Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Interview with Bob Seebohar

Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a leading sports dietician, triathlon coach, and strength coach who has worked with some of America’s finest Olympic sport athletes.   He is the author of several books and DVD’s, such as Metabolic Efficiency Training, Nutrition Periodization for Athletes, and Nutrition Periodization for Athletes.   For more information on Bob along with his products and services, please visit his main website at Fuel4mance.  

1) Thanks for the interview, Bob!  Please introduce yourself to our readers…how you got started in your fields, credentials, current duties, and your own athletic pursuits.

I grew up an athlete so when I got to college, while I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, I knew it had to be something in athletics. As I studied exercise physiology, I became engaged in how the human body worked.  I had the opportunity to work with collegiate athletes to help them with their performance nutrition during my undergrad and never looked back.  I later pursued two masters degrees, one in exercise physiology and the other in food science and human nutrition, where I was able to earn my Registered Dietitian credential.  I have worked extremely hard to develop my skills and have been fortunate enough to be a sport dietitian at many universities including the University of Florida and most recently, as a sport dietitian for the US Olympic Committee where I worked with Olympians. 

I am one of the first Board Certified Specialists in Sports Dietetics, USA Triathlon Level III Elite and Youth/Junior coach and have been blessed to have coached and been on the performance team of many Olympians including triathletes, rowers, sailors and marathoners.  Currently, I am an entrepreneur and own Fuel4mance, a sports nutrition consulting business, Kids that TRI, a non-profit youth and junior triathlon team and co-own Elite Multisport Coaching with 2004 Olympic Triathlon Bronze Medalist Susan Williams.  Most of my days are spent coaching adults and youth, assisting athletes with their performance nutrition plans and writing projects such as books.

As I mentioned previously, I grew up an athlete and switched from a team sport athlete (soccer and basketball) to an endurance athlete in 1993.  I enjoy being competitive in the sports of triathlon, duathlonultrarunning and ultracycling and have completed many Ironman triathlons and the Leadville 100 mile run and mountain bike.  In fact, in 2009, I became a Leadman, completing all six events in Leadville in a 7 week time span.

2) Offseason weight gain is a popular topic after the holidays and during these winter months.  Can you describe why intentionally gaining weight in the offseason can be a bad idea?    

You bet.  I don't doubt that some athletes can overcome (and lose) a few pounds that they may put on during the offseason.  However, there are two problems with this.  First, the mental destruction of weight gain plagues many athletes.  When body weight goes up, self confidence and belief in self are significantly reduced.  Secondly, it takes much less time to put on weight than it does to take off weight, safely.  This could produce a higher risk of injury for the athlete if he/she enters their base season heavier as they have more mechanical load on their joints, tendons and ligaments. 

3) What should athletes look for when consulting nutrition professionals, such as credentials and questions to ask?

There are a few items to look for in a nutrition professional.  The first the RD credential.  Being a Registered Dietitian is a cornerstone credential to seek out as is the relatively new certification, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sport Dietetics), which only RDs can acquire.  Lastly, degrees and credentials are nothing without real life experience so search for someone who has been "in the trenches", understands athletes and is an athlete themselves.  It helps greatly for a nutrition professional to understand the rigors of of what physical, mental and nutritional challenges athletes are faced with day after day.

4)  Coaches are often jacks of all trades (training plans, strength, equipment, psychology, skills, strategy, etc.), but nutrition is a field with board licensure.  Any advice on how coaches and athletes can navigate this gray area?

The safest bet for coaches is to not prescribe but rather educate about nutrition.  Like any professional trade where liability is a legal concern, coaches should not move into the nutrition prescription or medical nutrition therapy (working with those with a disease state) realms.

5)  What are the most common nutrition errors you see in endurance athletes at all levels?

Well, there are quite a few but the top ones that I run across are lack of understanding the need to periodize nutrition to training cycle (my eat to train, not train to eat mantra), the misconceptions and misuse of carbohydrate loading and not focusing on improving the body's efficiency of using its stored nutrients (metabolic efficiency). 

6)  Why is it important to examine behavior/psychological patterns as relating to athletic nutrition?

There is a strong relationship between the brain and food choices.  In fact, the incidence of emotional eating predominates in our society.  Many athletes will find themselves eating when they are happy, sad, bored or fatigued.  This can cause significant ebbs and flows with blood sugar control throughout the day and make the athlete feel out of control because they do not know why they are eating.  I often ask athletes to log the "why" behind eating so they can explore the subconscious eating patterns that their bodies are doing.

7)  As a general rule, are there any foods/nutrients that every endurance athlete should emphasize regardless of training cycle?

There are a few, more from a health perspective.  Omega-3 fats are a big one because these fats can help reduce silent inflammation.  Antioxidants, specifically from fruits and vegetables, are another to help with quenching free radicals.  Both silent inflammation and free radicals increase with training.  Water is another one from a pure hydration standpoint.  I see quite a few endurance athletes who do not like water and thus reach to artificial drinks, sports drinks or the like.  I promote water (and water containing foods such as fruits and vegetables) whenever possible.

8)  Misconceptions abound regarding Metabolic Efficiency Training.  Can you describe what Metabolic Efficiency Training is, and how it differs from Paleo, low carb, or depletion diets (as we’ve seen it compared to all three in the mainstream discourse)?

Metabolic Efficiency Training (MET) is a concept that was developed from science.  The MET concept is centered on the control of blood sugar to regulate the body's hormones, specifically insulin.  When blood sugar is controlled, there is not a high amount of insulin that is secreted from the pancreas and thus this creates an opportunity for the body to utilize more of its internal stores of fat (in excess of 80,000 calories).  However, when blood sugar is not controlled and spikes, the pancreas can become overworked with the secretion of insulin which not only significantly decreases the body's ability to burn fat but it also predisposes the person for developing insulin resistance, which is a precursor to some chronic disease states.

By combining foods, specifically lean protein and fiber, blood sugar can be controlled much better, the body can utilize more of its stored fat as energy and the athlete will keep their pancreas happy.  The nice thing about MET is that, as mentioned previously, it is based on science.  Basic biochemistry and metabolism principles dictate the concept and science supports the eating regimen.  Much research has been done in successful weight loss and satiety and the underlying principles are not necessarily calorie counting but the stabilization of blood sugar.

Additionally, MET enables the body to have steady energy throughout the entire day (due to the blood sugar stabilization principle) thus athletes will not experience the afternoon energy crash and they will have energy to perform any training session no matter the time of day.

9)  Can you compare the challenges of planning nutrition for professional athletes versus the challenges related to age groupers?

Professionals and elites are sometimes easier to work with because their schedules allow for more opportunities to plan and prepare.  I find that in age-group athletes, time is a constraint and thus trying to balance work, family, social and training gets challenging in terms of devoting time to their nutrition.  The best way to be successful with a nutrition program is to put time into the front end and plan and prepare.

Additionally, elites usually spend a good portion of their day training and recovering so nutrient timing becomes much more methodical.  It is still important with age-groupers but nutrient timing is a part of an elite's career that cannot be overlooked.  Age-groupers will sometimes enter training sessions malnourished or dehydrated due to their busy schedules but elites cannot afford to do this.

10)  You also work with kids, both locally with your own team Kids that Tri and at the federation level.   Any tips on how parents can encourage healthy eating in young endurance athletes?

It is definitely challenging at times but the important thing to remember is that parents must not only plan and prepare but also expose their kids to the same food repeatedly.  The "picky eater" phenomenon only exists because kids have not had enough opportunities to decide if they like a food or not.  As an example, if a child does not like steamed broccoli, the parent should introduce broccoli in another manner, such as in a casserole or in a stir fry.  Repetition is the key with teaching kids about foods and helping them explore their likes and dislikes. 

11)  I hear some big competition will happen in London this summer… Please tell us what you have planned this year leading up to that and what projects you have going forward.

Yes, it surely will be an exciting year.  I am working closely with our US Sailing Olympic team getting them ready for the Olympics and provide consultations for the USA Triathlon National team when necessary.  Since the Games are in London, there are far less food challenges versus the last Games thus most of my work is not helping athletes choose what foods to bring but more focused on nutrient timing and supplement use to achieve optimal performance in the Olympics. 

Additionally, I am working on another book that will help young athletes, their parents and coaches navigate the nutrition world.  There is not much information about sports nutrition for youth so I will provide that in an easy to understand book that will include all of the tools needed to eat to support growth and development and performance.  Expect that to hit the shelves toward the end of 2012. 

**Thanks again for a great interview, Bob!  Readers, don't forget to visit Bob's site Fuel4mance for more info about what he has to offer for coaches and athletes alike.


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