A New Menu

January 29, 2015

On Aug. 1, a collective opening of cafeteria doors could be heard across the country. As the fall semester began, one of the first NCAA Division I rules changes aimed at deregulation went into effect, allowing schools to provide "unlimited meals and snacks incidental to participation."

Athletic departments are now quickly trying to transition to the change, with compliance staffs analyzing the nuances of "incidental to participation" and administrators deciding how much of their budgets should go toward upgrading nutritional offerings. Sports dietitians, meanwhile, are welcoming the removal of feeding limitations with open arms.

"This legislation grants athletic departments the freedom to tailor nutrition operations around the student-athlete instead of around compliance," says Amy Bragg, Director of Performance Nutrition at the University of Alabama and a past president of the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association. "It should increase student-athletes' exposure to healthy foods at frequent intervals throughout the day and reverse the typical practice of overloading calories at a single, large training table meal."

While there is concern that athletic programs with larger budgets will create lavish, around-the-clock, all-you-can-eat buffets, most schools are starting small. The trend is to maintain one training table meal per day while expanding recovery options and offering grab-and-go meals and snacks.

Alabama plans no significant changes to its training table set up, but is now providing protein-centered breakfast snacks to its student-athletes after morning conditioning sessions, which are served from the school's weightroom nutrition bar. Bragg is experimenting with several options, including a yogurt, granola, and fruit parfait setup, slow cooked oatmeal with various anti-inflammatory toppings, and egg wraps and breakfast sandwiches.

"We are aiming to help frame the day for every student-athlete with balanced, optimal nutrition, while also providing great recovery fuel," Bragg explains. "At the same time, we are using the opportunity to teach our athletes about healthy eating. For example, the parfaits reinforce the concept of balance among protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as the importance of calcium in the diet."

Alabama is also working on adding, at strategic points during each team's season, customized boxed snacks in the team lounge. "Ideally, we hope to synchronize the timing of the snacks based on our insight into the players' needs and the team's upcoming performance and travel demands," says Bragg.

Washington State University will also leave its training table as is. "We feel it is important for our student-athletes to prepare some meals for themselves so they learn the life skills of meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking," says Lindsay Brown, Coordinator of Sports Nutrition at WSU. "Also, it would be very expensive to offer three full meals every day."

Instead, WSU has constructed nutrition hubs next to its two weightrooms, which offer grab-and-go breakfasts, snacks, smoothies, and approved supplements. The main Cougar dining area supplies an express mid-day meal.

At the University of Oklahoma, administrators are considering bringing in a food truck so that recovery foods and snacks can be brought wherever the athletes are. "That was actually our athletic director Joe Castiglione's idea," Oklahoma Director of Sports Nutrition Tiffany Byrd told NewsOk.com. "We are probably going to have one for an enhanced fueling station."

Oklahoma is also implementing nutrition hubs at a handful of stationary locations, both for recovery and grab-and-go lunches. "Lunch is a huge issue," Byrd said. "Our student-athletes get up in the morning and they condition. Then they go to class and come back and then train with their actual sport afterward. Lunch is a very common missed meal. So we made sure our hours accommodated our lunch meal."

While the initial changes are not drastic, they are likely to evolve with time. "Year one has a bit of a wild west feel," says Bragg. "As we navigate the first months of deregulation, our nutrition philosophy will continue to be developed and shaped by our expanded operations."
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