Editor’s note: This week for 10 questions The California Aggie grilled UC Davis professor Elizabeth Applegate about what it’s like to be a nutritionist. Dr. Applegate has a doctorate in nutrition from UC Davis, has appeared on CNN and ESPN as a nutrition expert, has served as a team nutritionist for both the Oakland Raiders and the Golden State Warriors and teaches the popular Nutrition 10 class on campus.
1) What initially interested you in the field of nutrition?
You know, this is kind of interesting to admit. I was planning to go to med school as an undergraduate at UC Davis when I took an upper division nutrition class. Then I ended up getting married to an undergraduate and figured “Well, I can‘t go anywhere right now, so I was like, hey, a Ph.D. in nutrition sounds good.” It was that thoughtful. No big plan.
2) You’re a nutritionist for both NFL and NBA players. What’s that like?
It’s just like talking to somebody else that has the same issues. They’re just bigger people. Like I tell the student athletes, they have it tougher compared to pros. The professional athlete – that’s their job – they can focus on that. The student athletes have to be a student first and foremost, and they have a tough time balancing that. The professionals are great to work with, but I always think they have it easier.
3) Are there nutrition problems that both professional athletes and
normal folks have trouble with? Is it hard to get them to eat their
Oh sure, yeah. Those players that are really fine tuned, they’re already doing it [eating veggies]. Generally it’s the more casual players that have more trouble with it. They’ve never had to do it before, so it’s harder. What’s interesting is that now they’re trying to educate players that there’s life after football and you need to be able to manage your health and take care of your body after this. Football players don’t live that long.
4) Surely someone with your credentials could lecture at a number of universities. What made you choose UC Davis?
Well, I went to school here, started here, had kids. I actually have looked elsewhere and could go [elsewhere], but I feel like it’s my community and I feel part of it. This is heaven, why would I leave?
5) You are, by all accounts, a big fan of “Spongebob Squarepants.“ In all honesty, do you think maybe Patrick Star could use a nutritionist?
Well, I’m a big proponent of accepting people. Hey, everybody doesn’t have to have a low body fat and run miles. What I’ve noticed about Patrick is that he’s maintained his weight. Most people gain weight from year to year, but Patrick seems like he’s staying in one place, so he’s fine. If he had other risk factors like high blood pressure or cholesterol, then I would say yes.
6) What’s the life of a famous nutritionist like? Are your friends
constantly asking you for advice?
I can’t go to a social situation with someone not asking me for advice. Strangers too, they’ll ask me in the grocery store, “This brand of cereal or this one?” That’s one reason I do what I do – I feel like this information makes a difference. A lot of people don’t want to have me over to dinner. They stress, they think if you have a nutritionist over you better have your food groups out. That’s not true. Give me a bowl of potato chips and I’m happy.
7) What‘s the most unhealthy thing you eat?
I try to accept there’s no good food or bad food, nothing all bad. I have the most trouble if I’m having a day where I can’t get what I normally eat, the fruits and such that I’m used to eating. I’m really about the big picture. But I will say that I love Cheez-its. They are a food group as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t just eat a few, I eat a lot.
8) What’s something you’d like to tell prospective Nutrition 10 students reading this interview right now?
They should stand back, look at the info, take it in and use what they can. Like I tell the students in my class, this is the only body you have – you can’t get a new one. You can’t get a new body, so you really have to treat it well. It‘s up to you to take care of it.
9) How much longer do you see yourself teaching?
I don’t see an end in sight. My boss recently said to me “Liz, the day you stop teaching Nut 10 is the day hell freezes over.” I just can’t imagine stopping anytime soon.
10) Are you looking forward to any Olympic events in particular?
I did gymnastics in high school, so I’ll watch that. I bike, so I’ll watch the cycling. You know what, the best part [of the Olympics] is that you have an excuse to be a couch potato. You’re doing your own workout by watching it. Every four years I can’t think of something better to do than park myself in front of a TV and watch the Olympics.
RICHARD PROCTER conducted this interview and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.