On Aug. 1 the NCAA is deregulating the rules that have previously been in place regarding student athlete meals. With the passing of this legislation, student-athletes around the country will be allowed to receive unlimited meals and snacks incidental to their athletic participation. Some may think that this came in response to Shabazz Napier, men’s basketball player from the University of Connecticut, who said during an interview following UConn’s national championship that he “goes to bed hungry”, however this has been a topic of discussion for many years.
I expect many factors will influence the decisions being made from various institutions to address the nutritional needs of their student-athletes.
What do these changes mean for our student-athletes on campus?
Each school will have the freedom to do what works best on their campus. For some, that won’t mean much change and for others it will give student-athletes the opportunity to match their high levels of caloric output with healthy, performance-benefiting foods! Without well-fueled athletes there are injuries and illnesses, which can be detrimental to the team and the success of WVU sports.
Let’s look at it from this angle: you have a male student-athlete who is 6-feet tall and weighs 200 pounds with 10 percent body fat. This means at rest he will need to consume approximately 2,000 calories to prevent weight loss and run his basic functions. Now, add the amount of activity he exerts if he only goes to class, and that may increase his needs to 2,500 calories. Finally, we have to account for the amount of strength training and conditioning, as well as actual practice in a given day. Depending on the duration and intensity of each activity, his caloric needs could potentially increase by an additional 2,000, bringing his total needs for the day at 4,500 calories. However, that is the number he needs to consume (every day) to maintain his weight. What if he needs to add weight in the form of lean muscle mass? Then his needs once again increase by 500-1,000 calories daily, AND, as I stress to the athletes, consistently! He can’t eat 5,000 calories once or twice a week when he has time to prepare the foods and expect to see results. It needs to be daily to support the amount of calories he utilizes.
It’s not easy to consume 5,000 calories a day when you factor in classes, study hall, meetings, and one of the most important aspects in performance - sleep! That’s a lot of food, and when combined with many additional obligations, it doesn’t leave a lot of time.
So, starting this school year, athletic departments will be able to alleviate some of the pressures student-athletes face by supplying convenient meals and snacks beyond a dining meal plan or meal stipend and giving student-athletes more time to focus on school work and performance, as well as provide the essential nutrients and building blocks for the body to perform, and, hopefully, stay healthy and injury free.
I see this as a great opportunity for WVU athletics to enhance the nutrition provided to our student-athletes. For athletes to perform well, many things must exist.
Do they have the motivation to work hard?
Do they possess the genetic endowment for their sport?
Are they receiving the best training?
And, are they giving their body what it needs to be able to perform at the highest level?
One phrase that student athletes hear me say often is, “You can’t out-train a bad diet”. What I mean by that is if you eat poorly you will perform poorly. Exercise and physical activity creates stress to your body and foods we eat either help recover properly from that activity or further progress the stress (anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory responses respectively). By supplying the athletes with better food selections directly following a workout, or even after a long day of classes, they will be receiving what they need to enhance their training and thus be successful.
In addition to enhancing our meals, we will continue to educate (as we have done in the past) each student on the importance of nutrition, health, hydration, recovery, cooking, and food in general. If a student-athlete needs help selecting food at the grocery store then help will be provided to them so they can continue to provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks for themselves at home. Education of the types of foods, how much and when, and how to prepare the foods are still a major focus of mine. They are only “student-athletes” for a few years, besides the very few that move into the professional rankings, and they need to LEARN what’s best for their bodies now and continue to apply that for the rest of their lives.
How are student-athletes educated on foods? Cooking classes, taste-testings, grocery store tours, weekly Sports Nutrition emails, social media, team meetings and individual counseling, to name a few.
Cooking classes are one of my favorite opportunities to educate athletes. These are typically done in small-team type settings. We pick a theme and the menu is created. For example, a popular theme is “junk food make-overs” where we incorporate notorious “unhealthy” foods, but make them better.
Meat-lovers pizza from a restaurant can provide you around 475 calories and 28 grams of fat (per slice). Not to mention it lacks the nutrients to help recover from exercise. We make it at home with whole wheat pizza crust, sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, chicken spinach and other fresh vegetables so the calories are cut by more than half to about 200 calories a slice and very little fat. Plus, now we have a meal packed with vitamins, minerals and high-quality protein and carbs to supply the body what it needs to recover from exercise. That’s just one way they will continue to learn the best way to fuel their bodies, as well as a life skill that supports a healthy lifestyle.
What changes will occur at WVU?
Once student-athletes start class this fall we will enhance what was previously provided and begin to provide football players with breakfast and dinner five days a week. In addition, Olympic sports will have the opportunity for lunch five days a week and dinner two nights a week. The meals will be offered at flexible hours to accommodate schedule demands in response to many athletes facing challenges to dine at the on campus dining halls.
The foods offered will continue to provide the athletes the nutrients necessary to be successful and meet their individual goals. In addition to meals, student-athletes will have the opportunity to utilize “fueling stations”. These stations may have fruits and trail mix for them to take to class, or they may have a smoothie prepared for them following a hard lift. Again, this builds a nutritional base and provides nutrients that may otherwise be lacking from their diet.
As a resident of West Virginia, an alumnus of WVU or just a Mountaineer sports fan, we all take pride in WVU athletics, so when Hope Sloanhoffer wins the BIG 12 regional all-around gymnastics meet, or the rifle team wins another national championship, we need to understand that more goes into their success than just training.
If as a department we can provide them extra meals to enhance that process, I say “Bring it on!”
Let’s Bring on the “FUELED” Mountaineers!