College football's top 25 competing for 'food coaches' to gain performance edge
"Food coaches" are becoming as hard for colleges to find as accurate, strong-armed quarterbacks, but 14 of the nation's top 25 college football teams in USA Today's preseason coaches' poll have hired at least one full-time sports registered dietitian (Sports RD) in the past few years to shift emphasis from feeding athletes to fueling them.
All four teams that competed in the last two NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) title games—national champions Alabama and Auburn and runners-up LSU and Oregon, respectively—had Sports RDs on staff throughout the season. Eight of the top nine ranked schools this year kick off with full-time Sports RDs, while the other one, fourth-ranked Oklahoma, relies upon an on-site sports nutritionist who is aided by the best known Sports RD in the country.
Sports RDs, or "food coaches" as football coaches often refer to them, are finally part and parcel of a well-rounded athletic program, relied upon now to deliver the same level of day-to-day support for athletes that athletic trainers and strength coaches have been providing for decades.
The Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA), which originally formed in 2009 to facilitate information-sharing in an increasingly specialized field, now faces a dilemma few industries are experiencing in these difficult economic times: more demand than supply.
"We're lending all the assistance we can right now to top athletic departments like Michigan State, Clemson and North Carolina State that are searching for experienced Sports RDs, but it's getting more difficult all the time," said CPSDA President Amy Bragg, Director of Performance Nutrition for the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Third-ranked USC just hired longtime Sports RD Becci Twombley away from UCLA; and the University of Illinois recruited seasoned Sports RD Chelsea Zenner from the University of Florida this week, creating two more vacancies that coaches would like to fill.
"Sports RDs have long since transcended the pre-game meal," explains Dave Ellis, longtime advisor to Oklahoma's athletic department and a 30-year veteran of sports nutrition. "We're in the recovery business--replenishing athletes' expended calories with healthy whole foods and safe nutritional supplements—and the best coaches and athletic directors realize there's a science to that."