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Sheila's Nutrition Digest Vol. 4 – Beth Mansfield Interview (Part 1)
By:  Sheila Kealey   (2005/03/31)

Sheila's Nutrition Digest Series: In this new series, XC Ottawa member Sheila Kealey will help athletes choose the best foods for performance and overall health. Sheila has a Masters in Public Health and works in the field of nutritional epidemiology as a Research Associate with the University of California, San Diego.

Have you ever wondered if your athletic performance could benefit from nutrition counseling or better nutrition knowledge? I caught up with Beth Mansfield, an expert in the area, to share her thoughts on nutrition counseling for athletes. Beth educates Canadian athletes of all levels, including Olympians, national and provincial team athletes, as well as University, masters and recreational athletes on sport nutrition for health and performance.

Beth is a Registered Dietitian, Sport Nutrition & Exercise Specialist with Peak Performance, a sport nutrition and corporate wellness consulting company in Ottawa. She also develops sport nutrition and conditioning programs for the sport horse - equine athlete. Beth is a popular corporate wellness speaker throughout Canada and also maintains a therapeutic lifestyle change (TLC) clinic for people with elevated cholesterol at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. She is currently working on her PhD at McGill University focusing on energy balance and body composition in health and disease.

Check out Beth's regular show on CJOH/CTV the 1st Wednesday of every month on the News at Noon.

What is your sport background?

My sport background, like my education, is quite diverse. I was brought up in a very physically active family. My parents taught us to alpine and XC ski as young kids and my mother's use of chocolate as a motivational tool kept me (and my brothers) trudging up many mountain paths all over Canada and Great Britain. I think that was the beginning of my interest in sport nutrition! I developed an early interest in horses and have ridden since I was six, but I was always a basketball player at heart. I fell in love with the game at 17 years of age. Basketball taught me a lot about sport and life and gave me the opportunity to play with and against the top International players throughout Canada and the USA. In my early twenties I road raced (cycling) in the off season as a way to hang out a bit with my brothers and cousin, who were all competitive cyclists, racing together throughout Canada and the USA on the road and track. I suffered a serious knee injury in a rugby match when I was 25 and within ten years (and three knee surgeries later) all I could do was ride and glide… leading me to learn speed skating (inline and ice) and to get back into riding my horse, cross country skiing and cycling as a way to keep my knee joint strong with minimal discomfort. Although my lack of a healthy joint means I can't hammer like I used to, I can still enjoy some speed on wheels!

How did you study to become a sport nutritionist?

Unfortunately there is no formal degree in sport nutrition and thus there are few sport dietitians in Canada - although there are many unqualified people who counsel athletes as well as the general public on nutrition. To be able to work as a sport dietitian you should have as a minimum:

  • A University education in both exercise physiology AND clinical nutrition/dietetics;
  • A year of volunteer work with athletes of all ages (child, adolescent, University, masters) to get up to speed on health and performance concerns of athletes and see firsthand what athletes are actually eating and how they are coping nutritionally with training demands;
  • A sport background - having competed at the provincial level in one or more sports (the more the better) and preferably have experienced national/international level competition in one - this ensures that you clearly understand the level of training involved;
  • Training in the Body Sense (or Go Girls) program, which promotes positive body image and prevents disordered eating in sport; and
  • Finally, you need to be passionate about sport and the physiology of the body in the exercising state!

I studied an eclectic mix at University; earning undergraduate degrees in exercise physiology, animal nutrition and dietetics/human nutrition. At that point I wanted to do more research so I completed a Masters of Science in the combined fields of nutrition, exercise physiology and lipid biochemistry with the Lipid Clinic of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. Currently I am back at McGill University working on a PhD in Energy Metabolism and completing some work in equine physiology and nutrition at Guelph University.

Part of my "volunteer" work is to train up and coming nutrition professionals in the science and application of clinical sports nutrition. Each year a University Dietetic intern (or two) is placed with me to get up to speed on the practice of sport nutrition. These interns also get me involved in their interests - a few years ago an intern and I worked with high altitude mountain climbers to determine optimal nutrient needs to help reduce risks of injury and cerebral/pulmonary edema. The experience involved some fascinating research of putting science into food-based practice for successful summits of the highest peaks in the world. Another intern just happened to be related to Lance Armstrong's mechanic - so I got the inside scoop on the most famous of cycling machines!

What is the mission of Peak Performance?

I started Peak Performance when I moved to Ottawa in 1995. My goal has always been to bridge the gap between the sciences of nutrition and exercise and the practices of healthy eating and active living for both health and performance. Over the last few years of working with athletes, people wanting to lose weight, and patients with elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, metabolic syndrome or diabetes I have been privy to a number of interesting nutritional habits! It has also become pretty clear to me that many of us fall prey to one or more nutrition-related health & performance pitfalls, more often a result of nutrition misinformation by unsuspecting friends, colleagues, health professionals, the media and anyone out to make a quick buck. When it comes to nutrition, it is almost unbelievable what people actually believe and the ways in which they go about trying to improve their health &/or performance with nutrition. Part of my mission (as the sole sport dietitian with Peak Performance) is to educate athletes on how important nutrition is to not only their performance but ultimately their health as well.

Do you think that athletes and teams place enough importance on the role of nutrition on sport performance?

The reality of working as a sport dietitian is that the younger athletes do not have the money to get the sport nutrition education that they need. And coaches/team managers do not often budget for sport nutrition services for their athletes - and this is where the problem comes in. Many an athlete would have been saved years of consistently inconsistent performance, symptoms of overtraining, compromised immune function, disordered eating behaviours, restrictive eating, constant dehydration, even malnutrition, if they had been able to work with a sport dietitian. Instead, athletes have to search out information in magazines, on the web and in books or attend "workshops" hosted by professionals that have a product to promote. It doesn't help the situation when products that have dubious claims sponsor top athletes - this just enhances their sale and subsequent use. Sport supplements are a huge industry - yet few are the athletes that need a supplement of any kind - what they need to do is spend some time learning about how to nourish their body….but this takes time and effort…but like mental visualization for sport performance the effort pays off in the end.

How does an athlete know if they need help with their nutrition?

I encourage athletes to take a good hard look at their eating habits, and ask themselves the following key questions to rate their nutrition:

  1. Do you avoid any of the following food groups?
    • Whole grains, breads and cereals - Yes - No
    • Vegetables - Yes - No
    • Fruits - Yes - No
    • Milk, fortified soy milk, yogurt - Yes - No
    • Cheeses - Yes - No
    • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs - Yes - No
    • Legumes - Yes - No
    • Nuts and seeds - Yes - No
  2. Do you skip meals/snacks (eg breakfast) regularly? - Yes - No
  3. Do you crave or binge on certain foods? - Yes - No
  4. Do you follow a vegetarian diet with little advice? - Yes - No
  5. Do you go "on" and "off" different diets? - Yes - No
  6. Are you currently following a fad diet? (Atkins, Zone, etc) - Yes - No
  7. Do you avoid eating fat? - Yes - No
  8. Do you restrict your carbohydrate intake? - Yes - No
  9. Do you often feel fatigued or low on energy? - Yes - No
  10. Do you often feel irritable and find it hard to concentrate? - Yes - No
  11. Do you feel dizzy and light headed during training? - Yes - No
  12. Do you find it difficult to get through your workouts? - Yes - No
  13. Do you get overuse injuries frequently? - Yes - No
  14. Do you get colds easily? - Yes - No
  15. Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full? - Yes - No
  16. Do you worry you have lost control over what you eat? - Yes - No
  17. Have you recently lost >5 kg or 11 lbs in a three-month period? - Yes - No
  18. Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are not? - Yes - No
  19. Would you say that food dominates your life? - Yes - No

If you answered YES to any of these questions then there are changes you can make to your eating patterns, food choices and timing of food intake to improve your health, your ability to train well and achieve peak performance in your sport.

Do athletes need to live in the Ottawa area, or do you counsel athletes via the Internet?

We work with Canadian athletes who are studying in the States, overseas as well as throughout Canada. We do most of this work over the Internet and phone. Those athletes that live in the Ottawa/Montreal region have the advantage of being able to take part in the sport nutrition workshops that we run - which are very valuable (and economical). I do focus on University athletes, as this is a time in life when many poor eating habits begin. Its also a time when athletes are doing more training then ever before but have competing demands of school, part-time work, socializing and training to deal with. Since moving to Ottawa from Montreal I have started to work with both Ottawa and Carleton University teams as well as continuing my work with McGill athletes.

You have worked with several National Teams. Which ones?

I have worked with and continue to work with athletes from many different National team programs (mogul skiers, paddlers, cyclists (track and road), track and field athletes, gymnasts, trampoline athletes, XC skiers, swimmers, soccer, rugby, hockey and basketball players as well as spinal cord injured athletes). It is rare that any sport dietitian gets to work with an entire team as typically the team management does not budget for this. However this is starting to change. I was fortunate as a new on the job sport dietitian to get the opportunity to work with the Quebec provincial and Canadian National rugby teams. I was a national caliber player at the time and was a good fit for the job as I was well aware of the issues facing elite rugby players. At one of my 1st meetings I was asked by the team physician to talk to the National men's team about alcohol and how it was a negative affecter of their performance on the field after a night of socialization - great….fortunately for me, the Canadian team captain was a friend of my cousin's and I had babysat him when he was about 12 and I was 18 so he helped me gain some instant credibility! It also helped that I was a 5'10" 175 lb back row player that rode into the team meeting covered in mud, after a tough mountain bike ride on a pretty new Cannondale M1800 with Judy shocks….they all wanted to know the specs on my bike and what the trails were like in the Gatineau Park. It;s easy to connect when you're all speaking the same "sport" language! For the women's national team I not only worked on their sport nutrition programs I also developed their conditioning and fitness testing programs over a 3 year period.

Do you counsel teams as a whole through workshops, or work mainly with individual athletes?

I do both, but I prefer to work with athletes by having them attend at least one comprehensive sport nutrition workshop. With the younger athletes, University athletes and training clubs I always counsel the entire team/club with a workshop. This tends to set them on the right track and determine if they have more individual concerns that we need to work on together. It also makes sure that everyone gets the same basic information and lets me debunk some of their nutritional myths. I like athletes to work with their own eating habits and through a series of exercises come to the realization of where they need to do some work. This works very well with the athlete that has a phobia of certain nutrients and is restricting them - often to the detriment of their performance. I want the athlete to be able to tell me where they need to make some changes. That is what we call self-based learning.

We know athletes spend countless hours training their bodies to improve their performance. Do you think athletes pay enough attention to their nutrition needs? How much do you think an athlete's daily diet can affect their performance?

I have always liked the following quotes:

This quote by Ron Maughan, a Scottish sport nutrition scientist, made at the start line of the World Cross Country running championships in 1995:
"The winners….will, without doubt, be highly talented, highly trained and highly motivated. At one time that would have been enough. But these days it is highly likely that everyone in the race will have these qualities…….where everyone else is equal, it is diet that will make the vital difference."

Dave Costill:
"A successful athlete is 60% genetics, 30% perspiration, and 10% nutrition."
"A great diet cannot make an average athlete elite, but a poor diet can make an elite athlete average."

I know from my own research that changing dietary habits can be quite the challenge. Do you think athletes are better at changing their diets than people in the general population?

This is a good question and difficult to answer. I would have to say that it depends upon how important nutrition is on the hierarchy of each athlete's needs. I believe that if anyone is given the proper tools, specific for their disposition and level of confidence with nutrition related behaviours, they will be able to make the changes they need.

Are the nutritional needs of female endurance athletes different from those of male endurance athletes?

We think so - my PhD research will address this question!

Can you tell us more about some of your recent research?

A recent study that I did of University female athletes will soon be published - we found that those athletes subject to body composition assessment by the coaching staff had higher degrees of dissatisfaction with their bodies, leading to dietary restriction of both foods and fluids- the two most important things that would affect their success as athletes. This further supports the Canadian Academy Of Sports Medicine position statement that states that routine body composition assessment as a means of improving performance should be discontinued as one strategy to reduce disordered eating behaviours in female athletes.

The marketing behind many sports nutrition supplements is quite alluring. I'm sure may athletes wonder if some of these supplements will enhance their performance, and if they are worth the cost. What do you think?

Optimal physical performance requires commitment to a well-designed training program, plus working hard or harder and as smart or smarter than your competitors. Once these fundamentals are in place, supplements such as carbohydrate, along with optimal training, may help keep you at your peak performance level. Supplements, however, are NOT a shortcut to performance.

Beth's words of wisdom for optimal health and performance:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat snacks before and after working out
  • Rehydrate, refuel, rest up for recovery
  • Train properly
  • Keep a sport nutrition checklist

If you're read this, you know that Beth has a lot of wisdom to share! Check back next week for Part 2 of this interview, where Beth outlines common problems that she's observed in many athletes, and offers sports nutrition guidelines.

Until then, if you want to learn more about nutrition counseling and Peak Performance's services, check out the following links.

Sport Nutrition Services - www.peakperformance.on.ca/services/nutrition.htm
Corporate Workshops - www.peakperformance.on.ca/services/corporate.htm
Nutrition & Lifestyle Services - www.peakperformance.on.ca/services/lifestyle.htm
Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Program - www.peakperformance.on.ca/services/coping.htm
Peak Performance Resources - www.peakperformance.on.ca/resources/index.htm
Links to Other Articles - www.peakperformance.on.ca/
CTV/CJOH Archives - www.peakperformance.on.ca/scoop/index.htm
Email Beth - beth@peakperformance.on.ca.
Interesting Reading. . .
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