Fueling Station Design Considerations for Programs without a Dietitian
Jordan Harris, MS, RDN, LDN
Written by a Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association Registered Dietitian (RD). To learn more about sports nutrition and CPSDA, go to www.sportsrd.org.
Fueling stations are a great opportunity to provide snacks and supplements that optimize the training adaptations of collegiate athletes. However, designing a fueling station can be an expensive and daunting task due to the logistics associated with prioritizing nutritional status of athletes while adhering to a budget. Athletic programs might spend anywhere from a quarter-million to 1.5 million dollars annually to complete this task.
Ever since 2014, when the NCAA changed its legislation to allow unlimited feeding for athletes, the number of sports dietitians and fueling stations in collegiate athletics have skyrocketed (1). In most major athletic conferences fueling station design is guided by sports dietitians, though this is not always the case. Some programs that need to feed multiple athletic teams may lack the funds to afford the expertise of a sports dietitian, and rely on pre-existing staff to provide food to athletes. Regardless of the professional running the fueling station, athletes need to be fueled and fueling station design needs to be optimized for this task.
This article will discuss two major fueling station design points that programs without a sports dietitian can consider: location, and item selection.
The term “fueling station” may conjure up an image of stainless-steel counters lined with blenders located beside Gatorade-sponsored fridges to some people, but it is in fact, a varied term that can refer to several situations. The two main types are centralized and satellite fueling stations.
A centralized fueling station is normally a nutrition operation’s home base. This is where most of the snacks and supplements are made and offered. Depending on the scope of operation and foods offered, these spaces may require permits and compliance with federal and state Food Code standards. If you’re not sure, consulting with your local regulatory authority and health inspector can be a great resource. The ideal location will be in a central area that athletes pass multiple times on a daily basis. Common locations are adjacent to weight rooms, player lounges, locker rooms, or practice sites.
Aside from athlete access, consider location factors that minimize stress on staff and assure food is handled safely such as:
Satellite fueling stations can also be set up throughout facilities to offer snacks/meals to athletes at key fueling moments such as after workouts, practices, or meetings. Satellite fueling stations are smaller than centralized fueling stations and are often limited in regard to food production due to their limited space. While these mini fueling stations can be built into the infrastructure of a facility, they can also be economically created by combining portable tables with effective labeling to display snacks and supplements. The same points above are important to consider.
The second component to consider when designing a fueling station is product selection. It is important to understand that quality food items do not have to be unique and/or expensive. Utilizing a food-first approach that focuses on giving athletes fresh fruits, simple sandwiches (deli meat with cheese, peanut butter and jelly, etc.), and small snacks like hard-boiled eggs, Rice Krispies Treats, granola bars, or cheese sticks will help to limit expenses while meeting nutrient needs. However, when considering supplemental products, a more strategic approach is needed.
An optimal supplemental product selection will be tailored to the taste preferences of teams, and focus on improving the hydration levels, recovery, and protein consumption of athletes. Additionally, dietary supplements that are offered to athletes should be 3rd party tested for athletic banned substances (2).
Programs with limited budgets should especially focus on providing options at key fueling moments throughout the day such as before or after training and games. The tables below review basic options while providing rationale for item selection during these time periods.
Pre-Practice/Workout Supplemental Products
|High Carb Energy Chews||Honey Stinger, Gatorade||Quick digesting carb source|
|High Carb Snacks||Honey Stinger||Quick digesting carb source|
|Beet Juice||Humann, Juice Performer, Biosteel||Improve vasodilation/endurance|
|Collagen||Momentous, Klean||Soft-tissue repair|
|Hydration Packets||The Right Stuff, Drip Drop||Electrolyte replenishment|
|High-carb Drink||Gatorade, Powerade, Pedialyte||High-carb hydration with electrolyte replenishment|
|Low-carb Drink||Gatorade, Powerade, Pedialyte||Low-carb hydration with electrolyte replenishment|
Aside from beet juice which improves vasodilation/endurance (3), hydration packets which are helpful for quick electrolyte replenishment, and collagen for soft-tissue repair (4), the focus is on high-carb easy to eat snacks before workouts. This can be easily substituted for whole fruit, fruit chews, or quick snacks like granola bars. Drinks are used for electrolyte and fluid replenishment before workouts to optimize hydration levels before training (5). All athletes need carbohydrates to fuel their performance, but athletes with weight concerns can utilize low-carb options to manage their hydration status.
Post-Practice/Workout Supplemental Products
|Custom Protein Shakes||—||Protein source, fluid replacement, and serving of fruit and/or vegetables|
|Ready to Drink Protein Shakes||Gatorade, Muscle Milk, Fairlife||Protein source and fluid replacement|
|Pickles/Pickle Juice||PickleAde||Sodium replenishment, cramp relief via TRP channels|
|High-carb drink||Gatorade, Powerade, Pedialyte||High-carb fluid and electrolyte replacement|
|Low-carb drink||Gatorade, Powerade, Pedialyte||Low-carb fluid and electrolyte replacement|
A focus on fluids that meet multiple nutritional needs following workouts can be a great way to optimize hydration status.
While fueling stations are a great opportunity to provide snacks and supplements that reduce nutrient deficiencies, athletes still need to be encouraged to eat balanced meals throughout the day when possible. However, an emphasis on designing fueling stations to meet athletes at the right locations with the right products can optimize their performance through proper fueling before and after practices and competitions.