Skolnik is the owner of Nutrition Conditioning Inc., a New York consulting practice that helps individuals, teams, and companies set and reach health and performance goals. Her clients include the Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and Fordham University athletics. I asked Heidi about sports nutrition and her time with the Giants.
Q. We have the ingredients and the calorie counts listed on everything we buy now. Are people more aware of nutrition?
Skolnik: I think our appreciation of it is better. People are more open to hearing about it, more ready to ask questions and to embrace the message. The calories and the ingredient list might be on the label, but you don’t know what to do with the information. There’s still just as much confusion, but there’s more motivation to find out what the answer is.
Skolnik: There are probably more similarities than you think. Timing of your meals, consistency from day to day, quality — that all matters for everybody. The professional athletes clearly have so many more calories: 4,000 to 5,000 daily. Some of them do really great with that. Others either have trouble keeping their weight on or keeping the weight off. Or even within that day, one player, even with 4,000-5,000 calories, won’t eat a vegetable or a piece of fruit. So, quality-wise, there was a little room there.
Skolnik: The players can’t afford to be off. When they’re playing, their recovery matters more if they’re going to be on or off for the next day’s workout. But they have a lot more calories to play with. Their diet is going to affect their performance.
Skolnik: Time of the year matters, as does fatigue. And access to foods is different at training camp from when the players are on their own. Interestingly, you can actually be burning more [calories] when it’s cold than when it’s hot, but you think you’re sweating more in the heat than in the cold. So, yeah, all of those things we took into account.
Skolnik: Usually at dinnertime I would do this educational interactive display thing with them. We might play Nutrition Jeopardy or Nutrition Trivia. I found when I made it into a game, I got a lot more takers. The players are completely competitive. If I said, “Here’s a nutrition question. Do your best to answer it,” I might get 10 guys.
If I put a little basketball hoop up and said, “If someone makes a basket, you have to answer a nutrition question and then you are in for a raffle to win a prize,” I’d get 30 guys. Any time I made it competitive, the participation rate increased. So, of course, I always tried to make it competitive.
Skolnik: Like all of us, the players have to be looked at as individuals: where they come from, how old they are, if they’re single or married, and how many years they’ve been on their own. Some of them love to cook, other don’t. Some of them would never eat fast food, others like fast food.
Skolnik: They are team athletes, not runners or cyclists who really tend to pay way more attention to their nutrition because it’s so much more directly related. In team sports, there are a lot of factors that go into how you do on the field. And they’re all at different stages of paying attention to all the different factors going on that help them to be the best that they are.
Skolnik: A few years ago, a now-retired Giants player came back to visit. He’d gone on to another team. He was not a No. 1 draft pick and had to really work for his spot. And he said to me, “If it wasn’t for nutrition, I guarantee I wouldn’t have played as long. I got five extra years.” That was really rewarding.
Skolnik: This veteran had come to me thinking that he wasn’t seeing results from his training. So we looked at it. He would sleep in in the morning. Then he would lift, he’d do his training, and get his treatment. He’d hang out for a while and then he’d go home. By the time he got home, he was famished. Basically, he wasn’t eating enough to fuel his training. So he was in a breakdown mode, not a build mode. He’d eat a lot in the afternoon, take a nap and start all over.
So, I got him this Captain Marvel lunchbox and I filled it with trail mix, applesauce, granola bars and yogurt, cheese sticks — all these grab-and-go things for him to eat before he came in and while he was here. He got totally made fun of by his teammates for having this lunchbox, but then they all wanted their own lunchboxes. They all went through the different superhero characters they wanted… Captain Marvel and Superman and so on.
Skolnik: One day we were playing Nutrition Tic-Tac-Toe with the rookies. They were divided into teams. I wanted five sources of carbohydrates. They were down to the last square to win and the spokesman for one team said, “Pasta.”