By Josh Bartels
The academic year is wrapping up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and with it comes the end of another great season in Badger Athletics. This year saw a sweet sixteen appearance in the March Madness tournament, a Holiday Bowl victory, and many more accomplishments from a large variety of sports. This success begs the question, how does an athlete perform at his or her top level?
While holistic aspects are essential to the health and well-being of athletes, nutrition is absolutely necessary in the improvement of physical performance. To find out more about this feature of health, I sat down with the Nicholas Aures, Director of Performance Nutrition for Badger Athletics.
According to Aures, the most important factor for athletic performance is the holistic view of each athlete with input from a nutritionist, strength coach, coach and even a psychologist. Each person needs a combination of nutrition, sleep and workouts.
No matter how hard you train, “You can never outrun a bad diet,” Aures said.
So what exactly is available to our athletes to help them perform at a superb level? The university keeps a dietary station available to all athletes in order to help them achieve their goals. From a large smoothie station filled with drawers of fruits and veggies, to a soda fountain of Badger Max, to a large refrigerator filled mostly with various dairy products, athletes can choose different foods based on their goals.
Not only does this help our athletes, but it also helps our local economy, as most of the items are from local companies. For example, Country Ovens, who supplies the athletic department with items like Cherry De-Light Nut Mixes. These smaller snacks help athletes get a small food boost in their busy schedule before they run to class. The opportunity to work with local vendors not only boosts our economy but is also beneficial to the athletic department.
Besides food and taste, the athletic department must also fit the standards set by the NCAA guidelines for what can and cannot be provided to athletes. If a certain product isn’t reaching taste and nutrition standards, or the NCAA guidelines, the smaller vendor will work directly with the university to ensure the best quality product, something that is rarely possible with large, national food companies.
So what exactly do our athletes eat leading up to a match, game or meet? According to Aures, food varies on the specific sport and the athlete himself. A sport such as cross country requires constant, steady work over a long period of time. Because of this, accompanied with other factors such as genetics, Aures recommends a ratio with more carbohydrates than protein, as carbs are a better source of energy in the short run. In rare cases, the ratio of carbohydrates to protein can get to as much as 4:1 for athletes. However, in a sport such as volleyball, with high intensity moments filled with rest periods in between, a diet with more protein is recommended. In this case, a ratio closer to 1:1 is better for the athlete due to the energy properties of protein.
However, most of us aren’t Division 1 athletes on campus, so how can we improve our health through nutrition? Aures recommends that individuals watch their sodium and cholesterol intake, as meta-analysis has shown damaging levels of these nutrients in the American diet. He also recommends staying away from superfood trends. Foods like avocados have gained a lot of traction lately, and while they are beneficial to health, too much of a single good thing can be harmful. While avocados are healthy, so are beets, cherries, spinach, blueberries, nuts, and so much more. Remember, variety is always the best option.