Dawn’s Street Cred:
- Nutritionist to World Series Champions Chicago Cubs
- Author of The Flexitarian Diet & The Superfood Swap
- SHAPE Magazine Advisory Board
- Huffington Post Nutrition Blogger
- Winner of ABC Reality Show, My Diet Is Better Than Yours
Q: How did you get involved in nutrition?
A: When I was in college, I heard on TV once “look for a career that’s what you do in your spare time.” I thought this was great advice – how come I had never heard that before? I took a step back and realized I was cooking out of healthy cookbooks, and made food for my drunk roommates and hung out at health food stores, so when I talked to my advisor at school, he said the closest thing is a dietician. I’ve been a registered dietician for over 15 years now.
Q: When did the job with the Chicago Cubs come along?
A: I loved my job and was passionate about it, and I believe that when you’re passionate, opportunities find you. I was dappling in everything I loved, and started doing a lot of media related things too, including a weekly nutrition story on local news stations. After hearing my name on TV, the doctor of the Cubs, who also worked at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where I used to work, reached out. Like I said, opportunities find you!
Q: Did this seem like a dream job for you?
A: Well, no, because I was never interested in sports nutrition, nor was I certified. I was totally honest in the interview about that too, but said if you’re looking for a dietician who is awesome at cooking healthy foods and thinks health is fun, then hire me. And even though I was not exactly what they were looking for, they liked the idea of me changing their culture. So I immediately got my sports dietician certification, and am now Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD going into my eighth season with the Chicago Cubs.
Q: As the boys get ready for a new season, what sort of tips do you give them?
A: Because I’ve already established the foundations, I do everything that I have been doing in the past and add new innovations or they give me new responsibility. They have been more and more into it; the first few seasons was about getting the right chef, and then last year it was more about the nutrition following them on the road so they have plans for all games – I like saying that the World Series Champion win was the first year the nutrition followed them, and this year I’ll do it even more.
Part of my philosophy, is that I do not just depend on nutrition, I also depend on the fun factor; I really, really think that is the missing piece to food. People think in order to be healthy you need chicken, brown rice and broccoli but I can make it a lot more fun with barbeque chicken skewers, sweet potatoes and a sautéed vegetable. Instead of the boring meal, you get the same nutrition in a more fun format.
Q: Do their plans change as the season picks up more?
A: Not really, I just keep trying to incorporate creativity. If you are having cravings, consistency is going to be your best friend; it doesn’t matter if you have some great meals and other crappy ones, consistency is how you get results. And how to stay consistent is to enjoy what you’re doing, and the number one tip I look for in the guys is seeing if they are liking the food. If I serve something healthy, but they don’t like it, they’ll go get something else that’s not good for them. Athletes should know consistency is the name of the game; you can still have hamburgers and tacos if you’re doing it in a healthy way.
Another thing we do in the Clubhouse is about food-based performance. While many focus on three meals for the day, athletes focus on before, during and after foods. Learning about your sport and your body is huge. For instance, baseball is a long game, so you have to eat foods to sustain focus and energy for a long time. When people are looking for a performance enhancer, they go to supplement stores, but you can use foods – beats open up blood vessels 30 percent, and that’s crazy! But also, many can’t eat beats every day, but you can do beat juice.
Q: I know you’re not allowed to talk about any specific player’s plans, but how does the team motivate each other?
A: There are a handful of players that really make the nutrition buy-in work; having team members do it themselves and see from their peers that works is huge. Without having the group of them really into nutrition, it won’t work – it’s not a nice thing to have, it’s a must. Some people are naturally interested, and it’s contagious.
Q: What’s your favorite part about working with the Cubs?
A: I really like their dedication to nutrition; in fact, we are the only team in Major League Baseball (and maybe even sports in general) that is willing to put big bucks into nutrition. I have an assistant for myself and five other nutritionists, so there’s a whole nutrition team. They invest in not just the 25 major guys, they invest in the entire organization, getting them groomed in a nutrition culture. I really do believe the Cubs are the cutting edge team because they have the management and the players both into it.
Q: You weren’t a sports nutritionist in the beginning, but I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about how athletes differ from your other clients. What are those differences?
A: They’re not as different as people think – just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean you have to suffer through boring meals. They’re all human and still have cravings and desire to enjoy meals, the only thing that is different is the timing of the meals. No matter what your sport is, you still teach the three solid meals of whole grain protein, lots of produce and healthy snacks. It doesn’t differ from a woman who needs to lose weight to an endurance male athlete – portions are different but the same foods are always there.
Q: You’re also a published nutrition author and blogger for the Huffington Post, what are your favorite topics to write about?
A: I have a couple of books, one called The Superfood Swap, which is about how to add joy to your life, not just meals. The Cubs are something I’m definitely interested in and give a lot of energy to, but I do a lot of other things when it comes to nutrition and joyful wellness. For me, topics that I always write about is the idea of having more fun when you’re treating your body well – my tag line for everything I do is “Real Food, More Fun, No BS.” It’s all about real food, no gimmicks, and if you have fun you will win.
Q: If you had one piece of nutrition advice to give all athletes, what would it be?
A: Work your ass off, but enjoy it all along the way. And not just with nutrition; when you see the Cubs play in the World Series season, they were under extreme pressure and it was hard work and time and energy and grind, but they were having so much fun. That’s what makes me a good fit for this team, they are a bunch of fun guys. Under Joe Maddon, it’s all hard work and all about dedication, but the cherry on the top is the fun. It’s cool to watch and cool to be around them.