“What to feed a hungry Bear” is the name of the brochure Missouri State University team dietitian Natalie Allen, M.Ed., R.D., L.D., gives out to recruits and current Bear athletes.
Division I college athletes work long, hard hours every day, so it is important for them to keep their bodies fueled and hydrated at all times with the proper diet.
Allen is available to help all Missouri State athletes reach their peak health and performance through nutrition.
“Our most important goal is to keep athletes healthy,” Allen said. “That’s our priority at Missouri State athletics. We want you to be healthy — we want you to be in school and grow and succeed as a student. Then we want to improve your performance.”
There are three different ways an athlete would see Allen for healthy eating habits: the athlete reaches out themselves, the team doctor or athletic trainer refers them or the coach sends an athlete to her office.
If an athlete is seeing Allen, they most likely need assistance on how to eat properly, need advice on losing or gaining weight or they are diagnosed with a new dietary restriction.
So, what does the typical Division I athlete consume?
For an endurance athlete — swimmer or runner — carbohydrates are their main source of fuel. These athletes eat a lot of pasta, rice, bread, potatoes and starchy vegetables.
Allen said an endurance athlete should eat three meals and three snacks every day with carbohydrates in every meal and snack.
Allen said a male swimmer, for example, could easily be eating 4,000 calories a day due to the intensity of his workouts. She said he would need a very high carbohydrate, high energy and high calorie diet.
Other athletes, such as softball and baseball players, still need carbohydrates but not as many calories.
These athletes are focused on strength and power. Therefore, they need more protein than the average athlete to build up their muscle.
Allen said half of an athlete’s plate should be carbohydrates, one fourth should be protein and the last fourth should be fruits and vegetables.
A normal college student, however, should not be eating that many carbohydrates, Allen said.
The average college student should fill half of their plate with fruits and vegetables, one fourth protein and one fourth carbohydrates.
Allen said people who are not working out at the intensity of a college athlete do not need to eat like they are. She said, generally, for every mile walked or ran, 100 calories are burned.
“Some people think, ‘Oh, I’ve ran a mile on the treadmill. I’m going to eat a piece of cheesecake,’” Allen said with a laugh. “And that doesn’t really add up.”
Allen said the best way to think of a meal, whether you are an athlete or not, is through Chinese food.
Athletes need a lot of rice, a little beef and a little broccoli. Non-athletes need a lot of broccoli, a little beef and a little rice.
Allen said the average college student needs roughly 2,000 calories a day, whereas the average college endurance athlete needs 3,000 calories.
Obviously, exact calorie intakes are different for everyone.
Calorie needs are based on how big you are and how much muscle you have, so it is not the same for everyone.
Allen said she sometimes sees athletes who are deficient in a nutrient.
She said supplementing with a whole food rather than a pill is always better due to the extra nutrients, probiotics and antioxidants.
If an athlete is so deficient that food alone will not make it up, then supplement pills are needed.
The example Allen gave was an athlete who is anemic.
First, Allen would give the athlete an iron supplement to build up their iron levels, then she would put together a high-iron diet for the athlete.
Allen said she is very involved with the athletes she helps. She even takes athletes grocery shopping to show them the exact yogurts, bars and frozen cooked meat they should be eating.
Another area of Allen’s job includes monitoring the supplements an athlete is taking on their own, such as protein powders, antioxidants and vitamins.
She does the research to see if that supplement is doing what it claims to do and if it is worth taking.
Allen said she has to make sure every supplement an athlete puts into their body is NCAA approved due to the firm guidelines on what is allowed for a collegiate athlete.
“The NCAA is very strict, therefore so am I,” Allen said. “We help all Missouri State athletes make sure they are meeting the NCAA guidelines.”
One term Allen said gets misused a lot is a meal replacement. She said athletes consume carbohydrate and protein drinks, not meal replacements.
The best time for athletes to consume these drinks is within 30 minutes after exercise to replenish muscle and hydration lost in a workout. A smoothie with milk and yogurt or chocolate milk is best for this snack.
Even though it is important for athletes to eat healthy, especially in season, Allen said there is room for all foods in a diet, even cookies and French fries.
Allen tells her athletes to go by the 80/20 rule. An athlete should be eating healthy 80 percent of the time, while they are allowed to indulge in the yummy foods 20 percent of the time.
“No one works harder than a Missouri State athlete,” Allen said. “They spend a lot time on the field, lifting, running. So, we need to keep them fueled and ready.”
Nutrition can impact performance in both a positive and negative way, depending on how athletes take advantage of the resources around them.
“Sports nutrition can make a good athlete great, or a great athlete good,” Allen said.