Rethinking the refuel: How athletes can now refuel properly

“Would you like a bottle of water?”

“Yes please!” I state, dying of thirst after walking throughout campus and not to mention still dehydrated from running in an indoor track meet the day before.

“Actually, we were speaking to your mother,” stated someone from the Penn State compliance office.

Shocked. My mother accepted while I got up from the waiting room and walked to the nearest drinking fountain. I thought about stealing her bottle but eyes were glued to me, so I thought I should play it safe. Although as a high schooler I did not understand NCAA rules and regulations, at that time I was just an eager runner ready to begin my future at a Division I school. From my official visit to my years on the team not much has changed. I had access to a full time Registered Dietitian specializing in Sports Nutrition (CSSD), we had some team meals, team nutrition education talks, and had per diem for travel meets. In my eyes, this was wonderful, for I too was studying to become a Registered Dietitian at the best place in the world. Call me biased, but we all know the truth 😉

All changed when I entered my senior year. During the 2014-2015 season the NCAA lifted their restrictions and changed how much the university could feed their athletes. For the first time our Athletic Training Room now had a fueling station stuffed to full capacity with all of the runner’s favorite snacks: pretzels, pb &j sandwiches, peanut butter, hummus, chocolate milk, Greek yogurt… I mean we were all dreaming, right?  It was already a blessing not paying for our running sneakers that lasted roughly 2 months due to our outrageous weekly mileage, but now we have unlimited snacks?!

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Thanks to UConn’s Shabazz Napier (your thank you note I think got lost in the mail) student athletes will no longer have hungry nights in their dorm room- but can properly refuel after practice or competition. Which the best thing is Registered Dietitians in the collegiate athlete world can really impact student athletes. For example, I knew what was provided in the fueling station were great choices that I could purchase on my own. Lastly, even though I was an experience student-athlete being a senior- I didn’t have to think about making sure I was packing a snack for my night classes. I could literally refuel after practice, shower (LOL), and head straight to class. This was a huge blessing in the eyes of a student-athlete. For immediate recovery is the goal for every performance Registered Dietitian. The minute you stop moving- your body has only so long to recover from the workout- ideally 30 to 60 minutes. With the busy schedule of a student athlete this can become a challenge. By providing your body with quick glucose, like from a Rice Krispie, a surge of insulin allows the body to refuel their glycogen stores and repair muscles. Sport Dietitians ensure faster recovery for the following day and yes there is a time and place for simple sugars.

Fast forward to now. I never would say I would be fulfilling my dreams to help athletes fulfill theirs. Yes, working in the sports nutrition world is not easy, long days that can last into the late hours of the night (you are looking at 15+ hour days), but when you see the team score a touchdown, win a game/match, make a season record, or even PR in their event it is 100% worth it. It’s the drive that helps you get out of bed in the morning and want you to become a better dietitian. The athlete’s world is filled with information overload, rules, and time constrictions. That is why, as part of their support staff, we are so vital. We can help the athlete properly refuel by choosing the right options, let them be at an ideal weight, and most importantly have a healthy relationship with food. Therefore, it is important to fuel with purpose and listen to Registered Dietitians- we know our stuff! With the growing amount of CSSD’s in the nutrition world- I am glad to say that we are ensuring our facts are straight and we are providing evidenced-based research into our individualized recommendations.

In some areas working as a dietitian for sport teams did not surprise me. For example, providing recovery nutrition, restocking the fueling station, making sure team travel meals were provided, counseling, and calculating body fat percentages. However, I did not realize how much hard work went into ensuring your athlete does not cramp during a game and ensuring there is enough variety to the fueling stations and at meals. It is funny how sneaking bagels & cereal from the dining hall to being offered whey-protein fruit shakes freshly made after practice became the new norm. Therefore, it just makes you wonder what is next.

Love your favorite retired runner,

Cinnamon xoxo

*Abbie is currently working as a graduate assistant to University of Oklahoma and studying to obtain her CSSD*

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#Throwback

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