Fueling the Gamecocks the Right Way
Aug. 7, 2014
By Brad Muller
Just as an engine won't run without fuel, a student-athlete's body can't perform properly without the right nutrition. A recent NCAA rule change allows institutions to provide more of the right kind of nutrition to properly fuel those bodies, and South Carolina is already out in front after hiring the first football-only dietitian in the country and constructing the new Gamecock Nutrition Center, open to all student-athletes, in the weight room at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"This is an absolute necessity now," director of football nutrition Joey Blake said. "Nobody has a leg up on us nutritionally any more. This whole thing comes from coach Steve Spurrier and (Athletics Director) Ray Tanner. You won't see a more healthy-minded coach in the country than coach Spurrier. We're one of the few schools in the country that has more than one full-time dietitian."
Previously, the NCAA had strict rules about the food that could be provided to student-athletes by the school, but times have changed since these rules were put in place. With student-athletes becoming bigger, stronger and faster, there has been more scientific and practical applications of how important nutrition is to athletes.
"When they go through two-a-days, breakfast, lunch and dinner doesn't cut it," Blake said. "With what they're expending on a daily basis, they cannot get in just three basic meals a day. You'd see it every year where guys would drop a ton of weight during the season because they just couldn't get enough of the right foods in them. They're in a constant catabolic state where their body is breaking itself down, and unless you are doing a great job nutritionally, there's not a lot you can do to prevent that."
Having an early morning workout prior to classes can make it difficult for some student-athletes to find time to eat properly, thereby further breaking down their bodies from the previous day's practice or workout.
Joey Blake, Director of Football Nutrition
"They can come in before or after workouts," Blake said of the Gamecock Nutrition Center. "It wouldn't be feasible to do an outside catered meal for a few hundred people every day. This is about finding ways to find additional healthy supplements to keep their bodies going."
The Gamecock Nutrition Center was completed in mid-July and allows quick access to smoothies, healthy snacks or anything else Blake and his staff can put together to target the needs of the student-athletes without taking away from their regular meals. The whole concept is not about providing more food, but providing the right kinds of food when needed.
"Their scholarship meal plans will remain the same," Blake said. "Basically what changed was the rule on snacks. Now if we wanted to do a deli bar as a snack, we can do that. As long as it's food, we can do it."
Working directly with the football student-athletes, Blake sees the rule change and implementation by South Carolina administrators as a game changer.
"The plan for us moving forward is that on days when we're having a later practice, we'll have dinner earlier," Blake said. "So now what we do after practice is provide them with another snack or meal. We couldn't do that before. It's a big project, and our athletics department has done a great job of being dedicated to nutrition."
Stadiums, weight rooms and even uniforms have long been a part of the "arms race" when it comes to attracting student-athletes, in addition to particular academic offerings. Having nutritional facilities and offerings is another positive that truly benefits the student-athlete.
"You go around the country and the SEC and everybody's upgrading," Blake said. "You won't see a better set up than what we have here. This really puts us ahead of everyone else from a nutrition standpoint."
Student-athletes are encouraged to stop in to the Gamecock Nutrition Center before or after practice or weight room sessions, or even before team meetings. While the location is most convenient for the football program, student-athletes from other sports are encouraged to take advantage of this resource so they're never running on fumes.