An Interview with Jordan Mazur, MS, RD – Sports Dietitian

Being diagnosed at 18 with a rare illness gave Jordan Mazur a new perspective on life. He knew he wanted to help others be healthy, fit and, most importantly, happy. So he got his degree in nutritional sciences, and eventually his masters in exercise science.

“I was always fascinated about how the human body uses food as fuel, all the way down to the microscopic level,” he said.

Today, Jordan is a Sports Dietitian and the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. He believes being successful with nutrition begins with your mindset – and to make nutrition a priority to fuel your life. For athletes that means thinking differently about food. “They aren’t just eating to eat,” he said. “They’re high performing machines who require optimal fuel. All athletes need to think about food as their fuel.”

He recommends an 80/20 approach: 80 percent of the time, fuel with a purpose, while the other 20 percent of the time eat just to eat. “You have to allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy because after all, food’s meant to be enjoyed!”

What are the biggest challenges facing sports dieticians today? What tools and/or resources do you use to address them?

The media and social media have an enormous impact on body image and food choices. I spend a lot of time debunking myths my clients ask about because they heard it from a doctor on TV or from an Instagram friend who once ate a salad and now gives nutrition advice. It’s important for registered dietitians (RDs) to advocate for themselves as experts. As RDs, we are the nutrition experts.

Does your approach vary based on an athlete’s given sport?

Every sport and individual have unique needs. Every sport has different energy demands, requiring different fueling strategies. Each athlete starts with a nutritional assessment to get a better picture of them and what they need to achieve their goals. The assessment includes five domains:

  1. Food/nutrition history

  2. Anthropometric measurements

  3. Biochemical data

  4. Nutrition-focused physical findings

  5. Client history

How has your approach to nutrition changed over the years?

It’s more individualized. Sports dietitians need to become nutrition coaches. It’s not enough to only speak on nutrition or lecture on carbs or hydration. It takes consistent reinforcement of that info to build habits. Sound nutrition doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with the nutrition assessment. Some athletes are ready for a complete diet overhaul; they can use a meal plan that breaks down their macronutrients. Sometimes it’s getting an athlete to drink more water or eat one less fast food meal per week. Little upgrades over time help create solid nutrition habits.

What do you eat in a typical day?

It always begins with coffee. And I never skip breakfast. It usually consists of vegetables, protein, carbs and some healthy fats. That can be a veggie omelet with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt. Or it’s avocado toast with two hard boiled eggs and a green smoothie with chia seeds. A pre-workout snack – usually an energy bar (KIZE is my favorite) – follows breakfast. Post-workout is always a protein shake and a carb source. Lunch is my biggest meal – veggies, protein and some type of carb (today was salmon, mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli). My afternoon snack is usually Greek yogurt and almonds or trail mix. Dinner is lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish or lean beef with a lot of veggies. And I always get some protein before bed. This helps rebuild and repair muscles overnight.

What are your thoughts on the USDA food pyramid?

The food pyramid has changed as science has evolved. It’s now called MyPlate. I use a variation of this with my athletes called Performance Plates. These contains parts of MyPlate (grains, veggies, protein, fruits and hydration), but reflect more how an athlete’s plate should be. These also vary depending on their training phase. For example, a plate for an easy training day looks different than a plate for a hard training day. It all goes back to individual nutrition. We’re all different with different nutritional needs. Our fueling must reflect that.

Do your athletes have any misconceptions about nutrition when you start working together? Do their views change after working with you?

Almost always! This is where nutrition coaching is important. Building relationships and being present with athletes goes a long way. Athletes then learn to trust you and ask questions. I’ve heard them all, too – from detoxes to alkaline diets.

One of the biggest misconceptions is how much they need to eat and how often they should eat. Most nutrition info in the media is geared for weight loss. Most athletes don’t need to worry about this. Their fueling strategies are a lot different than someone who’s sedentary and has a weight loss goal. Once they start to fuel like an athlete and see and feel performance benefits, then there’s buy-in.

What’s the easiest thing to correct nutrition-wise?

Two things for athletes:

  1. Hydrate. It impacts performance almost immediately. Hydrate early and often throughout the day. It’s key to functioning right.

  2. Eat more veggies. Eat the rainbow – aim for a variety of colors and get a serving at every meal.

What are the five best foods to incorporate into your diet?

  1. Oatmeal. It’s a great source of carb energy for athletes. It’s also high in fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps maintain glucose levels.

  2. Olive oil. Its monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory benefits. And it’s easy to cook with or drizzle on salads or veggies.

  3. Salmon. It’s packed with protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which can help you recover faster.

  4. Nuts and (natural) nut butters. They’re a natural combo of protein and healthy fats.

  5. Berries. They contain antioxidants, which help protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that form in the body during strenuous physical activity.

What’s one change an athlete can make to their nutrition plan that will get the best results?

Eating protein at every meal. Research shows that 20-35 grams of protein initiates protein synthesis in most athletes, depending on their size. Our bodies are in constant flux of protein breakdown and synthesis, so if we can give our body amino acids – the building blocks of protein – during the day, we can maximize our protein balance.

How do you teach your athletes about gut health?

I speak to athletes about the importance of gut health for performance and well-being. I always recommend a food product or supplement to make sure they’re giving their gut good bacteria and getting its benefits. I also show them how overtraining and exercise can break down and cause “leaky gut,” making them more susceptible to illness.

What nutrition trends are you paying attention to?

  1. A low carb/high fat diet for endurance athletes to improve fat metabolism

  2. Super foods like kale, açai berries, chia seeds, matcha and kefir

  3. DHA and brain health, particularly for post-concussion recovery

  4. Supplements, including phosphatidic acid as a potential supplement for strength gains

  5. Regulation of supplement safety

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