In a recent Sacramento Beenews story by Daniel Johnson titled “College football’s top 25 competing for ‘food coaches’ to gain performance edge”, the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) reported that “Food Coaches” – aka sports registered dietitians (Sports RDs), have been hired by many of the top Divsision I FBS college football programs to help give their team and athletes an added advantage on the field this fall. This latest trend in big-time college sports has taken root the past few seasons at top programs as athletic departments and Head Coaches shift from..
…”feeding (their student-) athletes to fueling them (to perform like champions).”
It seems finally that top college football coaches and athletic department are placing a much higher value on educating and teaching their athletes about proper nutrition and coaching them to eat well and healthy in order to perform like champions. Of course it should come as no surprise then, with a better understanding of proper nutrition and “eating to compete”, that, according to the CPSDA, the top FBS college football programs, including..
“All four teams that competed in the last two NCAA Division I FBS title games… Auburn, Alabama, Oregon and LSU, had Sports RDs (or ‘Food Coaches’) on staff throughout the season.”
As a former Division I college lacrosse coach, this hiring trend, and a focus on proper health and nutrition for student-athletes is most welcome news. During my tenure coaching in Division I & II, oftentimes we had to hire a Health & Nutrition professor (or outside consultant) to meet with our players about proper sports nutrition and how to eat to compete and stay healthy.
But, although this was helpful and a good first step, (we made great strides in terms of hydration and proper/healthy snacking strategies for the team) still this was a far cry from having a dedicated “Food Coach” on staff to work with the athletic training staff and the strength coaches day-to-day with our athletes to track their performance, vis-a-vis their nutritional/eating habits. That ideal staffing set-up and the new focus on hiring a Sports RD sets up what I consider the perfect “triad” for college student-athletes in terms of best serving their overall health, nutrition and wellness, while maximizing on-field performance.
Dave Ellis, a longtime advisor to the Oklahoma athletic department and a 30-year veteran of the sports nutrition field, also noted in the Bee article that with the emergence of Sports RDs athletic departments have moved far beyond a focus on what to serve for team meals…
“Sports RDs have long since transcended the pre-game meal…. We’re in the recovery business–replenishing athletes’ expended calories with healthy whole foods and safe nutritional supplements—and the best coaches and athletic directors realize there’s a science to that.”
Certainly athletic department budgets vary widely from the top FBS football schools to departments without elite football programs, but this new trend of the top FBS schools hiring full-time Sports RDs for their teams makes a BIG statement that championship teams must eat healthy in order to compete like champions.
As an added benefit, this exciting nutritional focus by the top athletic departments in the country, like most trends in the NCAA, can only have positive trickle down effects throughout other collegiate sports and for student-athletes in all divisions, never mind the performance benefits for athletes in practices, on game day and in the classroom. I can assure you as a former Division I coach, Sports RD’s for college athletes and teams are just what the team doctor ordered if the goal is to produce sports, and health, nutrition and fitness champions for life!
(Apparently there’s already a Sports RD shortage), but nonetheless I hope this “Food Coach” trend trickles down quickly to all collegiate teams in all NCAA divisions, budgets permitting, because it’s so much more than simply telling your players to “have some color on your plate” at dinner. These are health and nutrition life lessons these elite football student-athletes are being coached on. Yet, truly all college athletes (in all NCAA Divisions) should receive the same benefit of access to a Sports RD (on staff). Since the ultimate NCAA, and athletic department goal is student-athlete welfare, why not share the wealth for the health and fitness of NCAA student-athletes in all Divisions? Let’s let these “Food Coaches” coach ALL of ’em up!
[For a list of college teams with full-time Sports RDs, you can check out this CPSDA link. For more general information on Sports RD’s or “Food Coaches”, you can visit the CPSDA site at http://www.sportsrd.org.]