Eight sports medicine and human performance experts from across the country, including a former Aggie women's basketball standout and the lead nutritionist for recent WNBA champion Sue Bird, descended upon the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center at the Bush Library and Museum on Friday afternoon for The Hilliard Discussion, a lively TED Talk-style presentation of cutting-edge research.

The afternoon's presentations were presented by the Huffines Institute and organized by institute director Tim Lightfoot. More than 100 people, mostly Texas A&M University students and faculty, attended in person; Lightfoot said over 30 schools had student-and-staff online viewing parties of widely varying sizes. It was the eighth year of the discussion. 

Susan Kleiner, who is the owner of High Performance Nutrition Inc. in Washington state, has worked as a nutritionist with the Seattle Storm of the WNBA as well as the Miami Heat of the NBA during LeBron James's tenure with the team. She spoke passionately about the importance of what she called "power eating" for athletes and strength training. 

Kleiner said that despite conventional wisdom that consuming carbohydrates is unhealthy, carbs are crucial for athletes engaged in high-intensity training. 

"No studies have been done to say that a lower-carb diet will enhance athletic performance," Kleiner said. She said that for persons engaged in low- and moderate level-exercise, a diet that avoids high levels of carbohydrate intake works fine, but not for athletes looking to run, swim, bike or play at the highest levels.

"My story with the great Sue Bird -- we call her the G.O.A.T. -- began when we discovered that she was 1,000 calories short of her needs every day," Kleiner said. "How could an athlete with a reputation for such great attention to detail be missing 1,000 calories every day? It's because the sound of science is drowned out by the loudspeaker ... of diet fads and misinformation," she said. 

"Elite female athletes are really a target for this, but all athletes suffer from marketing mumbo jumbo. Restriction and shrinking have nothing to do with the goals of an athlete. The goals of an athlete are to enhance their power, their strength and their performance," Kleiner added. 

Kleiner detailed the alterations she and Bird made to Bird's diet, which she said helped Bird perform at her highest level in years in this season's WNBA playoffs. Bird, 38, scored 14 points in the fourth quarter in a classic Game 5 of the 2018 WNBA semifinals in September on the Seattle Storm's path to a championship. 

Dan Acheson, executive director at Drum Corps International, spoke about the dearth of research on marching band participants and the impacts that participation has on their bodies and futures. 

"We've identified that there's not much information out here in terms of statistics for health and wellness as well as injury care for the marching music athlete," he said. 

"Performing arts, and health and wellness education focus of study could dramatically impact the experience of the performer as well as the audiences who enjoy the performances," Acheson said. "Marching band is now, and will continue to be, a platform for advances in human development that covers several disciplines."

Lisa Langston, a women's basketball and track star for A&M in the 1980s and now the director of athletics for the Fort Worth Independent School District, delivered a 15-minute address on the positive relationship between participation in athletics and academic success.       

Langston posed a question to the audience: "What is the purpose of teaching a young or novice basketball player to dribble or do a layup with their non-dominant hand? And how does it relate to the classroom?" Langston said learning skills that don't come naturally often come in handy later, such as being willing to tackle a foreign language or overcome a fear of public speaking. 

"Just like you set goals for yourself on the court, you've gotta do that in the classroom," she said. "I have a PhD because of goal-setting, something I learned how to do through sports."

Langston spoke about her gratitude for what she learned from coaches Cheryl Rapp and Lynn Hickey during her basketball career. She graduated in 1986 as a four-year letter winner and as a Southwest Conference All-Academic team member. 

David Bassett, head of the kinesiology department at the University of Tennessee, took attendees and viewers through an examination of the bodies of famed distance runners Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine as a means to analyze physical traits of elite athletes. 

Other presenters included T. Bettina Cornwell, professor and marketing department head at the University of Oregon; Jeff Beeler, professor of psychology at Queens College in New York; Michael Roberts, professor of kinesiology at Auburn University; and Jeff Woods, director of the Center on Health, Aging and Disability at the University of Illinois.

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