In recognition of April as National Youth Sports Safety Month, MomsTeam has asked 30 experts to write a blog answering two questions: first, how or why did they get into their field, and second, how have they made a difference in the life of a youth athlete in the past year.
Today, we hear from Lisa McDowell, sports dietitian for the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings.
By Lisa McDowell, MS, RD, CNSD
How did I get into my field?
I have always been fascinated by the power of prevention, but never fully realized the value of the Hippocrates quote, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," until my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Being a clinical dietitian, I researched every phytonutrient with known anti-carcinogenic properties to help fuel his fight against his aggressive cancer. After surgery, chemo and radiation, the next step was to prevent recurrence. With his cancer in remission, we celebrated his great fortune by crossing the finished line together at the Disney marathon. He has now been cancer free for ten years, and continues to follow a nutrient dense diet.
This blessing has inspired me to bring great food to the patients I serve at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We recently turned fifteen acres on our hospital campus into a farm and constructed two hoop houses that allow us to grow produce year-round for our patient and employee meals. I quickly made the connection between great food, optimal health and phenomenal performance. My knowledge of micronutrient and macronutrient metabolism has fueled collegiate, professional and Olympic athletes. I have helped teach medical students at the University of Michigan and interns at our hospital about the power of preventing disease and achieving excellent health with balanced nutrition.
How have I made a difference in the life of a young athlete in the past year?
As the sports dietitian for the Detroit Red Wings, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the team. The players are beyond ultra-elite athletes and are quickly closing in on perfection! Introducing the concept of fueling with the rainbow and highly concentrated functional foods has been well received for the profound effect such dietary practices have on recovery, endurance and injury prevention/healing. Most NHL players strive for a long career and will do anything to stay healthy.
I've had the opportunity to apply my expertise with younger players entering the draft. Recently, I gained the trust of one young hockey player who told me of his use of supplements as a part of his daily routine. Someone outside the Red Wings organization was directly supplying him with the supplements, which contained adrenal, thyroid and pituitary hormones, digestive enzymes, and huge doses of vitamins, minerals and stimulants. The stimulants were preventing the athlete from sleeping well at night, for which he was taking a sleep aid.
Unfortunately, the player had fallen into a vicious cycle of depending on more than 80 supplements/day and believing he needed this routine to be great. I was able to make a difference in his life by telling him about players on the Red Wings team who didn't take supplements but were considered to be among the NHL's elite. Along with our medical team, we were able to wean the player off the supplements. Several weeks later, he told me how grateful he was for the help and how he had never felt better. In addition, he is now playing at the top of his game. So, not only did I help improve his performance, I may have prevented a catastrophic medical incident that could have resulted from the interaction of the supplements he was taking.
Lisa McDowell, MS, RD, CNSD is the team sports dietitian for the Detroit Red Wings and also consults to various Olympic, professional, and collegiate athletes. She manages the clinical nutrition department at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lisa was recently recognized as a Health Care Hero by Crain's Detroit for her work, and is a recipient of the National Health Care Without Harm Clinical Engagement Award for bringing healthy food to health care. You can read Lisa's blog and follow her on Twitter @LisaMcDowellRD.