Oct 20, 2021Q&A with Notre Dame Director of Sports Nutrition Matt Frakes
After a career of teaching healthy eating habits and cooking skills to young athletes where he’s worked, Matt Frakes is bringing his experience in sports nutrition to Notre Dame.
Recently hired as the Fighting Irish’s director of sports nutrition, Frakes brings his doctorate in nutrition and hospitality management as the football program and the 25 other athletic programs’ registered dietitian-nutritionist.
Frakes sat down with ND Works in a Q&A to discuss his previous stops, industry best practices, and what he hopes to accomplish with Notre Dame.
Below is an excerpt from that Q&A discussion.
How did you come to be a dietitian?
Honestly, I didn’t know what a dietitian was. I wanted to be a chef, but the university I attended didn’t have culinary arts. So I picked the next best thing that I had to do with food. Being a dietitian was a career and a skill set. So I went in that direction. I started taking the courses — chemistry, biochemistry, and everything it entailed. I fell in love with it. And then I found out you can get a position in athletics as a sports dietitian. I could work with food and stay in athletics. I said, “Sign me up. I’m there.”
What is it that you and your staff do for student-athletes?
We ensure that we have the product necessary for the athlete to be fueled for performance and recovery for their day-to-day purposes, whether it’s academic or in training for practice or for competition. We make sure our athletes understand how to adequately give their bodies the nourishment they need to be successful, on and off the field, whatever their field of play is. We also hold consultations and individual assessments with our athletes.
How do you assess what the team or the athlete needs?
We have a plan for the year. We have a plan for the month and the seasons of the athlete’s sport. There’s off-season and preseason. We have to consider all of those different phases of the year, and where the athlete needs to be for their goals, to be at their best health, and where the team needs them to be successful.
How are meals prepared for the athletes?
We work with campus dining and chef Matt Seitz on the football training table — essentially where our football program eats after they get done with their day at the Gug [Guglielmino Athletic Complex]. They eat their meals according to recovery and prepare for the next day.
Do the athletes eat on their own?
Yes. Part of my job is to educate them and help them optimize making the right selection on their own. It’s my job to get them to care enough to make those selections, to paint the picture of what they need to eat and when and why they need to eat that meal. We try to coordinate with their academic schedules. A lot of times they just don’t know when to eat based on their schedule. It’s my job to help them see the picture, when they can eat and what selection to choose to make sure that they’re meeting their calorie and nutrient needs.
That’s interesting, what you said about them not knowing when to eat.
They’re overwhelmed. We ask a lot of our student-athletes, especially here at Notre Dame, one of the best and most prestigious academic institutions in the entire world, not just the country. Pair that with how we expect them to compete at their best, to bring in their respective championship in their respective sports. We demand a lot out of them. So we try to support them, so they feel supported — so they feel like they can ask somebody for help along the way.
» ALSO SEE: S&C Coach Opening at Cape Breton University
Do you go out to athletic practices?
I am out there. In order to know my athletes, I’ve got to see how they react to certain scenarios. I’ve been there before as a Division I athlete at Bowling Green State University and I definitely know what they’re going through. I love to be present because you really get a true picture of how their bodies are reacting to the stressor. I can also tell whether or not they are adequately fueled or maybe running into a rut or running into fatigue sooner than what’s expected for that body to do in that typical session.
To read the full Q&A about Notre Dame’s new director of sports nutrition, click here.