Jan 29, 2015
Cooking Up a Storm

Sometimes the biggest hurdle to better nutrition is simply knowing how to cook. With help from dietetics students, Cal State Fresno is clearing that hurdle.

By Dr. Lisa Herzig

Lisa Herzig, PhD, RD, CDE, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition and the Director of the Dietetics and Food Administration Program at California State University, Fresno. She can be reached at: [email protected].

Many student-athletes enter their collegiate years without giving much thought to nutrition. It can be tempting for them to frequent fast-food drive-throughs before and after practices, stuffing themselves on burgers and fries. Often, they just aren’t aware of the effects these items have on their performance.

Fortunately, that trend has been shifting in recent years. Slowly but surely, collegiate student-athletes’ nutrition has been getting more and more attention. Here at California State University, Fresno, we wanted to be a part of it. For the past four years, we’ve been running a program in which our Fresno State dietetics students help teach our student-athletes about nutrition. Along with giving dietetics majors hands-on experience, it’s become a popular program for athletes, helping them change their eating habits and boost their performance.

Evolving Program

The program has evolved over the four years, and it began when the university’s former Director of Strength and Conditioning, Andy Bennett, approached me about integrating nutrition education into his training programs. Andy felt that some piece of the performance-enhancement puzzle was missing, and he was starting to suspect that poor eating habits was the issue. He wanted them to learn the vital role nutrition plays in sports performance, but understood additional expertise was required if he was to have any success.

I understood Andy’s concern and welcomed the chance to help. I enlisted students in the dietetics major to provide basic nutrition lessons for the athletes at the campus training facilities. They developed teachings that cover the unique nutritional requirements of athletes and ways in which they can achieve and maintain peak performance, as well as decrease recovery times. After a positive response from the athletes, we expanded our offerings to include individual nutrition counseling sessions and monthly seminars. Initially, the athletes met with me or a senior dietetics student for the counseling, and we worked to identify and correct nutritional deficiencies and set performance goals, such as weight regulation or increased energy. Not long after, though, the university hired a consultant sports dietician, Kim Tirapelle, MS, RD, CSSD, to handle the counseling and create nutrition plans for the athletes. When participating athletes began seeing improvements in their performances, word of the program quickly spread, with more and more student-athletes interested. We began to brainstorm on how to most effectively deliver nutrition information to a large number of athletes and came up with the idea of a Sports Nutrition Playbook that would include information on everything from nutrition to eating on the go. We also had come to realize that a major stumbling block for many athletes in embracing a healthy diet is that they don’t know how to cook. In fact, many of them are completely lost in a kitchen. So we decided a large part of our expanded program should focus on cooking skills.

We again enlisted the help of our dietetics students, this time through a senior-level Food and Nutrition Communication capstone course. As part of the class, the students would develop a Sports Nutrition Playbook as well as help teach a cooking class to athletes. Before long, the program was named “Bulldogs in the Kitchen” in honor of the school’s mascot.

Calling the Plays

Rolled out at the beginning of the 2013 spring semester, the cornerstone of the Bulldogs in the Kitchen program is the Sports Nutrition Playbook, created by the dietetics students and Kim Tirapelle. The information in the Playbook is consistent with the teachings across all components of the program, and it provides athletes with a great reference to use when implementing good nutrition habits into their daily life. Here are some of the items we included in this year’s Playbook:

– Mission statement – Menu – Cooking instructions – Food safety – Portion sizes – Recipes – Tips for eating affordably – Tips on how to build a healthy meal – Tips on healthy eating for vegetarians – Seasonal fruit and vegetable chart – How to turn leftovers into new meals – Pre-competition nutrition – Post workout/recovery nutrition – Hydration tips – Healthy meals for on the go – Eating on the road – Key nutrients for athletes – Protein and iron recommendations – Tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – Healthy snacking.

Into the Kitchen

The Playbook is handed out to athletes at our student-athlete cooking class, held seven times per semester at our Family Food Science Building. Taught entirely by dietetics students, the class lasts about three hours and is conducted in the evening to avoid conflicts with class and practice schedules. The average class size is 20 athletes, with one dietetics student for every three to four athletes. The evening begins with an overview of the Playbook. Our dietetics students go over some of the most important areas of sports nutrition and where to find what information in the book. The athletes are then separated into six small groups and stationed at one of the six kitchens. Next, they’re guided through proper kitchen practices and safety, and basic cooking skills are reviewed. A dietetics student then assigns each group a dish to prepare and designates the cooking duties. This year’s six dishes were: mango-tomato salsa, spring salad, wild rice with balsamic mushrooms, chicken (or tofu) vegetable stir-fry, strawberry mock-jitos, and crêpes. The student facilitates the learning process through guidance and coaching, but they’re instructed to be hands-off so the athletes can get the full benefit of the experience.

Once the food is done, the athletes are taught to garnish and plate. The meal is then carried into a dining area, where all six dishes are set up, buffet-style, and dinner is announced. We often invite special guests to these dinners, such as the university president, the dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, and the chair of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

Sharing the Health

To advertise Bulldogs in the Kitchen, dietetics students initially sent e-mails to coaches and players, hung flyers in the locker rooms and weightrooms, and presented information about the program at coaches’ meetings. Our strength and conditioning coach was also instrumental in getting the word out and encouraging participation. Last semester, we were lucky enough to have a student in the dietetics major who was also an athlete. On top of that, she was president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, which enabled her to attend all the coaches’ meetings. She gave the program a five-minute plug at each meeting, and her efforts led to a marked increase in enrollment.

Apart from these attempts to get the program noticed, much of the advertising was simply word of mouth. As athletes reported increased stamina and improvements in performance after taking the class, their teammates were eager to sign up for it, too. Coaches are also seeing improved performances in their athletes, which is the best kind of marketing. In fact, some coaches are so eager for their players to participate that they sometimes allow athletes to skip workouts to attend. We’ve seen entire squads sign up, including football, basketball, men’s and women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s track. Andy left the university last year but we’ve been working closely with the new Director of Strength and Conditioning, Johnny Olguin, MA, SCCC, who appreciates the importance of the program. In addition, one of our Associate Athletic Directors, Steve Robertello, helped secure funding for the program and is one of its strongest advocates. The Bulldogs in the Kitchen program has been a great success. The athletes have been enthusiastic, and a number of them reported it was the first time they were taught that poor food choices could adversely affect athletic performance. In addition, each participant said the program improved their cooking skills, and many are regularly practicing at home. Thanks to Bulldogs in the Kitchen, nutrition is now a priority for many Fresno State student-athletes and coaches.

Sidebar: Healthy Snacking

The following are some of the suggestions included in the Sports Nutrition Playbook to help student-athletes with choosing options for snacks.

Snacks on the go Fruit-flavored, low-fat Greek yogurt with low-fat granola Lean roast beef, ham, or turkey and a string cheese stick rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla and paired with baby carrots Whole grain pita bread triangles and flavored hummus A scoop of low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese with sliced strawberries or cantaloupe cubes Fresh fruit paired with peanut butter or nuts Hard-boiled egg paired with a handful of cherry tomatoes

Quick picks from the vending machine or convenience store Beef jerky Fat-free or low-fat yogurt or yogurt drinks Packages of baby carrots, broccoli florets or celery sticks Fresh fruits, fruit salads, or fruit cups Mozzarella cheese sticks Pudding cups Cereal bars or nutrition bars Low-fat or fat-free regular or flavored milks 100% fruit or vegetable juices Sports drinks

Survival stashes Oatmeal packets with nuts or peanut butter Single-serve tuna in flavor-fresh pouch, served with whole grain crackers Light microwave popcorn Raisins, dried apricots, and single-serve fruit cups packed in 100% fruit juice Shelf-stable protein drinks

Sidebar: Recovery Nutrition

The following is information included in the Playbook about post workout and competition nutrition.

Recovery Nutrition Keys

Carbohydrates: Consume at least 50 grams of carbs within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. Examples: Bagels, graham crackers, pretzels, granola bars, fresh fruit, milk or chocolate milk, and sports bars or drinks

Protein: Consume at least 10-20 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. Examples: Greek yogurt, cheese, milk or chocolate milk, protein shake, deli meat, nuts, peanut butter, and protein bars

Fluids: Rehydrate with at least 16-24 ounces of fluids for every one pound lost from sweat. Including electrolytes such as sodium and potassium will also enhance rehydration.

Recovery Shake – 1 cup skim milk + 1 scoop whey protein powder (20-25 g protein) + 1 banana + ice Recovery Food Combos – Protein shakes (pre-made or mixed with water) – 16 oz shelf-stable milk (e.g., Horizon Organic portable) + 2 granola bars

– 8 graham cracker squares topped with peanut butter + banana + 16 oz water

– 16 oz sports drink + 1 sports bar + 16 oz water

– 1 cup low-fat granola + 16 oz low-fat chocolate milk

– 1 whole grain bagel + 2 scrambled eggs + 16 oz 100% fruit juice

– 2 oatmeal packets mixed with water + 2 Tbsp peanut butter + 16 fl oz skim milk

– 1 cup high-protein cereal (e.g., Kashi Go Lean Crunch) + 1 cup skim milk

– 1-2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches + 16 oz 100% fruit juice

– 1 turkey/cheese sub + apple slices + 16 oz water – 1 cup Greek yogurt with low-fat granola and walnuts + 16 fl oz water

– 1 cup chicken noodle soup + grilled cheese sandwich + 16 fl oz water


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