Fueling for Optimal Athletic Performance with Amy Schell

I recently met a fantastic dietician here in my sleepy little town.  I decided to interview her about the nutrition side of weight loss, and how we can work together to ensure amazing success for our clients.  Amy Schell is a registered dietician that can help you reach athletic success, weight loss, or help you improve your relationship with food!

1. What made you want to be a dietitian?
Growing up, even as a very active child, I struggled with my body image. It seemed as though everywhere I turned people were giving me uninvited advice on what I should be eating, and what I should not be eating. This was very frustrating for me because a lot of this advice was very contradictory. It was sometime after this that I started researching food and nutrition; it was a topic that just made sense to me, it was then that I knew I found my passion.
Since the beginning of my journey exploring the world of food and nutrition, I have learned that food is about so much more than food we perceive to be “healthy” or “not healthy.” (Foods are not healthy, we are healthy and foods are nutritious!) Being a dietitian allows me to help increase peoples access to food, promote sustainable food practices, and aid in the development of new food practices, contribute to research and help shape food and nutrition policies in a variety of public and community settings.

2. Where did you take your schooling?
I initially started my degree at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus. In my second year of study, I transferred to Acadia University in Nova Scotia where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics with Honours. From there I completed a very competitive one year post-graduate internship with Annapolis Valley Health, and pass my CDRE national exam.

3. What’s your favorite part of being a registered dietitian?
My favorite part of being a dietitian is that I literally get to talk to people about food all day!  Also, honestly helping people make sense of foods with all of the misinformation out there today from social media. I have witnessed how this overload of nutrition misinformation can be very stressful for some people and helping them alleviate these fears and concerns around food can be very rewarding.

4. What is the biggest reason clients struggle with weight loss when it comes to nutrition?
It really all depends on the client. Unfortunately there is no one reason why some people struggle with weight management and nutrition. One common culprit is skipping breakfast! I know this is an old cliché but it’s true. I know many people report that they are not hungry in the morning or cannot tolerate food first thing, which is common, but is it something you can train your body to do. The more nutrition and food we can into the body first thing in the morning, the more fuel energy we will have to meet our needs for the day. Eating breakfast also stabilizes blood sugar levels which prevents cravings later on in the day, and will also prevent overeating at lunch and dinner meals.
Another few common mishaps are: dehydration, portion sizing and low vegetable consumption.
Dehydration can lend itself to unsuccessful weight loss. Being dehydrated can lead to fatigue, headaches and hunger. Most people assume they are hungry when in actual fact, they might be thirsty. So having a large glass of water when you wake up in the morning and before each meal with help with fullness and will also aid in digestion and the metabolism of food eaten.
When it comes to portion sizes, most people over consume too much food at meals. A good visual gauge is to use your hands as guides. A serving of grains or starches should be the size of your closed fist. Protein should be the size of the palm of your hand and veggies should always be half your plate. I find that most people already know the appropriate serving sizes but still choose to opt for larger portions.
A low intake of vegetables throughout the day is a very common occurrence as well. Vegetables are jammed packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, water and other nutrients. These foods promote weight-loss and protect against some cancers and other chronic disease. Also the fiber content adds bulk to your meals so you feel full sooner and are more satisfied.

5. What is the biggest problem with “Fad Diets” and how do you suggest people avoid them?
I think the biggest problem with “Fad Diets” is that they don’t work! Sure, you can argue that you lost weight on one of them before, or someone you know has, and we have all seen those before and after Facebook post! But in reality that weight loss is not long term and it is not sustainable. Fads Diets come in many different shapes and sizes. Some, you buy books and cut out a complete food group like carbohydrates, sugar (which is a carb), or fat. Some diets are meal replacements or shakes and some are in the form of a pill or supplement. There are even some diets where you don’t even need to eat food at all you just juice, cleanse, or detox. The catch is one day you will be hungry again and you will need to eat real food. All of these methods and products require you to pay a lot of money where someone on the other end is going to get wealthier for it. Most of these diets restrict certain foods, calories, and essential macro or micronutrients. This can result in a decrease water weight, decrease in muscle mass, varied blood sugars and weight loss. Which is true of course, you cut enough calories you will lose weight eventually, but what else are you losing for a smaller number on the scale?
These fads and products are expensive, so unless you are committed to spend that amount of money for the rest of your life and restricting your food intake; I suggest to eat real whole foods and rather spend your money on some fresh produce and a cooking class than on a product that will only work short term and will probably make you gain more weight in the long term.
Quick weight-loss through a popular diet trend unfortunately doesn’t teach you how to eat healthy, cook food, meal plan or prep so when you are done on the diet, then what??? Change the way you interact with food and you can change your life.
6. When is the best time to eat before a workout, and what are some good options for these meals?
There is nothing worse than heading into a workout feeling tired or sluggish and not having the energy to get the most out of your workout. In general having a well-balanced meal more than an hour before your workout is a good idea. Ensure that the meal has a good source of complex-carbohydrates, veggies, protein, and a piece of whole fruit or milk/alternative. Carbohydrates are our body’s main source of fuel and energy. Carbohydrates choices are: grains and starches, fruit, and some dairy products. Carbohydrates give our muscles the energy to jump higher, run faster and workout longer. If you head into a workout after having just a salad and maybe some chicken, you may notice that you may become more tired sooner and don’t have enough energy to get through your workout. The closer you are to your workout, the more what you eat becomes important. Proteins like meat, nuts, seeds, tofu, and shakes; and fats, oils, butters, avocados, and cheese take longer for our bodies to digest. If you eat these foods within an hour of exercising you may notice that you might have cramps, bloating, stomach pain and low energy. We want to avoid these foods within one hour of working out. So the closer you get to exercising you want to eat more carbohydrate foods with little fiber. These will give your body the energy it needs to get through your workout and none of discomfort.

7. What about post workout? What are the benefits to eating within a “window” after your workout session?
After a workout you have most likely used up the majority of your glycogen stores (carbohydrates stored in your muscle cells for fuel and energy), so it is important to replenish those stores for your next workout. It is a good idea to have a small snack that includes a carbohydrate and protein together, if your next meal is more than an hour away. This snack could be any piece of fruit and a Greek yogurt, crackers and cheese, fruit and nuts or cottage cheese, be creative. Your next main meal should also include a serving or two of grains or starches, veggies, protein and a fruit or milk/alternative.

8. Do you have any other advice for weight loss clients?
Always start with small manageable changes and realistic goals. I see a lot of people who want to cut out everything in one day and hopefully lose 10–20 lbs in a few short weeks. This isn’t always sustainable or healthy for our bodies to go through. Healthy weight-loss is 1-2 lbs per week, so loosing 8lbs in a month or 16 in two months is achievable and realistic and you will probably keep the weight off long-term. Weight-loss is a healthy living journey, where you can learn and develop healthy eating habits for long term success; weight-loss isn’t a two week affair.
If I had to give one simple piece of advice it would be learn to love food and eat your veggies. Eat whole foods that are nutritious and promote health instead of eating packaged and processed foods that can add a lot of unwanted ingredients and additives into our diet which will take the place of more nutrient dense foods.
There are also a few research studies that have concluded people who plan and prep their meals at the beginning of the week have success eating more nutritious well balanced meals and report cravings less often.

Amy Schell, Registered Dietitian
Sports Dietitian