How to Score a Healthier Heart

By Nicci Micco, January/February 2010

Pittsburgh Steelers nutritionist Leslie Bonci helps players eat to beat the odds of heart disease.

With the NFL playoffs under way, even part-time football fans are tuning in on Sundays: rooting for favorite teams, challenging refs’ calls, cringing when a player gets injured. But few on the sidelines are thinking about these guys’ hearts—and neither are the players, says Leslie Bonci, R.D., C.S.S.D., team nutritionist for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reigning Super Bowl champions. “The worst they’re thinking about is an injury. It isn’t a heart attack now or 20 years down the road,” says Bonci, author of Sport Nutrition for Coaches (Human Kinetics, 2009). But Bonci is thinking about the Steelers’ long-term health; in fact she considers it a big part of her job. “The acronym I use when I work with athletes is SHOP: Safeguard Health, Optimize Performance,” says Bonci. “They may only care about the ‘OP’ but I care about the ‘SH’ too.”

I met Bonci last summer at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania—during Steelers training camp. Bonci is tiny, with cropped hair and a friendly smile. As the players amble into the cafeteria after practice, they make a point to say hi. Hines Ward flashes a smile on his way to the grill. Troy Polamalu gives a wave. Head coach Mike Tomlin stops by to say hello—and to prove that he’s been paying attention to Bonci’s team lectures. “Lean meat. Fruit. Salad—that’s healthy, right Leslie?”

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