Staying in shape and eating well are vital for success on the football field. We sat down with Washington Redskins Assistant Strength & Conditioning/Nutritionist Jake Sankal to discuss how he helped the Redskins players stay healthy, plus easy tips for keeping fit with recipes for delicious, healthy smoothies. *
Washington Redskins: What is your role with the team?
Jake Sankal: "I'm in a dual role as a strength and conditioning coach and the team's dietician as well, or team's nutritionist, same thing really. I am involved in everything we do strength and conditioning-wise and really everything we do nutrition-wise too. It's a pretty unique role. I work alongside our other strength coaches obviously, train the players and make sure they're physically prepared to play every week and then I work alongside our chef and his staff to make sure that we're giving our guys the best food we can possibly give them. That ultimately helps them perform better on the field, whether it's having more energy to practice and work on their skills every day or to help them recover from the physical side of the game, too. It's all about really just creating an all-around athlete, helping form the best athlete we can and I think nutrition, strength and conditioning go really hand in hand in doing that."
WR: How are you able to make sure each player is staying healthy?
JS: "It's really on an individual basis. Different guys have different needs, so I try to meet with most guys really informally just to check up on them, see how they're doing, seeing if there is any little thing that we can do. So like today for example, we had every guy come through the weight room to lift today. Just while they're in there lifting, touching them up, saying 'hey how you feeling from the game Sunday?' 'I'm a little achy coach, my body hurts a little bit.' It could be something as simple as saying, 'Hey, let's look at maybe adding some anti-inflammatory foods into your nutrition for this week.' Or it could be 'hey let's add a shake before you go to bed every night, help give you an added recovery component while you're sleeping.' I like to handle everything pretty informally. Now if guys come to me and say, 'Hey, I want something really specific to follow,' then we'll sit down and we'll develop a plan that works on both of our ends, just to help them become a better football player."
WR: What is an important health tip you talk to the team about often?
JS: "I just really stress the importance of quality of food to them. We do a really good job (at Redskins Park). We make it pretty easy on them. Really they get two meals and two snacks a day here. We try to hit it out of the park with what we provide them. I talk to them about having a good quality meal when they leave here, whether that's at home or whether they're going out to eat. Some guys are single, they don't like to cook necessarily. What are healthy options they can go and pick up or if they want to go eat somewhere? I like to talk to them a lot about a quality of food and I think that makes a really big difference over the course of the season."
WR: How are you able to keep track of every player's health and schedule?
JS: "It's really hard, you definitely can't remember everything, so sometimes a guy will come up to me like, 'hey, I've been doing what you said' and I'll have to think for a second like, 'What is it I told you exactly?' because we got 63 guys, 53 plus 10 practice squad guys, plus quite a few coaches I talk to about their nutrition as well. What I do to track things is I document everything I do. I talked to Brandon [Scherff] earlier about developing a plan for him to kind of lean out starting this offseason. We don't want to make too many drastic changes during the season.
WR: This is your first year with the Redskins. How does working for the Redskins compare to your previous job working as a strength and conditioning coach in the Cleveland Indians organization?
JS: "It's very, very similar believe it or not, the two sports are very different sports, but they have a lot of the same demands from a training standpoint and a nutrition standpoint. The biggest difference really that I've encountered, I do a lot more weight management in football. We like our guys to be at a certain weight to play according to their position and there is a number of us that work together to develop those numbers, so we do a lot more of trying to keep guys around their ideal playing weight in football, where as baseball it's a lot more general recommendations. We don't care so much in baseball if a pitcher weighs 215 or he weighs 205 or 210, it's not that big of a difference. But if a guy here normally plays at 215 and now he's playing at 205, by Week 14 of the season, it's a big deal because 10 pounds makes a big difference on the football field. I do a lot more weight management here, but it's been a lot of fun because the players are a lot more into their weights here. So they're like, 'Hey coach I'm three pounds heavier than I should be right now and I feel a half step slower on the field.' It's fun because they hold themselves pretty accountable."
WR: What is something that people often misunderstand about staying healthy?
JS: "I think people get too carried away with counting calories. They want to eat 100 calorie pack of cookies rather than just switching to eating more whole foods. The biggest recommendation I could give to people was just focus on the quality of the food they eat rather than the quantity. The quantity matters, I'm not saying that it doesn't, but when you improve the quality of what you eat, when you move back to eating more whole foods, rather than processed foods it really cleans up a lot of the issues of overeating and the portion issues that a lot of people struggle with. I like to use that example. Eat an apple or eat some fruit, some vegetables rather than the 100 calorie pack of whatever. Don't worry so much about counting calories, clean up the quality of the food and then if there is still an issue there you really got to look at the quantity and look into calories and things like that."
WR: You make smoothies and shakes for the players daily. Would you mind sharing a few recipes?
JS: "I'll give you a couple of the favorites. What I do with the smoothies is we don't have the manpower to be able to make an individualized one for each guy, so I make a high calorie and a low calorie, so that way the guys are worried about their weight they can go with the lower calorie and the guys that aren't so worried about their weight, they can go with the higher calorie. The favorite high calorie one is pretty simple. It's a chocolate peanut butter banana shake. So I do milk, usually skim milk or two percent milk, I do a big heaping tablespoon of peanut butter, I do a whole banana, chocolate protein powder and ice and I just blend that up. And that's really good, it's high protein, they're getting about 30 grams or so of protein in each one of those shakes. But they really like that one. A lower calorie one that is kind of the favorite is blueberry vanilla smoothie. I do a cup of almond milk, so eight ounces of almond milk, a half cup of blueberries, a scoop of vanilla protein powder and then ice and just blend it up. Very simple, you still get in that one about just over 20 grams of protein and it's lower calorie and it tastes really, really good. The purple color of it gets everybody because of the blueberries, it's like a bright purple so I always tell everyone look at that antioxidant power right there.
WR: Where did the idea for the drinks come from?
JS: "I've heard of quite a few nutritionists, dieticians that work with teams that do that, but really my experience with it when I was working to become a dietician and I had to do internship hours and I did those hours with the Denver Broncos and with Ohio State's football team, and both of their dieticians did similar shakes and smoothies like that. It's just a really good way to get a really quick recovery into the guys, so I put it right by where they walk in after practice and then they can get a really quick, good recovery from that. And plus they go sit in meetings for an hour or so after and by the time they get home to eat dinner, two hours has passed and they haven't eaten anything. It's a good way to get a quick recovery drink in them, it's something they can kind of sip on while they're sitting in meetings as well.
WR: What is your favorite part of what you do?
JS: It's definitely just being around the guys. There's no question. If I ever was to go work in a different setting outside of a team, sports setting, I would really, really miss the just daily interactions with the guys. After you're around for a while, you really become like more like friends and family with them rather than guys you just work with, coworkers or whatever. I'd really missed the guys just coming in and sitting down in the office and just talking about anything. Not even football or training related, just talking about anything. So that's really the biggest thing. The other thing really is just the intensity of football, it can't be matched. On Sunday there's just no feeling like it. I almost feel like I'm a player out there because I get pretty excited. It's just the intensity of football is just so great, such a great sport. No better team sport in my eyes than football."