Our profile of registered dietitian nutritionists continues today with a field near and dear to my heart: sports nutrition. I was lucky enough to meet Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, a few years ago, after being a fan of hers since I started in the field of nutrition. Cynthia is a NYC and LA-based sports nutritionist and the owner of Sass Consulting Services, Inc. where she works with a variety of sports teams. She is currently the nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets (go New York!). Here is her story and a day in the life of a sports nutritionists.
How long have you been working as a sports nutritionist?
I’ve been a sports nutritionist for about 20 years and have been a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) since 2006, the first year this credential was offered.
How did you get into sports nutrition?
In graduate school at Syracuse University I was a teaching assistant for an amazing professor who was a true pioneer in sports nutrition. Because of her influence, I began working with athletes shortly after graduation. I had been an athlete in high school and like many young athletes, I had no exposure to nutrition education. The connection was eye opening.
What does a typical day as a sports nutritionist look like?
There definitely is no typical day. It may include working with athletes one-on-one, working with sports medicine staff, chefs, coaches, or agents, creating nutrition education materials, reading research, creating or reviewing menus, giving presentations or brief talks, writing articles, developing recipes, giving grocery store tours, assessing or testing new products, making smoothies, and more.
What is the number one question athletes ask you?
It varies a lot based on what’s in the news, and depending on the sport. Questions about gluten-free diets continue to be common.
What is the biggest benefit of having a dietitian working with a sports team?
I believe the key benefit is the ability to create a concrete nutrition philosophy that can be executed consistently, in terms of the education that’s shared and the foods and beverages provided to the athletes. It’s also important to have a dietitian as a resource for players and staff to support the goals of preventing injuries, optimizing performance, promoting recovery, and enhancing overall wellness.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing the near immediate impact nutrition can have on an individual is incredibly rewarding. I love talking to an athlete one-on-one to explain the reasoning behind my recommendations, so he or she really understands the whys behind my advice in a way that truly makes sense. When an athlete tells me, “I tried what you recommended and I feel so much better” (as far as energy, endurance, digestive health, sleep, etc.) I’m on cloud nine.
What is the one thing you wish people knew about sports nutritionists?
We don’t just push protein, and we’re not all about supplements. The best sports nutritionists I know promote a food first approach and hold a whole foods philosophy.
What is the one thing you wish people knew about sports nutrition?
That it’s not just about calories in and calories out. Sports nutrition involves recommending the right quality, balance, and timing of foods in ways that are very strategic. Even if you’re not a professional athlete, the same general principles apply if you are active. You may not need to eat as much or as often as a pro, but the strategies behind fueling and nourishing your body still apply.