Jason Machowsky’s credentials are so extensive, his name is followed by just about every letter of the alphabet. No, really: M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., R.C.E.P., C.S.C.S. Translation: This guy is highly qualified to advise athletes on the proper way to fuel for their sport.
As a sports dietitian, Machowsky empowers athletes to optimize their performance and recovery through food, and integrate healthy eating habits into their routines. He currently serves on the United States Olympic Committee Sports Dietitian Registry, where he works closely with Olympians and Olympic hopefuls as they pursue gold. Here he shares realistic tips on how you can achieve your own healthy eating goals and nourish your body from the inside out.
What’s a typical day like on the job?
My typical day varies. On a given day, I might perform a nutrition consult for an endurance athlete, a weight management client, or a young athlete competing in a sport. I might also do comprehensive fitness assessments for a variety of clients. Or training sessions with clients who have been working with me anywhere from a few months to a few years.
What’s it like working with Olympians versus other athletes?
Olympic and elite athletes usually have tremendous amounts of motivation and accountability to help them perform better. For the average person, I sometimes have to spend more time building motivation for change or keeping them accountable, whereas I can often provide education and guidance to a high-level athlete and they will run with it.
That being said, there are plenty of high-level athletes who are able to get by on raw talent. At times, injuries and dips in performance become opportunities to educate athletes on ways to maximize their recovery and performance.
How does food play a role in an Olympic athlete’s training and performance?
It's tremendously important. Food provides the fuel for training hard and the building blocks for recovery. Certain nutrition recommendations for the average person may not necessarily apply to an athlete. For example, endurance athletes need more salt (electrolytes) and sugar while training than someone who is not moving much. Athletes may also need to eat higher-calorie foods (think large servings of pasta, chocolate milk, smoothies, etc.) than the average person. That being said, everyone needs to eat their vegetables.
What can the average person take from that?
I think we should view food as a way to nourish our body and choose foods that love us back. It's unrealistic not to acknowledge that food can play more roles than just fuel in our lives, and that is OK.
What’s something that Olympians struggle with in terms of food and diet?
Some Olympic athletes have to take an extremely regimented approach to their eating to make sure they are adapting exactly as they need to be so they can maximize their performance. Often small differences in ability can mean the difference between gold and no medal at all. This isn't always the best approach in the long run, but Olympic athletes do it short term (even four years) because they know it's for a particular goal.
Unfortunately, sometimes being too focused on eating only healthy foods can lead to disordered eating patterns, which is another issue across many sports, especially ones where weight class, power-to-weight ratio, or a person's figure are emphasized. Developing a balanced, healthy relationship with food is ultimately the best goal for long-term health, even after an individual's Olympic years are over.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Getting to be a part of creating meaningful change in someone's life through health, fitness, or performance.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
I got into this field to help others live healthier, happier lives, so it can be challenging when I work with someone and they are not achieving their goals. Over time, you have to learn not to be so hard on yourself because the clinician can only do so much. It is up to the client to execute the plans we build together.
Is there something we can all do to think more like an Olympian?
Olympians have a clear goal, which makes decision-making easier. They have a lens through which to view each decision and decide whether it will help them reach their goal or not.
Determine what your gold is and go after it. Many of us can have multiple golds: career gold, family gold, health gold. The key is to find it, which is sometimes the hardest task.
And just for fun... what’s the background on your phone right now?
My daughter. She will be turning 1 in July.
Coffee or no coffee?
Coffee. No more than two cups... most of the time.
Favorite guilty pleasure?
Quotes edited for clarity.