There are countless factors that go into making a great athlete. From natural talent to training and work ethic, so many influences on players who secure the advantage on game day. But if you ask Chief Sports Dietitian Cat Hammer, the most important factor in athletic performance is pretty simple.
“When you’re an athlete, if you weren’t working on schoolwork, your schoolwork probably wouldn’t be great, but you could still do it,” Hammer said. “If you weren’t weight training, you probably wouldn’t be very strong, but you could still lift weights and compete at some level. But if you weren’t eating, the consequences would be much more dramatic.
Hammer’s responsibility is to ensure that every Penn athlete is at their nutritional best. She started working with Penn Athletics in November 2020 and was recently promoted to Chief Dietitian.
Throughout his career, Hammer has worked with a wide range of different athletic demographics, all with unique goals and needs. These include the Pittsburgh Pirates of MLB, Virginia Tech and the Navy SEALs. With her vast experience in the field, Hammer feels she is equipped with what it takes to handle any nutritional dilemma for Penn sports.
That’s extremely important when it comes to running a Division I athletics department. No two sports are the same, and neither are their nutrition plans. Understanding how to tailor a diet to specific sports and athletes is one of the most complex but essential aspects of Hammer’s work.
“It’s a wide variety of subjects with a wide variety of individuals,” Hammer said. “I can start the day working with a cross country runner, then go to work with a wrestler, then work with a football lineman, then work with a gymnast. I need to talk about totally different things in all these meetings, but it’s still super interesting.
In order to design programs tailored to each sport, Hammer strives to understand the nuances of the sports themselves. Although his knowledge of nutrition is vast, providing the best possible diet for each athlete requires a thorough understanding of their individual performance.
“If you think of a cross-country runner, it’s an endurance-based sport, so the nutritional and recovery considerations for them are going to be very different than for a power sport, like a sprinter,” Hammer said. “If you’re working with a softball athlete, you need endurance, but there are also those power elements in their game.”
Although each sport requires separate preparation, Hammer says one of the most important truths of sports nutrition is total calorie consumption. Eating enough throughout the day is crucial for overall health as well as in-game performance, and according to Hammer, many athletes struggle to adapt their understanding of how much fuel they need to keep up. of their energy expenditure.
As a former athlete herself, Hammer knows how complicated the process can be. She was a standout softball player for West Chester University, and over her college career grappled with the complexities that plague many of the athletes she works with today.
“To be completely transparent, I struggled when I was an athlete with a bit of an eating disorder,” Hammer said. “I became great at nutrition, and I thought I had it all figured out, and I think a lot of athletes as they progress, it’s hard to step back and see things from a different perspective. But when I’m on the other side, I can see much, much more clearly and help athletes better understand their bodies, their sport, and their athletic ability.
However, Hammer also credits many Penn athletes with their nutritional instincts. If athletes don’t fully buy into his advice, Hammer can only do a lot to help them maximize their potential. Luckily for Hammer, many student-athletes are active participants, opening the door to even more possibilities.
“There are athletes here that I work with who are incredibly smart,” Hammer said. “A lot of them do research on their own. So with some athletes it’s cool because there are more adjustments when their diet is already set, and now we can talk about supplements, and how we may be able to get another 1% better .
Proper nutrition is one of the most important steps an athlete can take to maximize their potential. And while some are more prone to it than others, it’s vital for any gamer to become the best version of themselves.
In Hammer’s eyes, the most important part of dieting, both in sport and in everyday life, is understanding the importance of what we put into our bodies. It is often an unconscious process, but it is a process that must be treated with care and consideration.
“Eating is something we do every day,” Hammer said. “We almost take that for granted. Whereas if we put more intention behind what we actually do, we might see much better benefits.
With Hammer at the helm, Penn athletes can not only think about their nutrition, but maximize the benefit it gives them.