What to Feed the Jaguars

First off, I am not talking about the wildlife variety of jaguars. The Jaguars I speak of today are the NFL football team located in Jacksonville, Florida. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the only place jaguars are still found in the U.S. is in Arizona.  I wonder how the Arizona Cardinals feel about that?  But I digress.  A good friend of mine alerted me to an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks back discussing how the performance of many members of the Jaguars has improved since working with nutritionist Anita Nall Richesson.  A former Olympic swimmer turned holistic nutrition specialist, Nall Richesson began to improve the players’ diets.

The article starts out "The Jaguars’ high-traffic cafeteria used to be a snack trap, characterized by unmarked sugars, hidden calories and hard-to-see preservatives.  With its cookie buffet and pizza day, the players ate it up, never stopping to think the low-grade fuel they were pumping into their bodies could be making the team sputter."  Hmm, does that sound eerily similar to any corporate cafeterias you have been too lately?

Nall Richesson started by giving the Jaguars' kitchen a serious overhaul. The cookie buffet was replaced with whole fruits and gluten-free snack bars.  White flour pasta and standard canned sauce were replaced with gluten-free pasta and a red sauce with no artificial preservatives.  At the smoothie bar, which has fresh fruit and honey but no sugar or dairy, Nall Richesson was happy to spot a player reading the ingredients on the cartons of coconut milk and almond milk.

Under Nall Richesson’s supervision, tight end Marcedes Lewis lost his taste for pineapple upside-down cake and soda, and started craving salads. Lewis, 26, admits he had never given much thought to what he ate.  He was, in his words, a reckless eater, until a food sensitivity test uncovered an intolerance to many of his favorite foods, including pineapple.  Dining out one night at a steakhouse near his downtown apartment, Lewis was careful about his order.  He passed up steak for roasted chicken and asked for a side of green beans served dry, without butter.  He also ordered a shrimp appetizer and a sweet potato dish but passed on desert, skipped the soda and opted instead for a glass of water with a slice of lemon, and limited himself to one piece of French bread instead of devouring the whole loaf, as he said he often used to do.

So what have these nutritional changes done for Lewis?  Well, he started the season carrying 275 pounds on his 6-6 frame and now he is down to 254 pounds.  “I recover faster,” said Lewis.  “I’m running better.  I have more energy.  And I’m still strong.  This is Week 14 of the season and I feel good.  That is ridiculous.”

Actually, it's not ridiculous at all.  You see, loading up on cookies, pizza, bread and other high sugar snacks isn't just bad for your average Joe - it's also bad for pro football players.  Yes, they are generally a lot more active than your average American and possess a tremendous amount of athletic talent, yet even with their high activity level comprised of rigorous training and competition they still suffer the ill effects of a poor diet: fatigue, difficulty losing or maintaining their weight, and poor recovery times.

So what does this mean for you?  Well, no matter what your level or ability as an athlete - recreational exerciser, weekend warrior or professional athlete - you need adequate calories and nutrients from healthy sources to balance the energy demands of repetitive training, competition, recovery and growth.  If you are looking for a performance edge, consider overhauling your diet.  Focus on whole foods: lean proteins, fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds.  Also consider eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet for a few weeks and see how you feel, or consider getting a food sensitivity test.

Proper nutrition can provide you the "missing link" to enhanced performance.  Just ask the NFL Jaguars.  Who knows, with proper nutrition you might just be able to break that personal record you have been dreaming about!

Now I'd like to hear from you:

Do you feel changing your diet could improve your athletic performance?

Have you ever tried any dietary changes in the hopes of increasing your performance?

If so, what changes did you notice?