Reaching Your Peak by Perfecting Your Plate
As a sports dietitian for Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, Brett Singer might go from meetings to a gym to a soccer field sideline on any given day. Here’s a typical week in Singer’s life.
MONDAY: FREQUENT FLYER
Singer’s job takes him on the road – a lot. He starts his week in Chicago for a fellowship training event at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), which uses nutrition and hydration science to help athletes achieve peak performance.
Through GSSI, where he’s a consulting dietitian, he helps coaches and players in the NBA’s minor league.
Singer, who came to Memorial Hermann in 2010, has been busy building a national reputation for the health system. He juggles 30 to 50 speaking engagements per year: one week, a coaches’ conference in Indianapolis, where he talks about fueling high school athletes in the age of fast food. The next week, he might be invited to Washington, D.C., to deliver a talk on nutrition for injury recovery.
With Singer, Memorial Hermann has become a training ground for aspiring dietitians who want to break into the competitive field of collegiate and professional-level sports nutrition.
TUESDAY: DYNAMO PRACTICE
When Singer is back in Houston, you can find him at a training session with the Houston Dynamo, the city’s professional men’s soccer team.
As the Dynamo’s dietitian, Singer helps shape the menu for team meals (today’s plate: fish with roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus). And he attends practices regularly, making sure players stay properly fueled for peak competition.
In June 2019, he spent extra time advising the athletes on how to stay hydrated in hot weather.
Soccer is actually the sport that first attracted Singer to the field of nutrition. As a teenager, he played soccer for Klein High School and wanted to figure out the secret sauce to up his game.
“I was pretty light my freshman and sophomore year,” he said. “I wanted to gain weight to be more competitive in soccer, so I started exercising and working out more.”
He researched nutrition and how it affected muscle growth, and soon Singer was studying every book, magazine and nutrition website he could get his hands on.
Two nutrition degrees later, Singer says he is fortunate to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a sports dietitian here in his hometown.
WEDNESDAY: THE THREE R’S
It’s not just the pros that get his attention. Singer also dedicates his time to counseling collegiate athletes and high school sports stars on how to perfect their diets to maximize their performance.
He helps his colleague, dietitian Christina Curry, educate student-athletes at Houston Baptist University on navigating the college cafeteria, and he and his team work with athletes at Katy Tompkins High School.
His advice varies on the level of performance, but typically Singer sticks to the three R’s of sports nutrition: repair with protein, replenish with carbs and rehydrate with water or a sports drink.
One of the most rewarding aspects of his job, Singer says, is helping everyday athletes achieve optimum health. People like Byron Shelton, a 33-year-old biology teacher who has lost 30 pounds since January and wants Singer’s advice on keeping the momentum going.
In a tank top that shows off his tattoos, Shelton looks pretty fit already, but he wants to reduce his body fat composition. He’s working out twice a day, eating a repetitive diet of mostly beef and chicken – and feeling hungry most of the time.
“How’s your energy been during your workouts?” Singer asks, poring over his client’s food log.
“I’ve been pretty tired,” Shelton admits.
For the next hour, they talk about Shelton’s diet and exercise and why his weight loss has plateaued. Singer has a theory: Shelton’s diet is extremely high in protein, but it’s pretty low in carbohydrates.
“I think we should probably up your carbs, because that is going to be your fuel source for exercise,” Singer says. “One of my hopes with that is you’ll have more energy and you might wind up benefiting from those workouts a little more.”
Singer encourages Shelton to stick with it, even if the bump in carbs results in a bit of initial weight gain.
“In the end,” he says, “if you’re at a caloric deficit you’ll lose weight – wherever it comes from.”
When he’s not on the road or meeting with clients, Singer finds himself working with players, preparing presentations or crunching numbers to calculate a midfielder’s ideal calorie intake.
“The opportunities I have now, I couldn’t have fathomed having five years ago,” he says. “That just would not have been on my radar.”
From assisting elite athletes to helping high school biology teachers master the science of building muscle, Singer is always excited to get people across their personal finish lines.
“Context is key with nutrition – there is no perfect diet that fits everyone’s needs,” he says. “I love helping people find success as they discover what works for them.”
Want to perfect your plate? Singer shared his own dietary habits and how you can balance your nutrition to achieve peak performance.
“My diet’s not great,” Singer says, laughing – mostly because he and his wife have two young children, so there’s not much time to meal prep.
Breakfast is usually oatmeal and an omelet to achieve the right balance of protein and carbs. After his morning workout, Singer usually downs a smoothie that might include kefir, Greek yogurt, spinach, carrots, bananas, strawberries, kiwis and apples, depending on what’s in season.
Lunch is unpredictable, he says. On busy days, it’s a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-grain bread – usually with a side of fruit, sometimes with a protein shake or Greek yogurt.
A perk of the job: Singer works with the Houston Dynamo several times a week, which means he gets to partake in the healthful lunches prepared by the team chef, who works with Singer to design and tailor the menus to match the needs of performance athletes.
Evenings are often filled with work and taking care of the kids. In this season of his life, a carefully crafted, fresh-cooked meal is a luxury. A simple option is breakfast tacos, with leftover meat, eggs and veggies tossed into a whole-grain tortilla. Or they might opt for a wrap, a salad, an omelet or a healthy pre-made meal.
When it comes to nutrition, Singer says, everyone’s needs are different – but there a few basics anyone can master.
Each meal should have a high-quality source of protein, preferably something lean, like fish or chicken.
Add a source of color – fruits and veggies – and “eat the rainbow,” Singer says.
Scale your intake of whole grains and starches according to your level of activity that day. “Start with the basics,” Singer said. “The rest will follow suit.”
By: Alyson Ward