Sunday, June 15, 2014

Talking Sports Nutrition With Sean Casey

Sign-Up for BBA Updates Right Over Here  ----------------------------------------------------->

1. Tell us yourself and background?

First off, I’m honored to be interviewed by BBA. You have a lot of great content on this site and appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on it.

In terms of my background… As it relates to physical performance, my passion for physical performance was born out of countless hours spent watching Rocky IV. Growing up, I used to watch it almost daily on good ol’ VHS tape; I followed the viewing up with push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups/arm hangs in my basement. I marveled at the physiques of Stallone & Dolph Lundgren. Besides, if training hard allowed Rocky to beat the Soviet machine Ivan Drago, as well as almost single handedly end the Cold War, surely a few pushups, pull-ups, situps, etc would surely help me start on the 5th grade basketball team, right?!

Fast forward a bit, in high school I competed in both track (as a sprinter) as well as football (fullback). Following my high school sports career, in which I earned numerous all city and regional awards (OK, you caught me. I grew up in a city of ~ 2000 people. Being named “all city” simply meant you started vs. catching slivers on the bench ;-)) I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned degrees in Kinesiology- Exercise Physiology as well as Nutritional Science – Dietetics. Following studies at UW-Madison, I completed my 1200 hr dietetic internship through UW-Green Bay.

During college, I was an intern physical preparation coach with the UW-Badgers S&C department. I also spent time interning at the International Performance Institute (IMG Academies) in Bradenton, FL, where I had the opportunity to assist with the USA U-18 National Men's Soccer team and academy students. I also interned and later worked as a physical preparation specialist at Athletes' Performance (They recently renamed themselves as EXOS). While at these locations I had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes.

As a registered dietitian (RD), I’m also active in the field of sports nutrition and have consulted with the former nutritionist for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Anita Nall-Richesson various amateur athletes as well as individuals merely looking to get into better shape.

2.  You’ve worked with a number of high-level athletes that take every measure to reach peak performance. How much of a difference can proper nutrition have on improving performance?

Proper nutrition is huge with respect to maximizing physical performance.

Outside of sleep I can’t think of any other factor that will speed up post workout recovery more so than one’s diet. It’s amazing how much better athletes feel physically, mentally as well as emotionally, when they improve the quality of their diet.

It’s interesting though, before I had the opportunity to work at the aforementioned locations, I always thought that athletes at the elite level ate ‘spot on’ diets. I mean, how could someone reach the elite level if they weren’t crossing all their T’s and dotting all their I’s, right?  Couldn’t be further from the truth; a lot of their diets prior to nutrition counseling (and well, probably some still afterwards) were garbage - candy, soda & crap galore.  It really highlighted to me how genetically freaky some of these individuals are that they can get away with it to a certain degree.

Now, don’t get me wrong; including some “junk” in your diet is fine.  In truth, it can be dang near impossible to consume >>3000-3500 kcal of without including some 1-2 star foods, but when your diet looks like it was designed by an Oompa Loompa at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory we have issues.

3. Walk us through the steps you take when working with a client.

Nutrition is just like training – it all starts with a thorough assessment. There are three main forms I use to assist me in this process. First is a general background form that covers things like goals, medical conditions (including medications they’re on which may interact with various foods/supplements), previous experience with dietary plans, openness to trying new foods, supplements, etc, etc.

The second form is a 1-3 day dietary record that provides a quick snapshot of one’s diet both in terms of amounts and timing of food intake. I always leave it up the client with respect to how many days they want to fill out. The only thing I ask is if they do 2 or more days, to make sure that they’re non-consecutive days and preferably a training and non-training day. If a 3rd day is included, I like to have it on a weekend.

The third form I use is a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). This form differs from a 1-3 day food record in that it provides a global overview of one’s diet. Rather than looking at timing and amounts, it examines how often a given food is eaten. This is a great tool from a dietary analysis standpoint.

Once I have all three of these forms, I put together a pretty thorough write-up for the client. I consider this write-up to be a ‘rough draft’. With this in hand, I like to sit down and discuss it with them. Based off their input, I re-draft the original write-up to create a plan that best fits them. Some individuals also like to have personalized 3 day sample menu’s written up in order to get a visual of how to incorporate the recommendations into their lives. This is also something I can do as well.

4. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine”. It often seems many are quick to disregard real food and look for magical supplements to reach their nutritional needs.   Is this approach short-sighted and do you think this can be maintained long-term?

Definitely short sighted; as exciting as it is to drink your entire diet via a straw that leads back to a never ending powdered shake and/or having your supplement pill box be more colorful than Crayola’s entire crayon inventory, I think there are much better options out there from both a health and performance standpoint. As Hippocrates alluded to, this means real food.

Think about this for a second – a given fruit or vegetable contains 100’s of phytochemicals in it, many of which science has never studied at an in-depth level. The idea that a single phytochemical or two within it are responsible for a majority of health benefits received from a given whole food compound is crazy; I believe the true magic lies within the synergism, not the isolation, of these of these phytochemicals. Heck sometimes the isolation and magnification of these individual ingredients may backfire on you. For example…

Early research indicated that consuming fruits and vegetables loaded with high concentrations of beta-carotene was protective against lung cancer. Thus, it was hypothesized that beta-carotene supplements would protect smokers from developing lung cancer. However, in a meta-analysis conducted by Druesne-Pecollo et al. researchers the opposite was found to be true; individuals who received any supplement containing beta-carotene actually had a 16% HIGHER risk of developing lung or stomach cancer than individuals receiving a placebo. If one was exposed to asbestos or smoked, this risk increased by 20%. Likewise, consuming supplements containing 20mg/day vs. placebo increased the risk of developing stomach cancer by 34%.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of supplements in both the short and long term. However, the idea that we must load up on a bazillion of supplements at the expense of real food is short sighted. As you can tell - I’m a fan of random poly-supplementation about as much as most people are of poly-pharmacy. Funny how one gets criticized while the other gets a free pass (from critical thought) and is assumed to be “healthy” & side effect free.

Bottom line – Develop a healthy relationship with food & let supplements fill in the cracks; which shouldn’t be too wide if you’re picking the right foods.

5.  Speaking of supplements, there is so much misinformation out there and very few actually having solid evidence of benefit. What supplements do you find have worth and have been shown to be worthwhile for athletes?

Despite kind of bashing supplements a bit in the last question, there is actually a fair amount that I like. I take a very individualized approach to supplement recommendations depending on the goals and needs of the individual. If I had to give a general rundown, focusing only on ergogenic based supplements…

1) Whey/Egg/Pea based protein powder.  I usually go with Whey unless someone has sensitivities to it or is vegan in which case I go with egg or pea protein respectfully. If some people are highly sensitive, rice protein is pretty hypoallergenic and I can’t say I’ve ever heard one having issues with it. BUYERS TIP – If looking at different whey proteins, go with a Whey Concentrate based one… They’re usually much cheaper than Whey Isolate and unless you’re lactose intolerant, there isn’t any significant benefit with taking the latter. ~25 grams will be enough to maximize muscle protein synthesis. The one exception is if you’re 50+ in which case higher doses (40g) may be needed to maximize the process.

2) Creatine – Tried and true through 100’s of studies & real world stories. BUYERS TIP – stick with basic creatine monohydrate (~5g). Don’t buy the more expensive forms that are promoted as being “superior”. I have yet to see any research indicating they’re superior … accept for those looking to profit off them! I use this primarily with anaerobic athletes.  (Check out our article on Creatine HERE)

3) Taurine 3-4g/day postworkout. This is a pretty cheap amino acid and although it won’t floor you, it does help with recovery as well as “behind the scenes” health benefits. I don’t believe it’s beneficial as a pre-workout/energy booster though. BUYERS TIP – go with the powder form; not the capsule form. Quite often, buying things in capsules adds expense without providing any extra benefit.

4) Caffeine in amounts of 3-6mg/kg can be effective. I use this on an acute basis.

After this are a lot of supplements (Sodium Bicarbonate/baking soda, beta-alanine, BCAA’s, etc, etc) that have some benefit. If you decide to use them or not comes down to A) How much money do you have to spend & B) What is your desired training goal? C) Are you a vegan/vegetarian where your protein sources need a “boost” w/ BCAA’s as well as a vitamin B12 supplements D) Also, how well do you tolerate it? For instance I’m a HUGE fan of consuming of sodium bicarbonate (up to 200-300mg/kg/d; usually spread over 3 doses; for reference – 1 tsp = 4.8g) but for many people, this causes GI distress. Getting enough Omega 3’s, etc in your diet is helpful as well.

6.  Tell us the different ways improving nutritional strategies/diet can improve training, recovery, energy levels, mood, and sport performance. For instance, some of the basic changes and improvements one can expect to see… ie eating more protein will help xxx or increasing fruits and veggies will help with xxx.

Wow - this is like the magnum opus of questions – I’m not for sure if it can be fully answered without a book or two of words! Haha, Let me do my best in providing some general thoughts though…

Looking at things from a global perspective, the area that nutrition impacts the most is energy levels. Now, it’s important to realize that one’s energy level is impacted by all those other things you mentioned (recovery, mood, etc, etc). Thus, the most important thing one can do for an athlete is making sure their energy intake matches the demands of what they’re trying to accomplish. 

For many, this means consuming enough kcal. As I once heard Phil Stevens say, “Nothing is more anabolic than a kcal.”  If you don’t take in enough kcal, your mood will be shot, your recovery will be garbage and you’re well on your way to developing the Athlete Syndrome (It’s usually referred to as the “female athlete triad”, but men are affected too so I prefer the term … and in all reality it’s more than a triad of issues which is why I prefer the term “Athlete Syndrome”.).

Breaking things down a bit more, of the kcal you’re consuming, I recommend distributing them over a variety of minimally processed foods and following the 85/90 rule (Eating “healthy foods” 85-90% of the time). Make sure you’re getting enough protein (0.7-1g/lb) and fat (0.3-0.5g/lb) and whatever is left over can go to carbs. Some populations can go with a more ketogenic approach (ie – low carb/high fat) depending on intensity and volume of training as well as the obvious factor – how they feel while on it.

7.  Who are some people that have influenced your nutritional and training approach?

With regards to training of athletes…. I’ve had a lot of mentors directly influence me with Luke Richesson clearly being at the top of the list. Blaine Bott also deserves a shout out. Although I’ve never worked in a direct mentor-mentee relationship with him, I really like Ian King’s work and training philosophies.

With regards to nutrition, I grew up a big fan of Dr. Lonnie Lowery’s work and to a lesser degree, Dr. John Berardi. However, I can’t say I had anyone that directly mentored me with regards to sports nutrition. My approach was formed via a lot of trial & error as well as just general reading.

8.  Give us 3 books that helped your development and believe young coaches should read or go to?

This is a super tough question. Not necessarily books but if I had to limit it to just three resources look into….

1) With respect to physical preparation of athletes - Anything by Ian King.  Also like Dan John and Christian T Thibaudeau’s Theory and Application of Modern Strength & Power Methods.

2) With respect to supplements –; if you’re comfortable reading research, I always recommend going straight to the research itself via searches on Pubmed. Although not purely a supplement resource, has daily updates on sports nutrition, supplements or an occasional exercise article or two worth checking out.

3) With respect to sports nutrition – I grew up reading Dr Lonnie Lowery & Dr. John Berardi’s stuff with respect to aneorobic athletes. Monique Ryan’s Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes is decent as well and for ultra-athletes, I recommend checking out some of Dr. Jeff Volek’s Art & Science of Low Carb Performance

OK… I realize I listed more than 1 resource on all of those categories. In all reality I could have listed a few more too! As time allows, I like to read thoughts of others… In doing so however, I keep another quote Phil Stevens passed my way in conversation “Keep your windows and doors open to new ideas; Just make sure they have tight screens.”

Speed Round

Squats or Deadlifts?


Olympic Lifts or Other Means of Power Development?

Olympic Lifts (if form is solid) … although there is a lot you can gain w/ plyo movements not obtainable by Olympic lifts alone.

Coffee, Energy Drinks, or Soda?

Coffee… unless the alternative is Powerthirst! (I encourage you to youtube that one ;-)!)

Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, or Jennifer Hudson?

^ With that line-up you obviously know my affinity for brunettes!

Without question, Jennifer Aniston in her prime is pretty dang hard to beat.


  1. I feel really happy to have seen your webpage and look forward to so many more entertaining times reading here. Thanks once more for all the details. buy zma