Redskins nutritionist: Fielding nutrition plans for the pros

Sep 16, 2010

Jane Jakubczak, team nutritionist for the Washington Redskins, shares tips for making meals more healthful and eating dos and dont's for athletes.

Poll: Which Redskins great could have benefited from healthier eating habits?

Good Afternoon! 

Thanks for joining me today, I look forward to answering your questions about nutrition so lets get started...

Jane:  Do you develop suggested maximum calorie intake amounts for the Redskins based on their individual weights?

Yes, we all need different amounts of energy (calories) whether we are a pro football player or not, and the calorie requirement is determined by your size (height and weight), your activity level, age and gender.   All of this is taken into consideration when I develop a meal plan.  Each of the players are different, and that is why I like to work with them individually to assess their personal needs and make my recommendations from there.

I live in Texas. What are some snacks that can keep my energy up during the course of a four-hour round of golf?

The key to getting through a long bout of activity is to ensure you are properly fueled and hydrated before you begin.  Make sure you begin water consumption as soon as you wake up and drink fluids throughout the day.  The way to ensure full hydration is to check to make sure your urine in clear to very light yellow.  Before you go out onto the golf course make sure you have a balanced meal of lean protein + complex carbohydrates + fruit/vegetables.   This mix will provide a slow, sustainable infusion of energy over several hours.  On the course you can carry with you non-perishable snacks such as energy bars (look for something about 200 calories with around 10 grams of protein + 30 grams of carbohydrates and some fiber).  Other ideas include nuts and dried fruit, pretzels and string cheese, peanutbutter on crackers, fruit such as grapes, raisins or apple.  It's important to stay hydrated as well - dehydration can cause fatigue.  

Our 15-year-old is a swimmer, and swims/trains two to two-and-a-half hours per day. In addition, he has a PE class everyday for about an hour. What should his daily caloric intake be, and how should that breakdown between carbs, protein, etc.?

It sounds like you have a very active teen there!  I would need much more information to determine individual needs.  I would highly recommend you meeting with a registered dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition.  To find one in your area go to


Hi, Jane. I'm a 5"3 female and I weigh about 92 pounds. I do weight training for 30 minutes three times a week and yoga class once a week. I'm lactose and gluten intolerant, and I have gastroparesis and fibromyalgia (so I try to stay away from sugar). I would really like to gain weight (I'd like to get to 105) while still eating healthy. Any suggestions?

Having various food sensitivities and gastrointestinal issues can make eating a variety of foods and maintaining a healthy weight a challenge.  I would highly recommend seeing a registed dietitian who can do a full dietary assessment and offer you specific recommendations for your situation.  To find a registered dietitian who specializes in food sensitivities and GI issues go to  Best of luck!

Hi, Jane. With a job, long commute and young family, it's all I can do to find about 30 minutes a day to workout. But I do, and have been fairly committed to exercising for the past six months. I'm also trying to eat more protein and gain muscle, but it can be a challenge. "Fast" food is cheaper and quicker. What are some tips for eating healthy when you're short on time and on a budget?

Congratulations on your commitment to exercise!  It can be tough to fit in healthy eating but it is possible.  Most fast food establisments have a few healthy items you can choose from;  Grilled chicken sandwiches with extra lettuce/tomato & hold the mayo, add a side of the sliced apples instead of fries and get a low fat milk or water.  Sub places often have a line of sandwiches with lower fat - choose one of those as a 6" and add bowl of vegetable soup or raisins.  Most places offer grilled chicken salads and you can add a soup or baked potato to round out the meal.  The key is to go into a Fast Food establishment with a plan and not be tempted by the gigantic cheese burger and over the top french fries. 

Are there snacks kept around for the players? If so, what snacks are kept around for Redskins players?

Snacks are a very important part of the players nutrition plan.  It is very unrealistic to try and get all 3000 - 5000 calories into them in just three meals so we plan in two to three snacks as well.  The snacks a player eats may look more like a mini-meal to us.  Some examples include a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with 16 oz milk, turkey sandwich with 16 oz 100% fruit juice, a large smoothie made with yogurt and fruit, and sometimes peanut butter thrown in especially for my guys that need to gain weight. Lots of players like to eat cereal for snack and will add fruit on top. We do have energy bars and granola bars around Redskins Park as well for players to grab on their way to a meeting. 

I see in the sample meal plan that you suggest a post-workout recovery shake. What goes in it? Thanks!

The sports nutrition research that looks at recovery eating has been very positive.  I explain to my players that their muscles are like sponges after they work out/practice and are ready to soak up carbohdrates to restore glycogen (muscle energy) and protein to repair muscle break down.   Research shows a protein-carbohydrate mix of approximately 4:1 within 30 minutes of a workout is optimum for recovery purposes.  Most commercial  recovery shakes meet this guideline, but you don't need to buy the high priced shakes. Lowfat chocolate milk has been shown in studies to be just as effective.  Many of my players like to go into the cafeteria and scoop up a variety of fruit from the salad bar and have the chef throw it in with some milk, yogurt and ice and off they go to their next meeting. 

How important is protein? I have read some nutritionists suggest that athletes should be looking more at improving their intact of vegetables and that there has been an overemphasis on protein. What do you think of such discussions?

I do agree that we put way too much emphasis on protein at the expense of other nutrients.  Protein is very important to an athlete (and others) to repair muscle breakdown, support a healthy immune system and recovery from injury but we need the vitamins and minerals  from fruit and vegetables for our body to utilize protein optimally.  I encourage a balanced diet between lean protein, whole grain carbs, unsaturated fats, low fat dairy and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables.  I explain to my athletes that if you  focus on one nutrient (i.e. protein) it's like sending the quarterback out on the field without the rest of the team -- one nutrient or one player can not win the game. It's truly a team effort for football and nutrition!   For a visual I tell my athletes their plate should be 1/4 protein + 1/4 carbohydrate + 1/2 fruit and/or vegetables.  That is an optimal ratio for a performance and health enhancing meal. 

What kinds of food are the best to eat when hunger strikes, and it's after midnight? Could you give an example of a sample meal at midnight?

Ahhh, the "late at night question." I'm so glad you brought this up.  I also like that you stated that you are "hungry" -- a very important point.  It is okay to eat at night IF you are truly hungry.  When you have hunger signals your body is telling you it's low on fuel and it's time to eat.  The key to late night eating is portion control and food choices.  In terms of portion, you need to eat enough to get you to bedtime without being hungry. This usually can be a 150 - 300 calorie snack (portion it out).  In terms of food choices, the things we tend to crave at night (and see advertised on TV) are usually not the healthiest options and very easy to over eat.  Some late night ideas I recommend to my clients include a bowl of cereal with low fat milk, yogurt with fruit and granola, low fat popcorn, lowfat cheese with whole grain crackers, frozen grapes, apple slices with peanut butter.  All these things are a good combo of protein and carbs and nutrient dense. They will be easier to control portions and will sustain you to bedtime.  Hope this helps!

As I get older (30's compared to 20's), are there certain foods my body will need more of to continue an athletic lifestyle?

In terms of longevity I believe the key is to continue to be focused on eating a variety of foods including lots of fruits and vegetables that provide us with antioxidants.  Free radicals play a role in aging and can hamper the recovery process.  As we get older we need to ensure we are eating lots of leafy greans, red/yellow/orange vegetables and whole grains.  There is some research on Omega 3 fatty acids as well and you can find them in fish such as salmon and tuna or walnuts and flaxseed.  Strive to eat Omega 3 rich foods at least twice a week and include a variety of colors in your fruits and vegetables every day. And avoid gaining weight as you age. That is one of the most important things you can do in terms of your future health. 

Other than quantity, what are the most important differences in diet between football positions? Does a tackler's diet differ from a cornerback?

There is not much difference between positions in terms of their diet makeup except, as you mentioned, the calorie requirement. Where there is a difference in diet recommendation  is in relations to the player's  body composition goals.  For instance, if a player needs to lose weight I will decrease their fat intake and increase the percentage of calories coming for protein (to preserve lean mass) and ensure they are eating moderate amounts of carbohydrates for energy.  For a player who needs to gain weight I increase the percentage of calories coming from healthy fat (it helps increase calories without too much bulk) and keep protein and carbs moderate.  There is also a bit of a difference in ratio of percent of calories during off season strength and conditioning vs. in season and of course a difference in calorie requirements off season. 

Hello! I've recently began a running training program, and my coach suggested meeting with a dietitian. My health insurance surprisingly covers this. Any suggestions on how to prepare, the kinds of questions to ask, etc? I want to get the most benefit out of my sessions. Thanks!

I love the idea you want to get the most out of your session!  I would recommend keeping a food record for the week prior to the appointment. Try to eat as you normally would that week so that the RD can assess where you are.  Write down times/food and beverage/amount.  Bring any medication or supplements you are taking and any other health hx info you may have.  Write down all your nutrition questions before hand because often times when you get into the appointment you may forget things.  I love when my clients come in with their questions written down.  I hope that helps!

Is high fructose corn syrup any worse for us than normal sugar? I keep seeing those "corn sugar" ads and wondering if I need to keep avoiding it.

There is a lot of different ideas and opinions when it comes to HFCS.  My quick answer to this is that if we all concentrated on eating fresh, unprocessed, whole foods such as lean proteins, low fat dairy, whole grains and lots and lots of fruits and vegetables then we don't need to worry so much about HFCS.  I don't believe its so much the HFCS that is the problem -- it's the types of food we find HFCS in: cookies, cakes, candy, soda, pastries, high sugared cereal, etc.  If we reduce the consumption of these processed types of foods we will automatically reduce our consumption of HFCS. 

Our time together is running out, and I am sorry I did not get to everyone's questions.   Thank you for your participation in this live chat and I wish you all lots of happiness and health.

Go Skins!!! 

Sincerely, Jane

In This Chat
Jane Jakubczak
Jane Jakubczak is the team nutritionist for the Washington Redskins and a dietitian at the University of Maryland College Park. She has completed five marathons and two triathlons.
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