Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Cheerleader keeps an eye on nutrition 

Posted by Sasha at 9:25 PM ET

When Leigh Garner takes her place on the sidelines among the other Titans cheerleaders, her petite, rock-hard frame doesn't look a day over 22. But as the veteran member of the team (she gives her age as "mid-30s"), she keeps a strict diet and exercise regimen to stay in top shape.

"I feel like I've had to work at it," she said.

After 10 years of ballet, jazz and tap, Garner taught and competed in ballroom dance. She cheered for the Nashville Kats for five years and has been on the Titans squad for three years. So no stranger to exercise, she begins her days now with a spin class or turbo kick class at the gym. Three-hour rehearsals, two to three times a week, and twice-weekly sculpting sessions with weights also factor into her schedule regularly.

With all the exercise, what does a professional cheerleader eat to stay properly fueled and still maintain her figure? Even at size 0, Garner doesn't go hungry. She keeps a mental count of her calories each day to stay around 1,700 total. (Leigh's sample diet)

"For someone my size, that might seem like a lot," she said.

As a point of reference, national media have reported that Britney Spears, 5 feet, 4 inches, regained her fit figure by eating around 1,200 calories a day. Weight loss programs for overweight adults often recommend 1,600 calories for women.

Even though she keeps careful watch over her calories, Garner also keeps a close eye on nutrition labels to put only the best in her body and stays choosy on brands, selecting Nature's Own Whole Grain Sugar Free bread and Greens Plus bars, which are organically grown and packed with superfoods, soy protein and herbal extracts.

She also has a list of foods that she considers off-limits, banning potatoes, pasta, white rice, alcohol and sodas (except the occasional Diet Coke) and limiting sugar.

Garner works as a nanny, but she has a nutrition degree from Middle Tennessee State University. Her mother also might have served as a positive food role model. Garner grew up on a farm, where her mom served dinner each night with lots of vegetables.

"She used to tell us if we didn't eat our vegetables we would get scurvy," she said. "I've never been one to eat a lot of junk food."

While Garner has a solid background in nutrition and exercise, director of cheerleading Stacie Kinder makes sure all the women on her squad have guidance early on in the season. During the five-week training camp before the football games begin they have Fitness Fridays, two-hour exercise sessions with Kinder's husband, a former Olympic trials champion in decathlon.

During the season, the women are expected to maintain their figure, and many of them arrive 30 minutes to an hour early for rehearsals to work in a cardio session on the treadmill or elliptical.

Staying fit is important, and Kinder doesn't sugarcoat — or should we say Splenda-coat — it. The women are occasionally weighed and measured, which might raise eyebrows among those outside the business, but Kinder explains that it's part of a cheerleader's job. If they try out and make the squad at a certain weight, they should stay at that weight.

"They eat a lot of sushi, I'll tell you that," she said.

But even with the strict diet, Garner indulges in a piece of cake on occasion.

"I try to treat myself with something once a week," she said. "I believe it's OK to splurge every now and then, but I do it in moderation because it really, truly does affect how I feel."

Her husband, whom she cooks for, might hope for splurges a little more often.

"He eats what I feed him," she said. "So bless his heart, he hasn't had potatoes, from me, in four years."

— Jennifer Justus
Staff Writer

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