consume about 25 grams at every meal, Spano says. However, many adults fall short at breakfast. Instead of eating cereal, try starting your day with a three-egg omelet with veggies or a cup of Greek yogurt, she says. Bonus: the added protein will help you stay full longer into the afternoon and fight cravings.
Save sugar for dessert
Many sauces, dressings, frozen dinners, and cereals are packed with sugar. Choose lower sugar foods at mealtime and opt for herbs and spices to bring out the natural flavor of foods, she recommends. That way, you can sidestep sugar crashes throughout the day and, if you really have a sweet tooth, a post-meal dessert is going to be way more appealing than any frozen dinner.
Add produce to every meal
The colorful compounds in vegetables and fruits protect plants from pests and disease and they protect your body as well. Plus, if you’re trying to lose weight, eating vegetables or fruits as an appetizer will help fill you up so you don't overdo it on an oversized entrée.
Many people are under-hydrated, which can decrease focus, concentration, and energy levels. If water isn’t your thing, opt for broth-based soups, fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee or nutrient-packed drinks such as milk. All fluids (except alcohol) help keep you hydrated.
Mix things up
Try out new healthy, nutrient-dense (think: full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and colorful plant compounds) foods regularly. Doing so will not only help prevent your taste buds from getting bored, but will also ensure that you benefit from a wide array of nutrients, she says.