An Interview with Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD –Sports Dietitian

Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Jacque Scaramella, MS, RD, CSSD at the 2016 Rio Olympics

What are one or two things that the recreational athlete can learn from an elite athlete to incorporate into their diet routine?

One of the most important aspects of performance nutrition is balancing your plate at meals and snack times based on training demands. This is something that elite level athletes put into daily practice surrounding training and competition. It is a great habit for recreational athletes to follow as well. By shaping your meals based on how easy or hard your training volume and intensity are, you are optimizing the fueling, replenishing and recovery of your body and muscles.

How does optimizing gut health fit into the diet and training plan for an elite athlete?

Regular probiotic intake is a beneficial preventative measure for elite athletes, especially surrounding travel. High volumes of training take a toll on an athlete’s immune system, increasing their susceptibility of acquiring upper respiratory tract infections and the common cold. Additionally, athletes that travel frequently for competition, especially internationally, have increased exposure to different bacteria and a higher risk of GI disorders.

Do you currently work with any athletes who may have issues with IBD, Celiac disease, and/or other chronic conditions for which optimizing their diet has considerably improved their condition?

Yes, of course. Competing or racing while dealing with GI issues significantly impacts performance. As a sports dietitian, one of our main goals is to help an athlete minimize any of these issues and develop an individualized fuel and recovery plan for them. We want to help them compete to the best of their abilities while making sure their performance is not compromised by any GI issues.  

What trends in diet and health are you embracing now that were not around 4 or 8 years ago?

The field of nutrition is very dynamic and the more research that comes out, the more we are able to take advantage of different foods for different functions. For example, our athletes take advantage of tart cherry juice and ginger to help decrease muscle soreness and inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress.  

How does the diet and routine of the athlete vary or change from 12 months out, to 6 months out, to being at the actual Olympic or Paralympic Games?

It is based on the periodization of the training cycle that the athletes are in throughout the year and what their goals are based on that cycle. Elite level athletes train at high volumes for most of the year, however, the style and goals of training change throughout the year. As it gets closer to a Games or major event there is more focus and dedication to consistent nutritious decisions. Nobody can or should be perfect 100% of the time. It is only healthy to have some fluctuation in your diet so that when you need to dial it in, you are ready to do that.

Many of the elite level athletes fine tune their body composition based on their performance goals to match the time they need to be at peak performance, like the Olympics or Paralympics. When preparing an athlete for a major event, we work with them to fine tune their fueling and recovery plans surrounding that competition. We take into account the athlete’s sport, preferences, lifestyle, and any other conditions that may impact their ability to optimally fuel and recover their bodies. This is a dynamic process and takes time and practice during training to figure out what works best for them. The best time to try nutrition strategies is during training when you’re 6-12 months out so that you have time to get in a routine well before the event.

How would you finish this statement?: "Although relatively new now, in 2020 Olympic athletes will all be using/doing/learning X."

Athletes will continue to benefit from advances in nutritional science over the next four years.  It would be great to see more specific advances in nutri-genomics related to the world of sports.