Dana Sivak has been involved in skating since she first stepped on the ice at 5 years old. She skated all through high school, and opted to continue to pursue her academic and skating careers and attend the University of Delaware for her college experience. After graduating with her BS in Nutrition and Dietetics (and Coaching Science Minor), she came back home to the Chicagoland area to teach figure skaters at her home rink and to attend Northern Illinois University to obtain her MS degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She additionally opted to compete one last time at Regionals in the fall after graduating from UD, where she was named the 2015 Upper Great Lakes Regional Champion. Wow, this girl has got a lot on her plate! Currently, her path continues, as she is working for US Figure Skating in Colorado Springs, as their Sports Medicine/Sports Dietitian Intern. The majority of her time will be spent holding nutrition workshops/individual athlete consultations at the various US Figure Skating S.T.A.R.S. camps, High Performance camps (singles/pairs/dance divisions), ISP monitoring competitions, and Junior Grand Prix competitions happening during the 2019-2020 season.
Dana was kind enough to share some of her knowledge and comment on the role nutrition and diet plays for athletes, especially figure skaters.
What inspired you to go from competitive skater to dietitian?
Dana: In 2006, I competed at the Junior Nationals competition in Westminster, CO and was first exposed to the idea of sports nutrition when attending one of their various workshops available to the skaters competing that weekend. This fantastic memory returned later when, well like most graduating seniors in high school, I began to think - what am I going to major in at college? I knew I wanted to stay involved in skating for as long as I could at the time, and so I turned to some of my biggest mentors during my time as a skater, as an athlete. How could I combine my personal skill sets, school subject interests, and passions for skating? One of the first things that crossed my mind was being a Dietitian - an area in my personal skating experience that I had wished I had received more knowledge about, and a specific profession/component of an athlete's training protocol that could greatly impact their athletic performance/success. When I started to think about it more at this time, I thought of all the skaters that had come and gone before me, and how many of them could have possibly prevented an injury with better nutrition, who could have worked through their personal struggles if only they had sought out the advice of a dietitian.With skating, I knew I always wanted to do it -"No mom, I'm not sick. I want to go to the rink....I know it's snowing mom, but can you still drive me to the rink? I know I fell on that jump at this competition, but Ill be back at the rink on Monday and I'll make sure I don't make that mistake again; but if I do, I'll pick myself back up and try again." With dietetics, from the day I submitted my UD college application, I knew I wanted to be a sports dietitian to specifically help skaters and other aesthetic sports athletes.
With diet and nutrition, what are skaters lacking most and why?
Dana: Well - I hope they aren't lacking anything nutritionally; however, I know this is "wishful thinking/in a perfect world mentality". Most common nutrition implications I see with skaters, and well to be honest even non-athletes - is that they aren't nourishing themselves in a balanced way; that is, they aren't appropriately consuming a balanced amount of carbs, protein, and lipids. This is especially CRUCIAL for skaters because of the demands of their aesthetic sport, as well as to provide the appropriate fuel to skate their best. Another key component that sometimes is forgotten, is appropriate recovery nutrition/hydration to prevent a plethora of issues related to the athlete's overall health. Lastly, key nutrient deficiencies that are screened for in these athletes include iron, vitamin D, and calcium due to the population's age-related growth demands, repetitive nature of training, and demanding weight bearing elements of the sport.
What are dietary misconceptions training skaters have?
Dana: Although I hope not, I plan to educate this population this summer on the importance and roles of carbs, protein, and lipids for training/recovery needs BUT more so for competition days. Often, skaters unfortunately think either due to nerves, body image consciousness, or improved sport performance that eating less on competition day can be helpful. The truth: This mentality/behavior can cause more harm than help! Fuel to perform the same way you fuel to train! Would you change your program drastically the day of the competition? No, of course not! You would compete what you have been training your body to do! Similarly, why would you change your body's fuel routine? Your body knows how to use the food you typically give it, so it needs the same, familiar foods to help you on the days you compete!
Why is diet and nutrition so important for training athletes? How does it differ for figure skaters, specifically?
Dana: Nutrition is a key aspect of being healthy. PERIOD. Athletes are considered the healthiest subcategory of individuals because their high levels of physical activity. Just because they exercise doesn't mean they however are already healthy. Their bodies require more energy in the form of calories and carbohydrates in general, as well as additional micronutrients and antioxidants to help fuel their bodies appropriately. Athletes require a higher octane gas - it may be more expensive (time and money to manage) but it is critical to their success and overall health/injury prevention.
What are steps skaters can take today to improve their diet and nutrition in order to see better results in their performances?
Dana: Simply put - develop your routine! Fuel/Hydrate - Practice/Hydrate - Refuel/Recover/Hydrate - Sleep - Repeat as necessary! :)
What are the key food groups to focus on that are especially important for figure skaters?
Dana: For any athlete, healthy carbohydrates (ie, whole grains, fruits, starchy veggies, legumes, and low-fat dairy products) are exceptionally critical because 1) carbohydrates serve as the primary source of fuel for athletes/active individuals and 2) they are found in all the food groups thereby offering a wide variety of additional health benefits (ie vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants)...the main takeaway: including ALL food groups (grains, protein, dairy, fruit, and vegetables) in one's diet is important, especially for athletes!
Why are eating disorders prevalent with figure skaters and how can this be prevented?
Dana: Unfortunately, due to the aesthetic sport demands, "judging" principles, and simple sport demands of jumping high/spinning fast, it often is thought - "the lighter the better"....This however is a horrible misconception, and one that personally saddens me. Educating skaters, coaches, parents, trainers, etc on ensuring the athletes safety first and for most is instead where attention should be placed. Re-setting the culture of the sport is important for the safety and ultimate success of each of it's athletes. Reminding skaters like all athletes, that food is best to be viewed as fuel is an important concept for them to understand, while hopefully helping to create a positive relationship with food in the long-term.
What advice do you have for parents and coaches of athletes when it comes to sports nutrition?
Dana: Reminding skaters like all athletes, that food is best to be viewed as fuel is an important concept for them to understand, while hopefully helping to create a positive relationship with food in the long-term. Supporting their skater's healthy relationship with food is critical to their development (mind and body). Providing them with nutritious foods for meals and snack times is ultimately key to an athlete's ability to fuel their body their best. Piggybacking off of that, it is also important that they let their kids be, well, kids! There is a general rule of thumb to balance healthy vs perhaps not-as healthy options with an 80/20 mindset. This in general allows any individual grace, peace with food, and helps us all to remember that all food can fit into our diet. Restricting specific foods, or putting foods completely off-limits in the home has the potential to cause a negative relationship with food. Lastly, referring their skater to a CSSD, RD for nutrition advice is ultimately the best they can make sure their skater is getting the most correct information.
Where can skaters be looking for reliable and accurate diet and nutrition information in order to improve their performance?
Dana: Go to scandpg.org to search for a CSSD near you!
You may get in touch with Dana by email (email@example.com)