Dublin’s Chef Michele on Nutrition for Athletes – from High School to Pro’s
We recently met with Dublin parent and professional chef Michele Kay Wieser to learn more about the importance of proper nutrition for developing athletes. “Chef Michele” is not only a chef for professional athletes, including boxer Andre Ward, but also her family, including her pole vaulting daughter Savannah who is a freshman at Harvard University (and Dublin High School Class of 2015 graduate).
OneDublin.org: What does it mean to be a chef for professional athletes?
Michele Wieser: “I’m a private, professional chef for professional athletes. I work for a basketball player, a football player, a boxer; I do all of their cooking. Because of their jobs as athletes they don’t have time to shop, prep or cook. Andre Ward has his own private boxing gym, so I can go there to cook, and I’ll cook in the private homes of other clients.”
OneDublin.org: Catering for professional athletes is a very specialized job – how did you get started?
Wieser: “I was working for Viking Home Chef and teaching classes at Valley High School in Dublin. The ex-wife of an Oakland Raider attended a class at Viking Home Chef and connected me to my first client, and it was word-of-mouth from there. It turns out that professional athletes, even across disciplines, are a pretty tight community. Andre Ward connected me to Justin Forsett of the Baltimore Ravens and to Dorell Wright of the Portland Trail Blazers. Since Andre’s never lost, everyone wants to know what he’s eating (since you are what you eat)!”
OneDublin.org: What have you learned about cooking and nutrition through working with professional athletes?
Wieser: “I do research for each client specific to the skills they need to develop: strength, speed, agility, and the type of diet that will benefit a high-performing athlete. If you are going to burn 6,000 calories per day, how many calories should you take in. Of course I need to match that diet with the personal tastes of each athlete. You learn pretty quickly what each athlete likes and doesn’t like, right down to specific things like no onions or ‘I hate Swiss chard’. In Andre’s case he needs to make weight so he’s on a much stricter diet than a basketball player for example. Football players like the comfort foods like mac & cheese so I’ll have to remind them that training camp is coming up. They are all really nice people, very sweet.”
OneDublin.org: How has what you’ve learned working for professional athletes helped you with high school athletes?
Wieser: “The most important thing is to eat clean and to eat regularly – avoid skipping meals. Sometimes you have to force teenagers to eat. None of the athletes I work for eat fast food or chips. Common sense.”
OneDublin.org: You spoke recently with the Dublin High School Cross Country team about the importance of getting sufficient iron in your diet. What should parents know?
Wieser: “My oldest daughter Savannah, who is a freshman at Harvard University (and pole vaulter), was starting to get really lethargic. She would get up and experience dizziness, she’d be in class and have a hard time concentrating, she would forget things, some hair loss, and we just thought it was senior year stress, SAT stress, AP stress, but it wasn’t. It was her iron levels. Savannah has never had an eating disorder or a problem eating, she’s always been confident about her body and her strength, but she wasn’t getting enough meat. She’s not a big meat eater. Within two weeks of starting Savannah on an iron supplement her personality was night and day.
“We discovered how lower Savannah’s iron level was as the result of a blood test related to a surgical procedure for a rotator cuff injury. Her iron level was 16 when it should be between 30-40, which meant she was severely anemic. The doctor’s were amazed she had the strength to pole vault, or even get off the couch.
“An iron deficiency is so easily fixable through a proper diet. Supplements are the last option. Even if you are a vegetarian there is enough food with iron, like spinach, kale, soy, edamame, seeds, nuts and legumes, that you can avoid iron deficiency.”
OneDublin.org: What strategies do you advise for parents of picky eaters?
Wieser: “All kids like cereal and while it’s not the most healthy way to get iron, many cereals are fortified with iron. If the alternative is not enough iron, get your picky eater to eat Frosted Mini-Wheats! Dark chocolate is also a good source of iron. You have to remind your kids to eat enough iron, and in particular women.”
OneDublin.org: What have you learned about helping a child pursue athletics into college, from your experience with Savannah?
Wieser: “Let your children follow their dreams and don’t push kids that don’t want it themselves. For kids that choose athletics one of the best things you can do is support their diet. They are training so hard and studying so late to get into a good academic school that they need their body and mind to be prepared. I needed to teach Savannah to fuel her body to last 12 hours per day. Each sport can have specific nutrition requirements, just like professional athletes.”
OneDublin.org: How did Savannah become a pole vaulter, which from the outside looking in is one of the scariest and spectacular track events.
Wieser: “Pole vaulting isn’t just about how fast you can run but the timing of your step and plant, but the strength and timing as you are vaulted up in the air. As a parent, you hold your breath every time.
“Savannah was originally a 400 / 800 runner who went to the Junior Olympics. She thought she was going to run into college, even though she loved soccer and swimming. In her sophomore year, possibly due to overtraining, she suffered an ankle injury which sidelined her for the season. In-between her sophomore and junior years her body changed and she lost some speed; while training to get her speed back the pole vault coach saw her and said Savannah had the speed, body and coordination for pole vaulting. Savannah tried it and it clicked: she had no fear, which coaches look for, and she quickly broke the Dublin High School record. During her first year pole vaulting she went to the NCS Meet of Champions.
“The summer before her senior year Savannah pushed us to attend former Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila’s Pole Vault Camp. Stacy was surprised to meet Savannah – by senior year the pole vaulters are all known. Stacy gave Savannah a series of agility tests and Savannah blew them out of the water. We were very lucky – Stacy offered to train Savannah all summer for free because she saw the potential – the combination of mind, athleticism and most importantly work ethic.”
OneDublin.org: How did Savannah get connected to Harvard University?
Wieser: “Through Stacy’s camp Savannah had the opportunity to attend the Boston Open in December 2014. At the Open, Savannah was the only high school girl competing and caught the attention of Harvard Track and Field assistant coach Brenner Abbott. At the event Savannah jumped 11 feet and placed third or fourth. Brenner encouraged Savannah to apply to Harvard but let us know that he had little say in the admissions process – Savannah would have to get in on the merits of her application.
“And while pole vaulting helped open the door, along with all the work she put in to maintain her grades and be involved in leadership, including student representative to the Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees, what I think made her stand apart is that she built her own Mustang with her dad!”