Sports Dietitian Leslie Bonci Shares Nutrition Tips for Athletes

When it comes to getting fit and in shape, there’s one thing that athletes and dietitians will agree on – it all starts in the kitchen. What you eat is even more important than how often you work out. Take Tom Brady for instance, he credits his meal plan for allowing him to compete at the highest level possible. If you’re a professional athlete, someone who runs marathons or a guy or gal looking to get in shape, you’re in luck. Pittsburgh Steelers dietitian, Leslie Bonci joined me for an interview to share some of the most amazing tips for athletes and non-athletes!

Leslie dished on the perfect breakfast, healthy and delicious snacks, dietary tips she shares with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, ballet and much more! This interview took place in 2011 and it is just as relevant today, as it was when the interview took place. I hope you enjoy it!


On Wednesday I had the great pleasure of speaking with Leslie Bonci, highly acclaimed dietitian to the six time Super Bowl champions, Pittsburgh Steelers, on eating healthy and getting in Super Bowl shape!


Pittsburgh Steelers dietitian Leslie Bonci joined Candace Rose Anderson of the website Candie Anderson to dish her top nutrition tips for athletes.
Pittsburgh Steelers dietitian Leslie Bonci joined Candace Rose Anderson of the website Candie Anderson to dish her top nutrition tips for athletes.

Leslie Bonci – U.S. Women’s Rugby Foundation


How Proper Nutrition Plays A Role On The Field

Candie Anderson: In addition to working out, how does proper nutrition and eating healthy play into a winning season?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, one of the things that we always talk about is the idea of equipping the body internally and basically that’s what food and fluid do. So that I mean by that is the timing, it is the quantity and most importantly, it’s the quality. What is on that plate or in that bowl or in that glass that my players are having to allow their body to be the best it can be.”


Helmet2Pittsburgh Steelers UK


How Athletes Can Stay Healthy In The Offseason

Candie Anderson: How about in the offseason? Do players need to be as cautious about what they eat during their downtime?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, eating is something that happens 365 days a year and quite frankly when we think about the offseason, the offseason is time to restore and replete and rebuild. And so how do we translate that into quality foods? Well, that means we’ve got fruits and vegetables on the plate, we also have lean proteins on the plate and I really love the idea of incorporating in more plant-based protein and that’s why we look at whole soy and particularly a whole soy food- the soyjoy bar is easy, it’s within a reasonable calorie cap because they don’t always work out as hard when it is the offseason and it tastes terrific.”


BananaBanana Soyjoy Bar (I highly recommend this flavor! YUMM!) – Soyjoy


Candie Anderson: I tried one yesterday, it was delicious!

Leslie Bonci: “And because it is whole soy and also fruit as well, so you are getting two for two. You’ve got two components of that plate in something that tastes great and does it for all of us without having any prep and in a reasonable amount of calories.”


How Non-Athletes Can Ramp Up Diet and Fitness Routine

Candie Anderson: What can we do to ramp up our diet and fitness routine like the athletes?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, I think one of things we can do is decide one thing differently. Dare ourselves this year. What could I do for me? Whether it’s to do a better job in terms of what we actually eat to move a little bit more, to be better about our hydration. We don’t have to do everything but one thing and make it sustainable. So not just I’ll do it tomorrow, what are you going to do three months down the road? For them this is a twelve month a year phenomenon, I think if all of us adapt to that mindset a little bit more we could be healthier for a longer period of time.”


pittsburgh penguinsBonci also serves as a nutritional consult to various teams including the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) – Pittsburgh Penguins


One Tip She Shares With NHL, MLB Athletes, Pittsburgh Ballet

Candie Anderson: You also work as a nutrition consultant to various professional sports including the Pirates (MLB), the Penguins (NHL) and even the Pittsburgh Ballet, what is one universal tip you share with your teams and athletes?

Leslie Bonci: “I think the most important is be prepared. You cannot wait until after the fact, wait until the end of the day and do the eating. Really thinking about this, from the moment you wake up, before you take the field, before somebody’s at the ballet bar, before they are hitting a ball over the net, what else do they do? Are you prepared? Are you equipped, because if you are, your body can be the best you want it to be.”


Best Non-Egg Breakfast

Candie Anderson: I’ve been trying to get better about eating healthy, I’ve always been really good about eating vegetables but I am not a big fan of eggs and I’ve heard you should have them for breakfast. What would you suggest for someone like me?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, I think that most importantly is to have protein for breakfast and eggs could be one but that’s not the only one, so for instance if somebody says I want protein in the morning, we could do a low fat milk, we could do a low fat yogurt, we could also do a soyjoy bar in the morning because the protein is there. Maybe have the soyjoy bar with the yogurt, maybe a little bit of almonds on it 1,2,3. You have what you need, so there are endless opportunities and I don’t think anybody should get into a little rut, it doesn’t always have to be just certain items. Think out of the box and really think about those things that could be part of the day, every single meal and starting with breakfast is a great way to begin.”


pistachio nutsPistachio nuts are full of antioxidants –


Pro Athletes Favorite Snacks

Candie Anderson: What are some favorite snacks of pro athletes?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, we have around things that are actually very, very good for their bodies, so for instance we’ll see nuts around and we do keep the bars around. The reason that we keep bars around and particularly looking at something like a soyjoy bar, it’s not over the top in terms of the calories, it has the balance that we’re looking for in terms of having protein and carbs and also has fruit in it so I can make sure that these guys are best nourished and that being said snacking can be part of everybody’s eating plan but lets think about how much it is we’re snacking on and not use that as a meal occasion but definitely use it as a fueling occasion.”


Soyjoy Bars

Candie Anderson: Are your soyjoy bars healthy for people who have diabetes or other chronic illnesses?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, yes because if for instance somebody uses a soyjoy bar, if they’re trying to control their blood glucose levels you also have to think about the calories, and the calories are very, very reasonable in the bar as well as the fact as there is some protein there and quite frankly when people do have diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, whatever it is, the goal is not going for long periods of time without eating and then hovering it in. If you eat smaller amounts of food over the course of the day you have better blood sugar control, you also have better blood lipid control and it’s just overall better for ones health and ones waistline.”

Super Bowl Winning Dietary Tips For Athletes

Candie Anderson: With the Super Bowl only days away, players will be more anxious than usual, what tips do you have for times when stress is high? Are there foods that should be avoided or consumed during stressful times?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, one of the rules that we have in place is no new foods, so everything that they have trained with and eaten over the season is what is going to be available to them. Sometimes we have to be a little bit more mindful of our nervous guys and just having them eat something versus nothing, but I think that that’s all a good rule of thumb for all of us, and for all of us who are recreational athletes as well, if you don’t do anything new, you train your gut as well as the rest of your body. And if you do that it gives your body the peace of mind to say now I can get out there and take care of business.”


Fruits-vegetablesFruits and Vegetables – image via Know About Health


Active Calories Book

Candie Anderson: Can you tell us more about your book Active Calories?

Leslie Bonci: “The Active Calories diet is based upon the premise of making your calories work for you and we use the acronym c.h.e.w., so the c for the chew, h for the heat, e for energizing, and w for warmth and we put those things together creating that active plate and a lot what we’ve talked about what takes up the most room on the plate. We want fruits and vegetables on that plate to chew, we want the protein on the plate because that helps the body burn calories more efficiently, we want some grains on the plate but we also want people involved in the process, getting in the kitchen being part of your eating, taking the time to sit down and know what’s going into your body – all of this can translate to being the best we can.”

Candie Anderson: Do you have any other tips you’d like to share with us?

Leslie Bonci: “Well, the other thing I would say is that I would like to challenge everybody this year, dare themselves to be a little bit more accountable, to make some kind of commitment, that commitment being I’ll change one aspect of my day, maybe I’ll have breakfast or maybe I’ll eat a little bit better over the course of the day or maybe I’ll move a little bit and we have some help in that regard, going to the website and looking at the Facebook page and really thinking about it, commit to that challenge to being the best that we can because guaranteed my guys are doing that this weekend.”

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