Peter Sbaraglia: Customizing a Diet Plan to Every Athlete
In order for an athlete to reach their peak physical performance, a number of factors must work in unison. Nutrition, health, physical fitness and mental wellness are all integral parts in achieving optimal athletic performance.
Proper nutrition is paramount to fueling the body, fighting disease, and attaining one’s best health — this is especially true for athletes. However, like many of us, athletes too can struggle with understanding what’s the best nutrition and diet regimen for their own bodies.
Ontario’s Dr. Peter Sbaraglia is a Canadian dentist. Interestingly, he also has a lively passion —and experience — for offering guidance to athletes on how to create personally customized diet plan. As we learn from speaking to him, Peter Sbaraglia is passionate about helping athletes attain and maintain their peak athletic performance by improving their diet. It’s an interest of his that began in earnest when his daughter was competing as a swimmer and searching for a diet regimen that would positively impact her swimming.
Over the past ten years, Peter Sbaraglia has helped not only his daughter, but a number of other athletes in Canada build healthy, customized diets that, as we discover, take advantage of wholesome, nutritious, unprocessed foods.
First off, what inspired you to begin working with athletes?
Peter Sbaraglia: I’ve always been in shape and have always flirted around with different diets and different workout plans with various degrees of success. But, when my daughter became pretty highly competitive in swimming, I noticed a correlation between good diet and good performance. That’s what started it. From there, I was introduced to teammates and teammates’ parents, who became interested once they saw her starting to do well and saw her strength to weight ratios. It’s evolved now to include my son. He is a high level athlete, who is only 14 now and involved in hockey.
Can you explain your general nutritional philosophy?
Peter Sbaraglia: It really revolves around good, wholesome, healthy food. It’s never been about any of the gimmicky fads, like South Beach, Protein Power and carbs are bad and so on. I don’t ascribe to any of that. I don’t ascribe to supplements even, besides a multivitamin and fish oil every day, maybe some protein powder. In my opinion, there is a huge amount of money wasted by people trying to jumpstart their nutrition. Essentially, what I’m teaching is this: eating good, healthy, organic food. Right time of day, right macro profile. And understanding that you don’t do the same thing every day, and therefore you don’t have the same nutritional requirements every day.
How long have you been helping athletes design these meal plans?
Peter Sbaraglia: I have been helping athletes for the last ten years and have been working out personally for 35 years. My background in human biology, my personal experiences in working out and my journeys have allowed me to understand what athletes need very well.
How do you work with the athletes to create these plans?
Peter Sbaraglia: An athlete comes to me and we discuss their height, weight, position of play, body fat percentages and what they believe is keeping them from doing better. Let’s take, for example, a hockey player. He is 6’2, 216 pounds, with 18 percent body fat and he finds his first step is an issue, he doesn’t get to the puck first, he is pretty good on the boards and his shot is ok, but his first step is an issue. So, my initial thoughts would be there is something wrong with his strength to weight ratio and specifically the power generated from quads, hamstrings and glutes is weak. So, in this case, I would do a calorie restricted, protein heavy diet for a period of time, change their workouts and monitor them for a couple of weeks and see where they are at after that.
Different scenario, for instance, would be a swimmer. A swimmer who’s 5’7 and 152 pounds. Their starts and turns are world-class, but they find dragging 152 pounds is killing them. So, with that person, what I would try to do is shed weight. The hockey player, I’m not shedding weight. For the swimmer, I want to shed weight and get them to say 140 pounds, but keep their same strength. So, what I do with them is calorie rations, which involves usually three different diets during the week and basically a lean, a medium and a heavy. I’ll give you another example. I change my daughter’s diet every couple weeks depending on where she is at. Right now, she is working on distance and swimming 12 km a day, so her carb and fat requirement is way higher than when she tapers and is doing sprints and getting ready for a meet.
What type of nutritional goals do the athletes you work with have in mind?
Peter Sbaraglia: I love working with athletes because they are performance-driven. So, a lot of their requests are performance based. I want to swim harder, run faster, have a harder shot, whatever it is. They’re not really concerned with having a six pack or their symmetry or definition, like a fitness model might be or somebody who wants to be in better shape might be. This makes athletes easier to work with because they always have a bigger goal other than just how do I look. This kind of ties into the spirituality part of what I’m doing.
What I have come to realize is, if you behave the way you want to feel, the byproduct is you will look better. It’s easy to stay motivated when you just want to feel good and you want to be healthy. If you’re motivated because you have a high school reunion or you are going away to Cuba, those are external motivations and those are never sustainable.
What are some things you have learned from working with athletes?
Peter Sbaraglia: They have taught me a lot about the importance of being true to yourself. For instance, my daughter was at my brother’s birthday and he offered her a piece of cake. She said “No, thank you.” Which turned into come on one piece won’t hurt, and what she said was, “You don’t understand, when I’m on the blocks, right before they say GO, I can’t have any thought in mind that is regrettable, anything I wish I hadn’t done.”
When I thought about those words, I realized what she is talking about is accountability, and when I’m working with people like this who really want to achieve something, they answer to themselves and they stay true to themselves and they are free of excuses. I find the only way I can gain credibility with them is to be the same with myself, which is why I keep myself in the shape that I am in. I keep learning and I keep experimenting and that is what I get out of it, as well as the pleasure of seeing someone succeed. I also get the motivation to strive for something better.
Last question, Peter: Do you have any advice for those with athletic ambitions?
Peter Sbaraglia: I do. Keep it simple. Don’t go out and buy the latest and most gimmicky diet plan. Just keep it simple. Food is good. Good, natural eating habits - that’s all you need. Don’t waste money on all the diets and pills and powders. Developing natural eating habits is good and that is all you basically need when you are young. Lastly, understand that you are a product of what you eat.