NBA season is underway and that means players need to be in tip top shape. But, it's not only the athletes who have work to do; just like the game itself, keeping NBA players healthy is a team effort. Coaches, trainers, physicians and dietitians all work together to ensure that players are primed for performance throughout the season, and often use tools like InsideTracker to help them do so.
Just ask Tara Boening, a sports dietitian for the Houston Rockets who has tested a number of the team's athletes with InsideTracker. She says she uses InsideTracker as a tool to offer rock solid proof to players whether what they're consuming or doing is working for them...or not. "It's a concrete way to provide information to us on how we can improve their diet, how we can improve their training plans, their sleep, their recovery on paper, because your blood doesn't lie," Tara says. "It's a good tool for us to use... in order to help them perform better – which is our ultimate goal for them."
We're pretty sure Rockets fans won't argue with that. Check out the video interview with Tara, below, to find out just what an NBA sports dietitian does, how she uses InsideTracker with the team, and her top nutrition tips for "everyday athletes" – aka, the rest of us!
00:00 - Intro
01:00 - Why Tara uses InsideTracker with NBA players
02:20 - Trends Tara sees in players
03:45 - Hormones, poor recovery & lack of sleep
04:30 - Biggest nutrition challenge in the NBA
05:40 - The sleep challenge
07:00 - What Tara's role as a consulting dietitian for the Houston Rockets entails
09:00 - Dealing with nutrition trends and fads, e.g. Paleo
10:30 - Tara's top 3 nutrition tips for every active person
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Erin: I'm really excited to have Tara Boening join us today. She is a sports dietitian and a consultant with the Houston Rockets. So as pro you can go. Thanks for joining us Tara.
Tara: You’re welcome.
Erin: So let's jump right into it. Obviously you have a pretty cool job, you're working with people who've got a lot on the line in terms of contract and in terms of performance and you've used Inside Tracker with a number of the Houston Rockets. We're not going to disclose names obviously for the sake of confidentiality but I believe it's about a dozen athletes, is that correct?
Tara: Sure. Yeah. We've done a couple rounds of testing – some guys have repeated, some guys have done it one time and plan to do it a second time so we're kind of in the beginning phases of starting to implement this program.
Erin: So tell me a bit about why someone in your position would be using InsideTracker – I mean it seems fairly obvious but I'd love to hear your take why someone in your position would be using InsideTracker with these professional athletes throughout their season or at any given point in their season?
Tara: So the main reason that we wanted to do it is to kind of give the athletes some concrete proof of what they're doing. So if they tell me “Sure, I take my vitamin D supplement every day all season long” and then I get their blood results and clearly they haven't been doing that, they can't argue with it.
Tara: So it's just a concrete way to provide information to us on how we can improve their diet, how we can improve their training plans, their sleep, their recovery on paper because your blood doesn't lie. So it's a good tool for us to use to be able to tweak their programs, their diet, their workouts, whatever, in order to help them perform better which is our ultimate goal for them.
Erin: That's our phrase, is “blood don't lie”. So I don't know if you saw our hashtag or if you just want to come work for us! That's definitely the motto around here; you can't argue with it and I think it's usually pretty motivating for people, especially athletes to see those cold hard facts. You can't tell the dietitian that “Eh, I don't know what you're talking about.
Erin: So that said, obviously you're working with guys who are at the top of their game, quite literally a lot is at stake. So what are some of the trends and without speaking to specific situations? What are some of the trends that you see either within your team or within the NBA in general?
Tara: The timing that we did our testing was towards the end of the season last year so we did see some trends as far as higher inflammatory markers or sleep markers, things that were not obviously surprising coming up with a late game along a road trip prior to doing the testing. We saw a lot of things like that but we were able to tell the guys okay, sleeping 4 hours a night even if you think that you're performing okay, your body is clearly not responding positively to that so we need to work on that. We had some things pop up that were not surprising just based on our demographic and on our training schedules but it really put it into perspective for them to say oh, you guys do know what you're talking about, me and trainers and strength coaches and we're not just doing things because we think it's fun to watch them run or to make them eat this or whatever. It gave us a good tool to really hone in on some of those things that we as a staff weren't surprised about but maybe as the athlete they didn't realize that their 6 hours or their 8 hours wasn't enough for them personally and we could really specify what it is that we needed them to do.
Erin: Was there anything you discovered that was surprising to you? Not athlete-specific but was there anything that testing and looking at those InsideTracker results in the way that we deliver them with optimal zones and associated nutrition and supplements, was there anything that you maybe weren't aware of before or were surprised by?
Tara: We had some pretty interesting results on some of the hormones that a lot of the guys were really surprised about, that were easily explainable but they look a lot more intimidating on paper. Once you were able to explain to them this is the reason why and it's not as big of a deal as it sounds. It was kind of a trend that we all saw but we could relate it back to poor recovery and lack of sleep. So it wasn't something that we expected to see as a result of those things but it did kind of show it's all because of that.
Erin: What's the biggest nutrition challenge you'd say in a league like the NBA where there is so much sprinting and you know, it is this very physically intense, you’re never really sitting down waiting for people to run 10 yards, not that I'm knocking football but it's so different.
Tara: Right. I mean definitely for us it's recovery, just because of the nature of our season. I mean we just spent 2 weeks in China and came back for 2 days and then had a game. Then they get on the plane the next day and they're flying here and then they'll be back and then they're on the road for 10 days and so they're sleeping in the hotel, they're sleeping on a plane, they're practicing on the go.
So they don't get adequate time to properly recover so it's really important for us that we really stress those things and provide the nutritional tools for them to do that so that they can perform their next task, their next game, their next practice at the highest level that they're able to, just to constantly refuel them because they're very lean. They have a lot of muscle mass and they burn a lot of calories so just getting those calories and then to allow their bodies to recover is a big challenge. And then obviously that comes along with sleep which is related to all that, too.
Erin: Of course. And I mean I wouldn't mind having a problem of having to consume more calories. Unfortunately I'm having the opposite issue.
Tara: If only.
Erin: You guys know how lucky you are? I mean I understand it's a pain in the butt actually to have to consume 6,000 calories
Tara: Yeah, definitely it is for them. It is.
Erin: Yeah, yeah but I wouldn't mind ever so often to do that. Speaking of things like sleep and recovery I think the general public probably doesn't associate nutrition with that. They think oh, you need more sleep? Well, you just sleep. Not necessarily realizing that maybe people can't fall asleep, maybe they can't stay asleep, maybe the issue isn't that you don't have the time, it's that the quality is suffering. So what are some of the things as a dietitian that you recommend or that you found through InsideTracker for improving sleep and recovery?
Tara: Yeah. That's definitely a thing for us. It's not necessarily the time, it's the quality of sleep because they are on an airplane, they're away from home, they're in a hotel, things like that. So just being able to get comfortable, I mean – and that sounds crazy but just to provide an environment that's as similar to home as we can. We've tried some different supplements as far as helping to increase the sleep process, the sleep cycle and just I mean obvious things like staying off your phone, turning the TV off, quiet, dark, things like that. Just sometimes you know, you're on the phone late chatting with your family because you haven't seen them in a while, I mean, life just pops up. So we can just make a conscious effort to be aware of those things, that usually helps.
Erin: What are some of the things that a sports dietitian for an NBA team does? I know it sounds sort of implicit but there are actually a lot more things going on than most people probably assume. It's not just sitting down once a week and giving someone a meal plan, right?
Tara: Yeah and I actually don't do a lot of individual meal planning. I do in off-season a lot more but during season we have a chef in the house so I work closely with the chef and we just put the right things in front of them. I do a lot of their meals on the road, on the plane and then ordering – keeping inventory, ordering all the supplements, recovery shakes, any type of smoothie recipes and just we do implement certain things that weight loss guys say this should be your recovery.
I'm not in the facility every day so it's communicating with the stuff and making sure that everybody is kind of on the same page, as far as what vitamin needs are, recovery needs, supplement needs. And then obviously I do sit down with the guys on occasion and say if you need to make sure – for example your iron levels are low you need to eat XYZ foods in order to increase those things and would make sure we relate that message to the chef so that we have those things around. So it's a team effort and my job is often times a lot more behind the scenes just because I'm not there every day but I do have a presence there once or twice a week at least.
Erin: So talking about it being a team effort I think everyone has been in a situation whether they're an athlete or not where people outside whether it's friends, families, trainers, anyone, doctors giving various pieces of nutrition advice and I presume for an NBA player that probably happens quite often. So often people read something in Men's Health or they see something in Whole Foods or they're like “Hey, have you heard paleo is the only way to go?” not realizing that everyone has an individual biochemistry and other environmental factors that are affecting how their body is processing things. And so for someone like you I presume that the position of hey, maybe you should listen to someone who is actually educated on this topic and not just grab any trend, maybe a frustrating point, I don't know.
Tara: Yeah, and it's a lot of times – I mean building a relationship with those guys for them to be able to trust me, to come to me #1 until “Hey, I've heard this, what do you think about this?” versus “This is what I'm doing, make it happen.” And a lot of times if for example if they do want to go paleo, we can work on a version of that into what they want to do but we put the carbohydrates around their training. If they don't want to eat carbs at dinner and they have off the next day then it might work at that time. We put in the proper carbohydrates at the right time so for us it's more about the timing than anything. And once they can understand the reasons why and say you need this energy and then you've got to replace that energy and this is how you're going to do it then it makes sense.
So the biggest part of debunking those myths so to speak is just to maintain and form relationships with them so that they do feel like they can ask the questions and approach me or whoever it is that they know is going to give them the right answers. We need to be on the same page like I said with the trainers, the coaches, the training staff, the strength staff so that we are all delivering the same message and we're not knocking heads on what information we're providing
Erin: I guess just in closing for non-athletes or for anyone watching – we have a lot of very active people, they aren't professional athletes but they maybe weekend warriors or triathletes, they're marathoners, people who play basketball pretty actively on the weekends, what are like the top 3 pieces of advice that you might give someone in terms of putting together a nutrition regimen that will help them, their performance?
Tara: Definitely need a variety of foods. The more color you can get in your diet the more – the more vitamins, minerals, all the colors provide different things so the more color, the more variety you can get in your diet is really great. And trying to space out your calories, I mean if you're going to eat your biggest meal at the end of the day, chances are you're going to sit on the couch and watch TV so you're not going to give your body a chance to burn those calories. So eating the bulk of your calories early in the day when you're going here, going there, before a workout you're going to walk to meetings, you're going to be walking and do whatever you're going to do all day you have a better opportunity to burn some of those calories versus backloading your calories.
The biggest thing I see is really just being careful with added sugars, sugary drinks because a lot of people have goals as far – not necessarily even weight loss but just to maintain or gain muscle and just to maintain a lean body. That also comes down to just even things like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, those sorts of things. So that's an easy way to cut out some added sugars just to avoid sugary drinks in general. That's my top 3 right there.
Erin: I'd say those all sound very sound, not being a dietitian myself. I try to follow those although I am not so great about the not eating late because I do intermittent fasting and I was recently reading that people make this mistake of cutting out breakfast and then you're eating until 8-9 pm going to bed 2 hours later so...
Tara: Yeah, I call it the college kid syndrome because they go to class, they do workouts, they do all the stuff all day and then at midnight they order pizza and that's their meal.
Erin: Yeah, I'm not doing pizza but it's pretty bad going to bed at 1 am so yeah. I will heed your advice. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it
Tara: Thank you for having me.
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