Interning as a Sports Nutritionist: What Student Athletes Eat

This term I’m not taking classes; instead, I’m doing an internship and working as the Director of Newsroom Development at the Emerald Media Group. In terms of the former, I’m interning with the Performance Team in conjunction with the University of Oregon Athletics Department. The Performance Team is concerned predominantly with athlete nutrition, as well as using GPS analysis to monitor athlete training loads, which means we can eventually develop a flagging system that will indicate risk to injury. Overall, we’re learning how to design recovery protocols for different style of training.

My "office": The Nutrition Center at the University of Oregon

My “office”: The Nutrition Center at the University of Oregon

Now to the nutrition part.

As a runner, it’s particularly interesting to work with the track and field team. I have always been curious about how they refuel post-workout, and, to my error, I put them on a health-pedestal, deeming that all they ate were egg whites, protein shakes, bananas with peanut butter, cottage cheese, and tins of tuna fish. Oh how wrong I was.

A year ago, I visited the UO nutritionist who also works with the student athletes. I told her that I wanted to gain muscle mass so that I’d have the lean and toned body of a long distance track runner, and so when she told me that the UO runners eat goldfish crackers after exercising, I was confused; After all, a 1/2 cup serving has 133 calories and only just over 2g of protein. What’s more, assuming that these runners didn’t eat fat, I was confused to see them pouring multiple cups of the crackers into their mouthes, each time consuming a food that consists of 45% fat and 46% carbs. Where is their blubber, I wondered?

Working alongside the Director of Sports Nutrition, Adam Korzun, who is discussing the dinner selections with athletes as they pass through.

Working alongside the Director of Sports Nutrition, Adam Korzun, who is discussing the dinner selections with athletes as they pass through.

Yes, these track and field kids exercise insane amounts, but no, they most definitely don’t restrict. Upon returning from their training sessions, they pounce on the nutrition bar where I stand at-the-ready. Excited to refuel, I take orders from each athlete, most of them asking for, you guessed it, goldfish, along with Sweet & Salty Nut granola bars, chocolate almond fudge Cliff bars, and vanilla-toffee Muscle Milk bars. There’s not a hard-boiled egg in sight, and only a handful of them ask for Fiber One bars. As a health and fitness enthusiast, this is befuddling; how do they perform so well after refueling with highly sugary foods?

Well, one must bear in mind (and this is extremely pertinent to me due to my history with an eating disorder…), that these snacks only make up a tiny part of their overall intake. Yes, some of the runners I have spoken with admit that the likes of pizza and macaroni and cheese are their staple dinners, but their burgers do provide them with ample protein, and the dried cranberries we hand out after practice ensure they get at least some fruit.

Serving the athletes nutritious smoothies made with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and other natural ingredients. Signs are put in front of all dishes to educate athletes on healthful nutrition.

Serving the athletes nutritious smoothies made with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and other natural ingredients. Signs are put in front of all dishes to educate athletes on healthful nutrition.

Moral of the story: It’s okay, even for exercise enthusiasts, to eat stereotypically less healthful foods. It all boils down to looking at the big picture: If you’re eating well cumulatively, you’ll be fine. The goal is to aim for a B+ diet; high expectations will simply drive you bonkers.

The creation of the new University of Oregon energy bars by our nutrition team.

The creation of the new University of Oregon energy bars by our nutrition team.

Here’s a list of everything we offer the athletes:

  • Nature valley Oats ‘n Honey and Sweet and Salty bars
  • NuGo bars (chocolate, vanilla yogurt, and peanut butter chocolate varieties)
  • Luna chocolate and chocolate mint protein bars
  • Fiber One bars
  • Cliff bars (all sorts of flavors)
  • Lara gluten-free bars
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Craisins
  • Gatorade (regular, G2, and Recovery types)
  • Chocolate milk
  • Bagels (a variety) with toppings including peanut butter, jelly, cream cheese, and butter
  • Mixed nuts
  • Salted almonds
  • Fresh fruit

So, for all you wonderful but rigid athletes out there, go ahead, take a deep breath, and let go a little…
Everything will be just fine.
I have proof.

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