Nutritionists weigh in on Trump's fast-food order for Clemson football team: 'This sets a bad example'

Korin Miller
President Donald J. Trump presents fast food to be served to the Clemson Tigers football team to celebrate their Championship at the White House. (Chris Kleponis / Polaris)

The White House hosted football players from Clemson University on Monday for dinner, after the team won the National Football Championship, and many were less than impressed with the menu: fast food from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King, along with pizza.

President Donald Trump told reporters before the event that a lot of his household staff is furloughed due to the government shutdown. “Because of the shutdown, you know we have the great Clemson team with us, the national champions. So we went out and we ordered American fast food, paid for by me,” Trump said, per CNN. “Lots of hamburgers, lots of pizza…We have some very large people that like eating. So I think we’re going to have a little fun.”

Photos and video from the event show Trump standing by a table heaped with fast food served on silver platters, with ornate candelabra in between. Plenty of people are having a field day on social media over it, pointing out that Clemson has chefs and nutritionist that work with the team — and fast food is not usually part of their diet.

One player was even captured off-camera saying, “I thought it was a joke.”

While nutritionists say football players in general need more calories than the average person, they aren’t exactly thrilled about the approach here. “College football players, who generally are men aged 18-24 and are very active need more calories and protein than the average person should consume,” Gina Keatley, a certified-dietitian nutritionist practicing in New York City, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. They can burn more than 1,000 calories an hour during games and practice and “need to recharge,” she says. What they eat during the off-season matters too, Keatley says: “Many players are trying to stay lean but strong and need more food.”

But while football players usually need to eat a lot, “there are a lot of healthy foods that are calorie dense,” New York City-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Lifestyle. For example, a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese has 530 calories, but “you can also get that level of calories from a chicken breast, avocado, and a sweet potato,” Cording says. “Then you would be getting way more nutrition that will fuel your body and brain.” In general, Keatley says these athletes should be focused on “meals based around lean proteins (like fish, chicken, dairy and certain cuts of beef and pork), colorful veggies, whole-grains, and healthy oils like olive oil.”

Clearly, Big Macs and Baconators don’t fit the bill.

Food for athletes should be looked at as fuel, an aid for recovery and also a means of enjoyment and team bonding,” Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“This sets a bad example,” Cording says. “It’s perpetuating this idea that college students are supposed to be eating junk food. It’s a missed opportunity to show that healthy food can be accessible, enjoyable, and fuel young athletes.”

Still, Keatley says, it’s OK for them to have cheat meals here and there — it’s just better to space them out. Ultimately, it’s not the end of the world. “One meal won’t make or break an athlete’s performance, especially when it’s not on a game or tough practice day,” Rumsey says. Sometimes, Keatley adds, “an open-faced quarter pounder may just do the trick.”

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