Episode 26: Performance Doesn't Have a Size Transcript

April 7, 2022
[00:00:00.910] - Lexy

Hi, Carmen. We were just wondering if you could tell us some things about who you are and what you do on campus here at the University of Arizona.


[00:00:10.150] - Carmen

Yeah, of course. Thank you, Lexi. It's so awesome to be here. I'm really excited to talk to you guys about all things sports nutrition. Like Lexi said, my name is Carmen Young. I'm originally from the East Coast, Northern Virginia area. I grew up an athlete. I was a swimmer my entire life, all throughout high school and College. I ended up going to Bowling Green State University, and I swam there. I did my Bachelor's of Science in Dietetics. I also did my Dietetic internship and combined Masters program in Food and Nutrition at Bowling Green as well. I swam there all four years. After I was done there, I was a graduate assistant coach. So you couldn't get me away from sports, basically. I loved sports. I loved everything nutrition. That's what really got me into nutrition, was being an athlete and having to think and watch what I eat - fuel for performance. So that's what really got me into nutrition. At Bowling Green, we didn't have a sports dietitian, so I saw that as something that was a missing piece to my athletic endeavors, basically. So that's why I kind of got into the field of sports nutrition.


[00:01:22.610] - Carmen

So before I came to the UA, I was a sports dietitian at Rutgers University working with the football team and a lot of the Olympic sports: counseling their athletes, doing group education, nutrition education, training table, set up. And now I'm here at the University of Arizona. I love Tucson so much. I never thought I would be in academia teaching, but here we are. I teach in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness. We have a sports nutrition minor degree program for our Nutritional Sciences students. So I teach all of the sports nutrition courses in our school, in our Department. So I really enjoy what I do. And I love being able to teach others about sports nutrition so that they can become sports dietitians and go out in the field and have those ambitions like I did when I was in the undergrad.


[00:02:19.230] - Silvia

So I know you were a College athlete yourself, can you tell us about that and what you wish you knew then and want athletes to know now about nutrition?


[00:02:29.060] - Carmen

Yeah, that's a great question. So, yes, I was a College athlete all four years; I was a swimmer. I would say what I wish I knew then was just generally more about nutrition. Granted, I was a Dietetics major, so I was getting nutrition information through my courses, but it wasn't necessarily sports nutrition. It wasn't necessarily nutrition for performance, specifically for athletes. We didn't have a training table. We didn't have a fueling station like some other universities do. Here at the UA, we have two sports dietitians that run a phenomenal fueling station and have more of a setup program, where we didn't really have those resources. So I think that's something that I wish I had. And I also, kind of tying into wish I would have known- that I was definitely over training and under fueling. I think a common myth that athletes kind of fall into is this idea of clean eating, and that athletes are eating the cleanest diet. They're eating all organic, and they don't eat junk food, and they're always eating fruits and vegetables. And that's just not the case with athletes. And that's kind of tying into what I want athletes to know about nutrition and even just like the general population, it's not about who can eat the cleanest. That doesn't equate to performance.


[00:04:04.650] - Carmen

So I think the myth of eating clean is just we need to make sure- when I work with athletes or when I was working with athletes, it was just trying to get them to eat enough calories. Not necessarily the cleanest of diets, or their macronutrients might have not been the most proportional, or they might not have been the most ideal. But I found a lot of times athletes were under fueling, and actually, it kind of came full circle to me in 2019. I got back into swimming after a couple of years off. I was older than I was in College. I have a full time job as a professor, and I started training again, but I trained, in my mind, the right way. I wasn't overtraining. I was fueling myself properly, eating all the meals, all the snacks, all the fun foods. And I actually performed at a meet later that year, and I won the meet. I won the Masters National Championship, and I was faster than I was in College. And I was like, oh, this is crazy. How did I do that? I was like, oh, I was eating enough calories. I was eating all the carbohydrates, protein, fat. And just thinking back to my time as a collegiate athlete, I was restricting a lot. I had got in this mindset that the smaller my body was, the smaller or the least amount of body fat I had, I was going to perform better. That came from pressures from coaching staff, from some external factors, the culture of the team. A lot of us fell into that idea that smaller is better, faster, stronger. And that's just not true at all. So that's something I definitely wish I would have known, and it definitely showed years down the road. I'm performing better than I ever have because I'm not so weight focused. I'm focused on what's going to fuel my body the best, and that's eating enough calories.


[00:06:09.390] - Ashley

Oh, my gosh. She said so many things that I was nodding viciously. I'm like, yes! And how amazing that you went back to swimming and just to have that example of that clear comparison. This is what I did back when I was a collegiate athlete, and now, like as a master's athlete, just that comparison of the two. It's almost like using yourself as your own experiment, and that's really cool that that's what it showed. And it just validates that importance of enoughness. I think we talk a lot about enoughness here at Campus Health, too, to our general population. But even the athletes we serve it's just that enoughness being the real building block. You did say two things that made me have, just for our audience, just a follow up question I had. Could you explain to the folks that don't know what a training table or a fueling station is?


[00:07:00.620] - Carmen

Yeah, absolutely. So a training table for the universities that are able to have one because their budget allows - their resources and their staff allows - is basically like full blown meals that are provided to athletes. So at Rutgers, we ran a training table for football: breakfast, lunch, dinner. For breakfast, it would be before a training session, or if it was an early training session, it would be afterwards. We would have eggs cooked all different ways. We'd have an omelette station. We would have chicken, sausage. We would have toast- like everything, a huge breakfast spread, and the same thing for lunch and dinner. So we were really able to provide our athletes with the amount of fuel that they needed. And we worked with the campus or the athletics chef to create a menu that would be appropriate for an athlete to build an athlete's performance plate, basically. So that is, in a nutshell, what a training table is. And it's just a really great resource because a lot of times athletes- and even with the general student population, it's almost like the general student population, not that the athletes don't, but they have the Student Union and whatnot which is great. But this training table is more tailored to fueling for performance, basically for the athletes.


[00:08:30.850] - Carmen

And then a fueling station, we actually just got a new fueling station here at the U of A. And it's basically like a supplemental to that training table. So providing post workout smoothies, providing packaged snacks throughout the day, so an athlete can drop by at the fueling station, and pick up a post workout shake or they can grab a snack to go. So it's more like a grab-and-go supplemental snack for the athletes.


[00:09:01.490] - Ashley

That's really cool. And that was going to be my next question is, do we have that at U of A, too? And it sounds like we do have the resources to provide our athletes with enough fuel throughout the day. Speaking of fueling, I guess just because there's a huge student population that our student athletes here on campus and we have students that are maybe living active lifestyles that aren't necessarily competing collegiately. They might be, I guess, competing on the side. But how does the College athletes fueling differ from students who are active, like going to the gym or working out, say, three to five times a week? How is that maybe different than an athlete fueling for performance?


[00:09:44.540] - Carmen

Yeah, so when we're talking about an athlete versus just kind of your general active population, I would say the biggest difference in working with athletes is eating for performance. And what I mean by that is really honing in on nutrient timing. So when they're being strategic about when they're consuming carbohydrates, when they're consuming protein - and not that I wouldn't want to focus on that with the general active population - but that's what can really set apart an athlete competing at an elite level. I like to say that when an athlete gets to this collegiate level, everyone's on the same playing field. Like when you were in high school, you might have been the best swimmer on your team, but when you get to the College level, everybody was the best high school swimmer on their team. So now the playing field is a little bit evened out. So what can we do to really set you apart? Just that 1% better than the next person? And that's through, like I said, the nutrient timing, balancing macronutrients, having the right proportions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat depending on an athlete's goals. I can't think off the top of my head who the author was, but it was called like a performance pyramid.


[00:11:07.070] - Carmen

So at the base of the pyramid, it's just basic eating enough calories. Am I getting enough calories in my diet? And then you move up one, and then we're looking at, OK, what are my proportions of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the diet? So getting a little bit more specific with macronutrients. Then you move up one more and we're looking at nutrient timing. So timing carbohydrates around a workout, fat, protein, everything. And then the very, very top of the pyramid would be supplements, or supplementing with anything outside that's not going to be food. We don't normally get to the very, very top, but that's how I kind of like to do a framework with athletes. And not that you couldn't do that framework with just active individuals, but if you think about it, if you have just a regular student who is active going to the gym three to five times per week, maybe they're giving you 45 minutes to an hour. These student athletes are sometimes- I mean, when I was swimming, we had two a days, so I was practicing four and a half hours a day and competing on the weekends. So there's just that extra level of needing more calories, needing more macronutrients, just needing everything to that next level in general, because otherwise some of the concepts can be the same.


[00:12:27.670] - Carmen

But with athletes, it's just taking that extra level up in their nutrition.


[00:12:33.640] - Ashley

It also sounds like it's just more too, because they're just more active for longer and more frequently. So it's funny, you mentioned the pyramid, and we'll link to both of them in the show notes. So like the performance pyramid, but we made a pyramid at Campus Health that's very similar because the bottom is this enoughness. I'll show it to you and I'll link it in the show notes so if students want to download it, but it's like enoughness. And then it's that idea of the nutrients. We have enjoyment on there, and at the very top is like that idea of specific nutrients or supplements or things I think people get really bogged down about earlier on in the kind of pyramid versus it being kind of the last and maybe fine tuning / least important thing that we're addressing. So that's fun to learn that it lines up very similarly, but just athletes are having to eat more often and more [in general], maybe. Is that why, maybe, in a College population, because student athletes are also trying to go to school and have other responsibilities, why the timing can sometimes be challenging for them or that's a barrier?


[00:13:44.910] - Carmen

Yeah, it absolutely can be. And that's where the challenge is with working with collegiate athletes. We don't live in a bubble. We're not the Michael Phelps or the Lebron James. Some of those elite level athletes have private chefs, and their full time job is being an athlete. Where at this collegiate level, they're called student athletes. They're students first, athletes second. But it can be really hard, and I think that's what I really do love about working with College athletes, too. It's challenging. Like, okay, here's your schedule. You've got classes, you've got practice once or twice a day. Some of them that I've worked with have part time jobs. So you throw in a part time job in the mix. So it's just, how can we fit in and maximize the time that you have and focus in on nutrition? A lot of the times when I meet with an athlete, the last thing on their mind is sometimes nutrition because they're like, "I've got this, and my grades, and I want to make sure I'm on the starting lineup." So it's just how can we easily sneak in a few [ideas]? Like, oh, well, while you're on your way to class, grab something from the fueling station or have shelf stable snacks in your dorm that you can take with you to class. Also, making sure you always have your water bottle and a snack on hand, and just trying to make those overarching nutrition concepts just toned down a little bit so it's a little bit easier for the athlete to be able to fit in good nutrition within their schedule. Because it can be really difficult. It just throws in a whole- I look back to my collegiate career and I'm like, how did I survive? How did I make it out? I had so much going on and then to add nutrition in there, and that's where I think the schedule, jobs, classes overcome nutrition. And that's where we see the under fueling, too. I've had athletes that skip breakfast and then it's I have practice, but then I had to go to class right after. So then I also skipped lunch, and then they're just backloading with a huge dinner right before bed. So that's where a registered dietitian, a sports dietitian, can come in and be like, okay, how can we fit in some type of breakfast, even if it's a chocolate milk?


[00:16:03.880] - Ashley

And I think that they feel bad sometimes about backloading like that because it goes against that societal- well, it reinforces that societal fear of you're eating late at night or you're eating too much. And now I'm not going to meet my metrics if I'm worried about X, Y and Z as a performance standpoint. So I think it reinforces that and kind of creates this rough relationship with food for our athletes, when it's just getting that enoughness earlier in the day so that that doesn't happen.


[00:16:32.330] - Carmen

Yeah, for sure. Absolutely.


[00:16:34.350] - Silvia

So I know that you touched a little bit on the myths that students grapple on, but is there anything else that you want to elaborate more on when it comes to the student myths and nutrition and sports? So, for example, eating clean, under fueling, fad diets.


[00:16:53.450] - Carmen

Yeah. So I touched a little bit on the clean eating, and I really think that we can tie that into fad diets. Athletes are just as prone as the general population to falling in to these fad diets. And I've seen it first hand with my teammates, with athletes that I worked with at my previous job, it's just that they're everywhere. And with social media nowadays, we've got TikTok, we've got Instagram. There are so many fad diets out there that promise these quick fixes. That promise like, oh, you're going to perform better, you're going to do this, you're going to feel better - that anybody can really fall victim to taking on one of these fad diets. And the common thing of all these fat diets - whether it's keto, paleo, there's just so many in my mind that I couldn't think of, it's overwhelming.


[00:17:50.750] - Carmen

But they all have one common theme, and it's calorie restriction, which is the opposite of what we're trying to get our athletes to adhere to. So I have done a lot of education on- especially like when the keto diet came out, it's a very low carbohydrate diet. And carbohydrates are our body's preferred energy source for our brain, for our muscles. So it's really important for athletes to get enough carbohydrates. And I've had athletes say, oh, well, the keto diet says that... Especially when a professional athlete goes on one of these, I just want to scream because they are an elite athlete. No matter what diet they go on, they're probably going to be just as elite as they are because that's just the nature of their bodies. So trying to dispel the myths of fad diets. I have athletes that come to me, and say I want to be vegan. They saw the Netflix documentary Game Changers, and there's these elite athletes or Olympic athletes that have gone vegan, plant based. And it's like, okay, you want to go vegan, but let's look at all the other metrics in your life. Are you still drinking a lot of alcohol? How many hours a night are you sleeping? How's your mental health? Before we just take on this diet and think it's just going to make us perform better. And I think not only can dietitians help with that, but it also can come from coaches, too. And we really do need that coach support. I was talking to one of the sports dietitians here at the U of A, and it's like we get 1 hour a week as a dietitian in front of those athletes, but the coach gets the other 20, 30, 40 hours a week to be influencing what those athletes are thinking about nutrition.


[00:19:50.370] - Carmen

So I really think it does come down to coaches education as well.


[00:19:55.160] - Silvia

So I just had another question following up on that previous one. So how challenging has it been for you personally to kind of break away from that diet culture misconception when it comes to trying to give advice to student athletes? So, for example, just trying to make them understand the importance of nutrition and fueling themselves and kind of fighting against what they are listening to in terms of social media and like TikTok and all these other social media forms.


[00:20:30.090] - Carmen

Yeah, that's a great question. And it is so unbelievably difficult to compete with Instagram and TikTok, as you can imagine. I try to bring in personal experience, too. When I was an athlete, Instagram was around, but there was no TikTok. We were getting a lot of our information from coaches, parents, still the Internet, but not certainly as much from social media. And I think diet culture plays such a huge role in the general student population and also the athlete student population because there's such a pressure to be a certain weight, to look a certain way. I mean, being a swimmer, we're in our swimsuit all the time. If you're a gymnast, they're being judged on aesthetics. And first hand experience, I was told as an athlete I needed to lose weight. I lost the weight that I was told to lose, and I didn't perform any better. So that was like that light bulb moment for me. Like, okay, under fueling does not equal performing any better. And that's what I try to get across to my athletes. Performance level doesn't have a body size. There is no evidence that you would perform better at a lower body weight, a lower fat mass. It's just not there. And it's not something that we need to be drilling in the heads of our athletes and our general student population, as well.


[00:22:07.430] - Carmen

When it comes to the social media piece, like I said, it can be really hard to compete, but I also do because I am very active on social media. I want to see what my athletes are looking at. I want to see what my students are looking at. So I try to encourage body positive accounts, anti diet dietitians, people that I would rely on for information that I know is credible and would be appropriate for athletes to best fuel themselves and feel good about themselves. Because I think what's more detrimental than- we think, oh, a bad diet is going to be detrimental, but it's really the mental aspect of it and how we're feeling about ourselves and our bodies as athletes. That is going to be more detrimental than the cookie I ate last night. So like I said, it's very hard to compete with the social media, but just having that compassion for athletes and just the general student population that is also active, sharing my experience and then also sharing, like I said, credible sources and accounts that I would encourage them to follow.


[00:23:14.790] - Carmen

That's a great question.


[00:23:16.190] - Ashley

That's a great question.


[00:23:17.330] - Carmen

Very complex.


[00:23:18.520] - Ashley

I like it. And maybe too, if you have them, Carmen, it'd be nice to share with the students in the show notes of any of those accounts that you would recommend because I think building that community of what you see and what you take in as content does really help shape our relationship with food in our body. So I think if students have some credible, trusted accounts that you vetted, that would be really helpful for them to see and at least be exposed to.


[00:23:46.280] - Carmen



[00:23:47.590] - Ashley



[00:23:48.180] - Carmen

Yeah, definitely.


[00:23:49.160] - Lexy

I know you might have talked about some resources around campus, but is there any other resources that you really recommend for students if they're interested or wanting more information to understand about student athletes and about this overall topic? For example, if a student athlete is struggling with balancing their social life with their athlete life, or just their overall mental health and trying to stay active, too.


[00:24:19.830] - Carmen

Yeah, definitely. So campus health is a great resource, a great student resource. We also just got two new sports dietitians over in athletics, so they are available for athletes to meet with one-on-one, get some nutrition education and counseling. I can also put their contact, or give you their contact information, but they're a tremendous resource. And it's one of those things that I wish I had to talk to, to bounce ideas off. It could have been a huge resource for my teammates and I. So that's another resource. I will also send Ashley the social media accounts that I follow that I think are really incredible, where you could get good information from, since we've kind of had to move with the times. Like now students are getting- or they make references in my classes to Tik Tok videos and Instagram. I'm like, oh, I better find that one. So, you know, kind of relating in that way because social media can be a good thing, but it's just cleaning up your feed. Who you're following, who are you letting in your head on a daily basis? Is really going to shape you in the outside world.


[00:25:37.160] - Carmen

So having those credible social media accounts. And I also have to have a little bit of a plug, but in our sports nutrition minor, we teach a course called NSC 115 Personal Sports Nutrition. So I have a lot of students take this NSC 115 class and we just go over sports nutrition on a personal level. So they're using almost themselves as a case study throughout the course and learning more about basic sports nutrition. There's no prereqs. You don't have to be a Nutritional Sciences major to take it, but it can really help you maybe look at what you're eating, how much you might not be eating, and just learn. It's really geared towards the physically active general student here at the U of A. So I really recommend that class - it's a great resource that we teach every semester. So those are just a few of the resources I can think of off the top of my head.


[00:26:37.450] - Ashley

That's awesome. Yeah, I was going to ask if you had anything to add, but I had one last question about- and I know offline, Carmen and I have talked about this before, but that transition. We have graduation coming up in the fall and December, and then this episode is actually going to come out in the spring. So we're going to have lots of our student athletes graduating and going quote, unquote "out into the real world" and the percentage of student athletes that end up kind of continuing to professional athletics. And if they're not going to continue their careers, how does that look nutritionally and body image wise? How do we prepare our athletes to transition out of having training tables and fueling stations support into a more kind of active lifestyle as just a young adult going to get a job or something?


[00:27:36.100] - Carmen

Yeah, the real world is tough. It is so hard. And it's something, again, I kind of wish I had more of that transition out of being a student athlete to being a young professional and going out into the world. Because I think I said earlier, we don't live in a bubble. But as student athletes, we do live in a little bit of a bubble where everything is structured. Our exercise is structured. We're told when to exercise, what to do. If you're lucky enough to have that training table or fueling station, meals and snacks are provided. I don't even have to think twice about what I'm going to eat, how I'm going to cook it. And then when we transition out of that, we kind of go through this identity crisis. We have identified so much of like- oh, I remember I always introduced myself- like, my fun fact for my classes in undergrad was "Oh, I'm a swimmer," and I couldn't think of anything else. And I remember we didn't have a "life after sports course" at Bowling Green. But I do remember with one of the student athlete associations that we had there, our speaker was telling us, think of something else to introduce yourself as, like, who are you to your core?


[00:28:56.670] - Carmen

You being a swimmer, that's just surface level. And it's not- I mean, I will always identify as an athlete, but it's really who are you outside of your sport? Which I think can be really difficult to figure out. I would say in that transition- well, before that transition, make sure you do take advantage of the services provided at your University. Take advantage of Campus Health. Go see a therapist, talk about these things. Go see our registered dietitians over in athletics, utilize all the resources you have now because when you transition out, they're not going to be as easily accessible in the real world. So, yeah, just definitely taking advantage of the resources and then finding- and I will be honest with you, I still really struggle with the identity thing, but try to find something else that you enjoy to do. Find exercise that you enjoy - joyful movement - and just find something else that you can really identify yourself with. And I know that all sounds a little bit pessimistic, but there's a glimmer of hope. Because when you are done with your four years and you don't have to wake up at 04:00 a.m. every morning and have somebody yelling at you, telling you what to do, you get a little bit more of that food freedom.


[00:30:28.090] - Carmen

It's a relieving feeling almost. And it's so great. The life after sport, it's going to be fine. You're going to be fine. You're going to find something else you enjoy to do. Everything is going to play out. And I can wholeheartedly say, like, I enjoyed that season of my life, but I have transitioned to something completely, I won't say better, but it's new and it's going well. So take advantage of the resources and afterwards, just seek out the help if you need it. I would say that's my best advice.


[00:31:01.060] - Ashley

That's amazing. Do we have a "life after sport" course that our athletes take?


[00:31:06.200] - Carmen

Yeah. So freshman athletes are required to take a Student Athlete Success 101 over in CATS academics, which our nutrition professors actually work with going over a nutrition unit in that course. So they kind of get it at the beginning and then at the end there is like a "life after sports" sort of course at the end of their senior year. I don't know as much about that course or if it's mandatory. If it's optional, I would highly recommend it then because that would just be a tremendous resource for athletes.


[00:31:40.110] - Ashley

Yeah. I think that transition into being a young professional is challenging for lots of folks. So I think that added piece of like, what's my identity now? Just kind of brings in this whole other layer. So that's really good advice. Thank you for sharing some of the personal stuff, too.