Sports Nutritionist Jaclyn Sklaver talks work with NY Jets players, Athleats Nutrition

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Sports Nutritionist Jaclyn Sklaver joined us to talk about her work with numerous NY Jets players.

The NY Jets and the rest of the NFL are just a month away from the start of the 2020 season — a season that promises to be like no other before.

An unorthodox, unusual offseason is nearing its conclusion, and players are soon set to return to the gridiron for the first time in months. But the work never truly begins on the field.

Players are asked to keep in shape throughout the offseason to the point that their “offseasons” aren’t exactly “off-days.” Professional athletes always have to be “on” whether they’re showing up to work or not.

And that’s something that many tend to overlook about the life of their favorite athletes. Staying in shape and maintaining a balanced diet are oftentimes just as important to success as their work in practice and during games.

But fortunately, these players aren’t alone in that process. More often than not, they team up with nutritionists and trainers who help oversee their diet and workout plans.

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Sports Nutritionist and Strength & Conditioning Coach Jaclyn Sklaver to discuss some of the more overlooked parts of being a professional athlete.

Jaclyn currently works with a number of Jets players including defensive linemen Steve McLendon and Folorunso Fatukasi as well as former Jets’ offensive lineman James Carpenter.

Her work with McLendon, in particular, proved invaluable last season as the veteran nose tackle showed up in the best shape of his life and put together a career-year at age 33.

Jaclyn is one of the many hidden heroes that work with our favorites players behind the scenes. Without people like her, the product we see on Sundays would look vastly different than it does today.

Special thanks to Jaclyn for taking the time to do this interview and if you want to learn more about her and her Athleats Nutrition program then you could visit her website linked here.

Background Information/Athleats Nutrition

Justin Fried: “I guess we could start by just providing a little background about yourself. How did you get started in the fields of sports nutrition and strength and conditioning?”

Jaclyn Sklaver: “I’ve always been active and an athlete since I was really young, but I was always the only female in the weight room. I got into nutrition probably in grade school — I was always aware of what I was eating from a really young age. And I think I just naturally took the path to sports nutrition as I got older. It wasn’t my first major as I actually had a career change later in life. I went back to grad school to get my master’s degree in nutrition which was a long path. Nutrition is all biochemistry, people don’t realize how complex it is. They think it’s all gaining weight, losing weight, and what you’re eating, but there’s a lot more to it than just the food.”

JF: “Tell me a little about the Athleats Nutrition program that you founded.”

JS: “So generally I work with my athletes in the offseason, but some of them I work with year-round. And really what we hone in on is No. 1, body composition. A lot of the guys I work with are on the bigger side, defensive and offensive lineman and they’re carrying around a lot of weight. We’re trying to keep their body fat lower, but keep their weight up where the team wants it as well as keep their strength up. So we really hone in on the types of food they’re eating. But then we’re also keeping their inflammation low, working an anti-inflammatory diet. We are working a lot with supplements, things that help with your brain function and focus. It’s really looking at their entire life — if they have any food allergies or food sensitivities. We’re focusing on keeping their cortisol and inflammation low as well because as the season goes on there are a ton of stats that show that cortisol levels rise, especially in the starters and people that are playing more. And their testosterone lowers which also increases their chance of injury. So some of the things that we work on are keeping cortisol lower, keeping testosterone high, and making sure that their rehab is on point so that they could get back out there. And then in the offseason, because they don’t have the guidance of somebody cooking for them when they’re in the facility all day, a lot of the guys feel lost. I’ll set them up with a plan so that from the second they wake up to the second they go to bed they know exactly what they’re eating and drinking throughout the day. A lot of times that goes along with me sourcing them a local meal prep chef. It’s really about taking that science and making it as easy for them to understand as possible.

JF: “Right and I don’t think a lot of fans realize just how much goes into keeping these guys in shape in the offseason. When they’re not playing for at least six months things can get kind of out of hand. So something like this is super important.”

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Challenges of COVID-19

JS: “Exactly and things can definitely get out of hand because understandably they want to go out, they want to have fun, this is their time off, but we want to make sure that they stay in shape. And especially this year with COVID-19, it was definitely interesting to see the pattern when gyms started to close down — especially my guys in New York and New Jersey — they really couldn’t train at all. And when you’re a high-profile athlete you can’t just violate the rules. So the training really tapered down and we had to change plans. And when virtual OTAs started up in June, that was really when we had to start getting structured eating plans in place.”

JF: “Yeah and I was going to ask about that. How challenging was it to have to deal with all the restrictions from COVID-19?”

JS: “So at first I was worried about getting food and going to supermarkets. In New York and New Jersey, forget about it, there were hour-long lines to get food. I had some of my guys order from ButcherBox which is a frozen meat delivery service, but what really helped in that time was having my chefs. One of my guys from the Jets is down in Atlanta, Steve McLendon, and so I have a chef that cooks for him. He’s been training some of the other Jets down there. Chef Chris cooks for all of them and he cooks for some of my guys on other teams as well — he was super helpful. But I think the main changes were that I had to keep changing their plans. I did have them make sure to stock their freezers up and make sure that they have all the meat, vegetables, and fruit that they needed because we didn’t know. My No. 1 concern was that they wouldn’t have enough fuel to get through what they needed to and that they would lose their muscle because at the beginning, who really knew what was going to happen?”

Work with NY Jets Players

JF: “So since we are a Jets site, and you just mentioned your work with Steve McLendon — I saw you also work with Foley Fatukasi as well as former Jets offensive lineman James Carpenter — I do have to ask you what it’s been like working with those guys and how did they get started with the program?”

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JS: “I worked down a Chip Smith’s in Atlanta, Georgia and that’s where I met Steve [McLendon] and James [Carpenter]. And once I started working with Steve, they saw his results. I know last year he came back in the best shape of his life. It was the first time that he really followed a program when he wasn’t in a facility. And it made a huge change as his strength went up, his weight went down, and people were like ‘Woah, what did you do?’ He told them ‘You got to talk to my nutritionist. I feel better, I perform better.’ And suddenly, every guy wanted to talk to me. It takes a leader, it takes one person to show others and say ‘this is what you should be doing.’ Him being a veteran, I think that helped a lot too. I actually was down there Wednesday or Thursday at the facility and he weighed in at 309 — he’s in the best shape of his life right now. And he had Foley [Fatukasi], Jonotthan Harrison, and John Franklin-Myers down there training with him and my chef was cooking for all of them. It was interesting when [Steve] was telling me about how Foley was up in New York the whole time and he just couldn’t train the same. He went down there for three weeks and we got him into shape fast.”

JF: “Yeah and like you said it takes a veteran to do it. And when you see someone like Steve who’s so respected in that locker room come out at the age of 33 and have the best year of his career while being in the best shape of his career, people are going to take notice. And with some of the younger guys like Foley or Franklin-Myers, it’s not a surprise that they’re going to listen to Steve’s advice and follow in his footsteps.”

JS: “And hopefully this year people will see it more. I think that this year especially people are really going to see the difference between who was paying attention to what they were eating and how they were training versus other players because there was such a lengthy off-period.”

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Final Thoughts

JF: “Alright well before we go, is there anything else you’d like people to know about what you do or the Athleats Nutrition program?”

JS: “I think the main thing is that because I do functional medicine and sports nutrition, it’s not just about body competition but their health as a whole. And so my main objective, especially working with so many of the bigger guys, is that I want to make sure that they’re in their bets metabolic health possible. I want to make sure that when they aren’t playing their sports that they’re healthy. My big mission is not only to obviously help them on the field but to make sure that they’re healthy in their entire lifestyle. That’s a big part of what sets my program apart is that we’re looking at them as a whole, we’re looking at lab work, and trying to get really in-depth about what’s going on inside their bodies.”

JF: “Exactly, and like I said before, this is something that so many fans — and I’m sure some players — overlook. Staying in shape, eating healthy, and all that stuff, it really shows come the actual season.”

JS: “Listen, what you put into your body is exactly what’s coming out. If you want to go in and work out the fastest, you’re an elite-level athlete, you’ll get through your workout. But if your body’s fueled, just think about how much more you’re going to get from that workout and how much faster you’re going to recover. That’s something I tell all of them.”

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JF: “Words to live by without a doubt.”