East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA
Director of Performance Nutrition and Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, New York Giants.
You’ve worked as a high performance sports dietitian for almost your whole career. How did you become interested in this field?
I’ve always been interested in sports from a young age. I played soccer, basketball, football, and track and field in high school. My interest in nutrition and exercise began around that time. I started paying more attention to what I ate and how I trained and I started to see improvements in my physical attributes and abilities. I was fascinated by how the body can change and adapt based on proper training methods.
I didn’t initially study these fields in college, as I had entered as a mechanical engineering major due to my skills in math and science. I transitioned into Nutrition and Dietetics my second year and I found myself highly interested and excelling in the field.
What is working for a major NFL team like? Can you give us a few highlights?
Working for an NFL team is incredible, to say the least. I’m lucky to get a chance to be a part of a phenomenal organization that allows me to do the two things I enjoy most nutrition and strength coaching. Although the title may sound fancy, the work is quite demanding. There is not much time off and the schedule is rigorous, especially in-season when we work every day from the start of camp until our last game is played.
It’s a lot of fun to work with elite athletes and to help and support them. In my role, I spend as much time with the entire team, getting a chance to interact with everyone daily. A lot of the players have big personalities, so it is great getting a chance to connect and build relationships with them.
Game days are the best! Being in the locker room, on the sideline, and on the field during a game is exhilarating and surreal. I’m proud when I see what has flourished from my hard work. Seeing the athletes play at their peaks, working with the other coaches to train the players to perform their best, watching the crowds go wild when we score; all of this really makes me feel pretty lucky to be doing what I am.
How has being a South Asian impacted your career in sports? What is it like being one of the few South Asians working in pro sports?
I’ve always seen myself not as a South Asian working in sports, but as someone working in sports who is South Asian. I take pride in the fact that I am in a unique situation being one of the few South Asians in pro sports, and the only one on an NFL team in this capacity as an Assistant Coach. I use that as motivation to show others that South Asians can be an asset to a team, and to hopefully inspire other South Asians that might be contemplating a career in sports.
What do you think the next generation South Asian community needs to increase our participation on the field and in the sports industry?
I think it is extremely important for the South Asian community to identify and nurture any interest in sports at a very young age and be open minded to experiences revolving around sports.
One of the reasons that you see so few South Asians in sports is that parents sometimes have a narrow view of areas that their children can succeed in, such as medicine, engineering, IT, etc. These beliefs stem from their own personal experiences, thus they only support and/or push their children in these areas as potential career choices. I have noticed that South Asian parents tend to think of sports as a hobby or recreation and just a way to get exercise, as my parents did, and not a serious outlet to pursue.
Since there are so few South Asians in sports it is perceived that anyone trying to get into the field will not succeed or be successful, but that is not the case. As described in PEAK: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, it is important not to fall victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy. If parents don’t feel their children have the genetics or talent to succeed in areas such as sports, and their children are told not to pursue it, then they will never excel at that skill and the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.
The more time that is spent in sports, whether playing or being involved, especially at a young age, the more skills and experiences can be developed which can open up doors to more access and exposure to jobs in sports.
I also feel that if there is an interest in sports or an area of sports then that passion should be followed. A lot can be achieved with confidence and a good attitude and if a career in the sports industry is where someone feels they can thrive and be successful then it should be pursued if it feels like the right thing to do (in a similar way that I changed my studies in college).
South Asians can, currently are, and will continue to be successful in sports.
Do you have any specific nutrition or strength and conditioning tips for South Asian elite athletes?
Without going too in-depth, I will say that mastery of the basics in both aspects are vital to athletes, and being as consistent as possible can be a big contributor to overall success. In regards to strength and conditioning, it is important to understand training and competition demands, movement quality and efficiency, addressing areas of dysfunction and taking into account injury history. With all of this in mind, a proper program can be planned around individual needs based on the sport as well as the time of year. Training doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, flashy or complicated to be effective.
The same goes for nutrition. Understanding individual needs based on size goals, time of year, nutritional deficiencies, and a nutrition plan around the training schedule is vital. There is a lot of misinformation out there, including fad diets and supplements that promise quick results, but are lacking scientific evidence and can be detrimental to an elite athlete’s performance and health. Mastering the basics such as meal/snack timing, hydration, adequate meal composition and caloric intake, pre/intra/post training nutrition, and proper supplementation to go along with sleep and recovery can yield long-term success.
You can connect with Pratik via social media:
Instagram is @pratikxpatel