Community Engagement
The Art and Science of Performance Nutrition
Leslie Bonci
Leslie Bonci
Leslie Bonci is a nutrition consultant and sports dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Kansas City Chiefs, Toronto Blue Jays and Carnegie Mellon University. Bonci consults with Sodexo to create customized menu offers for Universities sports clients.

Just like a beautifully executed football play of a dancer in a ballet, performance nutrition is the synergy and symphony of the science, the presentation and the application to help athlete and performance artists meet their goals.

Food and fluid are the internal equipment to optimize strength, speed , stamina, recovery, injury prevention and body composition goals. So, the delivery is key. Food needs to be available in the right form, the right amount and best quality to complement training, practices and competitive events.

What are some of the challenges when it comes to proper fueling?

  • Erratic class and practice schedules
  • Food is not available around the time of workouts/practices
  • Lack of appetite or worry about potential of GI distress if food is consumed pre practice
  • Lack of time post practice and class, meetings, or tutoring that results in skipped meals
  • Inconvenience of the dining halls
  • Eating is not a priority for the athlete

In addition, we need to consider the athletes’ influencers and beliefs surrounding food

Some of the most common sports nutrition myths are

  • No eating after 7
  • Carbs are bad
  • Carbs should only be consumed in the morning if you are trying to lose weight
  • Animal protein is bad
  • Dairy is bad
  • Gluten is unhealthy

The goal is not food elimination but customization. Foods that are taken off the plate, bowl or glass need to be replaced appropriately.

Athletes and performance artists may think about fueling the night before or day of an event or a performance but don’t always pay as much attention to their eating other days of the week. The variability and inconsistency in meal timing, meal frequency and food choices can be minimized through the presence of fueling stations and performance eating destinations to make it easy for athletes to fuel well every day.

So why is this so important? Athletes and performance artists who are inadequately fueled and hydrated may experience

  • Declines in performance ( decreased strength, speed, stamina)
  • Declines in energy levels and potentially concentration which can then impact academic work
  • Increased perceived effort of exertion which negatively impacts performance
  • Increased risk of illness
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Harder time achieving body goals

So here are the top 5 performance eating goals for athletes:

  • Prime time with eating- parenthesize exercise with food and fluid in the right amount, right form
  • Think your drink: enough fluid, adequate electrolytes, and variety
  • Create a Great plate that includes all necessary fuel substrates: protein, carbohydrate and fat
  • Be consistent with the number of eating occasions every day of the week
  • Optimize body composition goals through customized eating plan

Food should provide the comfort the familiar, the function and the enjoyment that helps the athlete recharge, reboot and recover. Our goal is to make food available, accessible, and enjoyable with consistency in quality, quantity and the food diversity that addresses the needs of all of our athletes.

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