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Boston Red Sox nutritionist speaks about athlete diets

Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 09:02

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Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily

Tara Mardigan, the team nutritionist for the Boston Red Sox, spoke to the Tufts community last night in Cohen Auditorium about ways to improve athletic performance and brainpower by choosing healthier food options.

Boston Red Sox team nutritionist Tara Mardigan spoke to the Tufts community in Cohen Auditorium last night about dietary changes that can improve health and athletic performance.

Tufts Dining Services, Balance Your Life, Tufts Athletics and Health Service sponsored the presentation, entitled “Eat Energize Win: Jumbo Performance Nutrition to Build Muscle and Boost Brainpower.” Director of Dining and Business Services Patti Klos introduced Mardigan and thanked Tufts Nutrition Marketing Specialist Julie Lampie for proposing the idea to ask Mardigan to speak.

Mardigan, who graduated with a dual degree from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Tufts School of Medicine in 2002, began her talk by providing a basic overview of what constitutes good eating habits by providing 10 tips put forth by the Harvard School of Public Health. They included eating foods rich in fiber and choosing carbohydrates rich in whole grain. She asked the audience to consider where they would locate their eating habits on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being a perfectly balanced diet.

“The first place to start is, ‘What’s your baseline?’” she said. “How do you eat? Is food working for you or are you working for it?”

The presentation then focused in on the athlete diet and the connection between what is consumed and how an athlete performs.

“I believe that nutrition can be one of the greatest tools you have,” she said. “You’re going to have more energy, you’re going to have improved training abilities, you’re going to improve body composition. You’ll have better recovery, reduce inflammation and have less downtime.”

Mardigan broke down what constitutes carbohydrates, proteins and fats and suggested ways to pair them with exercises. Some healthy snack options she recommended included fresh fruit, nuts or seeds, Greek yogurt, string cheese, edamame, vegetables and hummus and dark chocolate.

“Don’t tell me you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it,” she said.

Mardigan also explained the three different body types — ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph — noting that athletes’ diets are partly determined by the type of body they are born with, along with the kind of sport they are performing.

She discussed hydration and the chemical processes that food controls in the body. Glycogen-loaded muscles are important to preventing injury and can be achieved through the proper post-workout food choice, she said.

“You can eat brilliantly, but if you’re not hydrated it’s still going to affect your performance,” she said.

Mardigan addressed the vitamin deficiencies that can arise in vegetarian and vegan athletes and the dangers of eating disorders and negative body image. She warned against the false claims on unregulated supplements’ advertising and urged those struggling with their diets to personally meet with a dietician.

Achieving a healthy diet is difficult and people should try to keep an 80-20 perspective, she said. The goal should be to eat well 80 percent of the time but recognize that it is normal to slip up the other 20 percent of the time.

“We are cut out to eat stuff that is not good for us, she said. “We like sugar, fat and salt.”

Mardigan advised students to take advantage of the healthy options offered in the dining hall while keeping a positive mindset.

“Think WIN, which stands for ‘What’s Important Now,’” she said. “You need to believe you can eat better. That does require you to make changes and sacrifices. There’s got to be a little bit of a give and take if you want to achieve those goals.”

Following the presentation, a reception hosted by Dining Services provided healthy options for all attendees. Among the spread was a chocolate fondue accompanied by fresh fruit.

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