As any athlete knows, food is fuel. But with athletics departments struggling to balance their budgets, has nutrition education received short shrift?
That’s a question raised in this Athletic Business article, which found that even the most elite college athletes are often ill-informed when it comes to eating right. In a review of the 11 athletics departments in the Big Ten Conference, for instance, the magazine found only four people with “dietitian” in their titles. It reminded me of a New York Times article I read during the NCAA basketball tournament last month about West Virginia University player Da’Sean Butler’s fondness for pizza—in one month, he spent $750 on it—and how much his game improved when decided to forgo pizza for greens and Raisin Bran.
I spoke today to Kathleen Laquale, a long-time athletic trainer and nutritionist who is also a professor at Bridgewater State College, to learn more about what colleges should be doing to make sure their athletes get the right fuel—and develop habits that will stick with them when their days of intense calorie-burning are over.
Ms. Laquale says colleges would be wise to spend a little more to make sure their athletes understand, for instance, that dietary supplements do not make cheeseburgers any healthier.
“In the ideal world, what would be fabulous is to have a registered or licensed dietician on every college campus,” says Ms. Laquale, who travels to athletics departments around the country to brief athletes and coaches on proper nutrition. The next best thing would be to have a sports nutritionist come in periodically to talk with teams about eating properly, she says.
Nutrition can be of particular concern for football players. The athletic director of a mid-major Division I program once told me that his greatest concern about the health of athletes at his university was the plight of beefy linemen after they’ve played their final game. The outlook for these athletes isn’t always good, but as this SI article about two former linemen from Oregon attests, a little guidance can go a long way.
Despite the consequences of poor eating habits, says Ms. Laquale, sports nutrition still lingers on the sidelines at many colleges. At one college in Rhode Island, she says, officials recently debated whether to hire a massage therapist or invite a sports nutritionist to speak to athletes.
“They thought the athletes would gain more by having the massage therapist all the time, rather than one visit with a dietician,” she says.