Jennifer Fields, a new assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, brings her expertise in sports nutrition and cheerleading to further her research with UConn student athletes in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.
For Fields, the adage “you can’t escape a bad diet” is key to his research that combines nutrition science and kinesiology.
“In the gym you can do whatever you want, and work hard, and athletes can perform on the field and train for hours,” says Fields. “But if you’re not eating properly to meet the demands of your training, you can get injured, your performance can drop, and you’ll experience a lot of negative side effects because of your diet.”
Fields’ passion for nutrition began with her father’s weight loss journey when Fields was in college. Her experience inspired Fields to learn more about nutrition to support her.
Fields says, “It really stems from my desire to help people and help athletes stay healthy so they can achieve their goals on and off the field and more than just performance, really achieve optimal health as well.” “
One area of Fields’ research is low energy availability, a condition where athletes do not have enough nutritional fuel to improve their performance and support their overall health. This is especially common in female athletes and athletes who compete in “aesthetic” sports such as dance or gymnastics, where the emphasis is on low body weight. But Fields says the abundance of inaccurate nutrition information available extends to athletes in all sports.
“It absolutely exists in male athletes, especially those in aesthetic sports,” Fields says. “But we care more about women because the negative health consequences in women are more dangerous and irreversible than those in men.”
For women studied in this area, low energy availability has a significant impact on estrogen levels, which impacts the rest of their body’s functioning, especially bone health.
Fields works to determine the prevalence of low energy availability in various sports and then design interventions to help athletes increase the quality and quantity of their diets.
Fields has a personal connection to this work. She was a three-sport varsity athlete growing up and played competitive soccer for many years. When Fields was in graduate school studying how to perform DEXA scans, which measure bone density, she learned at age 24 that she had osteopenia.
“I was one of those athletes who thought I needed to starve myself and cut carbs from my diet,” says Fields. “The habits I developed in my high school and college years are now shaping me for my future with osteoporosis. And the loss in bone density may be permanent.”
Fields now studies bone density and formation in endurance athletes. These athletes are performing at such high intensities on a regular basis that their bodies cannot maintain normal bone formation. This puts them at a higher risk of injury and early osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Fields looks at biomarkers of bone turnover as well as bone density to determine how these athletes are making and breaking down bone. She then considers what dietary interventions might improve athletes’ bone health during the sports season.
Fields also examines the effects of nutrition on body composition and strength or power; Effect of workload on nutritional biomarkers; and nutritional interventions to address these effects.
In a study Fields conducted with female basketball players, he found that a significant portion of them were deficient in vitamin D. Since basketball is an indoor sport, these athletes naturally absorb less vitamin D. Similar results were seen in women’s volleyball and track and field.
In the dietary intervention that followed, the only group that showed improvement was the group taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Most vitamin D supplements you can buy off the shelf contain a maximum of 1,000 IU.
“In reality, some of the negative changes we see take much longer than that to reverse,” says Fields.
Over the years Fields has worked with men’s and women’s soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, women’s field hockey, women’s basketball, women’s track and field and soccer players.
Fields has studied “load monitoring” – a measurement of the stress placed on their bodies while playing – in several of these populations and found some interesting differences across different sports. For example, football players have a higher load volume, meaning they cover more distance while playing, but their intensity (such as running) is lower, while lacrosse and field hockey players have higher intensity and volume. It is less.
“We can’t lump sports together,” says Fields. “We need to look at what they’re doing on the field from an energy expenditure, volume and intensity standpoint because that’s what drives our nutritional recommendations.” Going to do.”
Now at UConn, Fields is building a relationship with UConn Athletics. She is also interested in expanding into the non-varsity athlete population.
“I always say if you exercise, you’re an athlete,” says Fields. “Not just universities, D-1 athletes too.”
This work relates to CAHNR’s focused strategic vision area To enhance health and well-being at local, national and global levels.
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