By Alexander Lehmbeck
Crozet resident Randy Bird is the director of sports nutrition at the University of Virginia, one of the few schools that have a full-time sports nutritionist. He has been at UVa three years.
Bird has always had a passion for sports and it led him to be a sports nutritionist. “I played basketball and baseball growing up. I always wanted to be involved in sports. Initially I thought I would go into medicine,” he said. “But when I was at school I found the nutrition program and decided I would like that more than medical school.” So Bird earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition from Virginia Tech.
After beginning his career as a dietitian, he moved into college athletics and spent five years at the University of Kansas before coming to Virginia. ‘’I grew up in Lynchburg, so it was a way to come back home,” Bird said.
Bird said U.Va.’s athletics dining facility, which is available to all its athletes, is one of the top three in the country. One reason is because of its location inside John Paul Jones Arena. That means players are usually very close to the facility when they finish practice. “Many universities really restrict access to it to just their football team,” Bird said. “It’s an example of how the athletic department here takes pride in every one of our sports and wants to be successful in every sport.”
The second reason is the food. “We have a very good chef. He does not use the processed frozen foods that a lot of dining halls use. We have deliveries of fresh food coming in on a regular basis.” The dining hall is set up so that the athletes first encounter the salad bar with lots of fresh vegetables and next the cooked vegetables, fresh fruits, starches, and proteins. The menu always includes a chicken option, a fish option, and they rotate beef and pork.
The players really appreciate Bird’s help. “He’s very flexible with how he’s able to accommodate so many athletes,” said red-shirt senior wrestler Jon Fausey. “He’s got hundreds of athletes he has to accommodate. He lays out tips in a very encouraging way.”
Malcolm Brogdon, a red-shirt sophomore on the basketball team, thinks Bird has really made a difference. “He gave me a regimen of what to eat and what not to eat. I think he’s really good at what he does.” Brogdon said the best tip Mr. Bird has given him is to hydrate. “The main thing is to hydrate no matter what you do. Drink a lot of water, whether that be just to keep your body replenished or to keep your metabolism going at a high speed.”
Senior basketball guard Joe Harris said Bird has helped Harris with his weight after his injury. “My weight has gone up a little bit since I got injured at the beginning of the summer and I wasn’t able to do [as many exercises], I have to cut out some of the starchier foods, like taking out the bread, pasta and stuff like that. That was probably the best tip I’ve gotten from him.”
“I’d say the most frequent advice I give is about the timing of when they eat,” said Bird. “Many athletes are so extremely busy with their class schedule, practice schedule and workouts, that it’s really easy to skip times when they should be eating, so my most frequent advice is about trying to get our athletes to fuel every few hours so that they have steady energy all day long. If they do not do this, they may not have energy when they need it during practice and workouts.”
There is no typical day for Bird. “Things change from season to season, month to month. I work with 14 of our athletic teams. I have an assistant who helps me out with the other teams. What I do ranges from giving team presentations, giving the basics to each team on what they should be doing day to day to recover from workouts, have energy for their practices and to perform their best. Then I do individual consultations that help our athletes reach their goals. That can mean making sure they have the energy they need for workouts. Or it could be about muscle gain or fat loss. It could be health-related issues. We have a few athletes with diabetes and other chronic diseases that need help from a nutrition standpoint. I do body composition testing and supplement evaluation, making sure our athletes are not taking something that is harmful or banned that could cause them to fail a drug test.”
Bird also manages the Bod Pod, a piece of equipment detects body mass, volume, and density.
One of the most important aspects of eating healthy is to eat a healthy breakfast, Bird said. “We want to make sure we start with a great breakfast because that revs up your metabolism and gives you energy for the day.” Not eating much at breakfast and lunch causes back loading, where you overeat at dinner, he said. Bird recommends eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. He generally splits fruits and vegetables into five color categories: green, red, yellow/orange, white, and blue/purple. “The green category is the one I want people to eat every single day, but throughout the week we need to make sure we are getting options from every other color as well.”
Bird said that he likes living in Crozet. “I really enjoy living here. When we first moved back to Virginia I noticed how beautiful Crozet is. It was an area we kept our eye on when we were deciding to buy a house. Crozet is a very good community.”
Bird’s Nutritional Tips for Athletes
Things to Do:
- Have protein before and after you lift weights. The easiest solution is one or two chocolate milks before you lift and a shake afterward.
- Come to workouts hydrated. Muscles are 75 percent water. Drink at least 20 ounces of water or Gatorade after a run.
- Eat four or five times a day and don’t wait long between meals. This strategy leads to better blood sugar control, lower stress hormone production, lower body fat and more lean muscle. (This isn’t a license to eat whatever you want.)
- Include lean protein every time you eat. Good choices are nonfat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, reduced-fat cheese, eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, beans and whey protein. For beef and pork, look for “loin,” “flank” and “round.”
- Include fruits or vegetables at every meal and snack. The ideal amount of produce is about nine servings. It’s very difficult to achieve this amount without some produce with each meal or snack.
- Sleep! This is when muscles recover and hormones are regulated. If you get seven to nine hours, you are doing well.
Mistakes That Can Sabotage Hard Work:
- Failing to eat properly after training and competing. Protein and carbohydrate recovery is essential to get the benefit of a workout. Replenish carbohydrates that were used up. Protein repairs muscles that were damaged.
- Inadequate sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with decreased growth hormone levels and increased cortisol, a recipe for muscle loss and fat storage.
- Skipping breakfast. It will make you more likely to be hungry later and overeat at lunch and dinner. Eating more at the end of the day is associated with less muscle mass and more body fat.
- Not enough fruits and vegetables. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in these foods help you recover from workouts and ward off illness. They provide fiber and water for hydration.
- Inadequate fluid intake. Divide your weight in half; this is the minimum amount of fluid you should drink daily. Alcoholic beverages do not count.