Newswise — August 17, 2012, Chicago, IL—“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 the 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. 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.
Thirty years after then head football coach Tom Osborne created the first specialized role for “performance nutrition” at the University of Nebraska, 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 what has become a highly specialized field, now finds itself facing a dilemma few industries are experiencing in these difficult economic times: more demand for Sports RDs than supply of experienced talent.
“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.
“We also have Special Forces within the U.S. military looking for seasoned Sports RDs,” Bragg added, “and not just those with experience, but RDs physically fit enough to work in the field with troops in training, so we have our work cut out for us.”
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 get filled before kicking off their seasons.
“Food coach is the handle Tom Osborne hung on me back in the 1980s when he persuaded me to specialize in nutrition while I was studying to be a strength coach at Nebraska,” explained Dave Ellis, who was elected first President of the CPSDA in 2010 before giving way to Bragg this year. “Coach Osborne (now Nebraska’s Director of Athletics) was the first to create a full-time Sports RD position because he knew that well balanced pre-game meals were only one slice of the apple. Sports RDs are in the recovery business— replenishing expended calories with healthy whole foods and safe nutritional supplements—and the best coaches and athletic directors realize that there’s a science to that.”
Ellis is the most widely known Sports RD in the country, and he’s been counseling fourth-ranked Oklahoma for years, just one of dozens of college and professional sports teams he’s worked with after full-time tours of duty at Nebraska and the University of Wisconsin. Ellis is often called upon to lay the groundwork for college or pro teams that want to hire one or more full-time Sports RDs. Ellis, Bragg and the other seven members of the CPSDA Board of Directors don’t need a crystal ball to forecast the future of their profession.
“Most major college athletic directors and head football coaches only began viewing performance nutrition on the same level as athletic training or strength training in the past three to five years,” explained Randy Bird, CPSDA Vice President and Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Virginia. “But it’s not just about football. Virginia has 680 student athletes, and we’d like to teach all of them how to replace the calories they burn with healthy whole foods and safe nutritional supplements. We had to start somewhere, and the high-revenue sports like football and basketball set the standard right now. In the meantime, CPSDA is revving up its continuing education efforts.”
Nearly half of the CPSDA’s 664 members today are college students of dietetics, and while most of them express a keen interest in sports and a desire to enter the field after graduation, the job typically requires 70-hour work weeks during the school year, nearly twice the time most of the nation’s 60,000 RDs work in more traditional school and hospital settings.
Being a young and still growing national not-for-profit association driven by volunteers, CPSDA has relied largely on its 4-day annual conference in the spring to keep Sports RDs current and to prepare aspiring students for full-time employment. Early in 2013, however, CPSDA will introduce the first of a series of regional one-day “boot camps” for RDs and students of dietetics who are planning to test their mettle in the athletic workplace. The first CPSDA one-day boot camp will be held January 26, 2013 on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
More information about the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians can be found at www.SportsRd.org.
CPSDA Board members in Bold Face ItalicsClick to view list of fulltime Sports RDs at SportsRD.org
|USA Today Coaches poll—published August 2, 2012|
|Rank||School||Full-time Sports||RDConsulting RD/CPSDA Bd. member|
|3||Southern California||Becci Twombley|
|5||Oregon||James Harris and Rachel Stratton|
|6||Georgia||Jen Ketterly and Maria Breen|
|7||Florida State||Kristin Gravani|
|9||South Carolina||Jenny Boynton|
|20||Virginia Tech||Jennie Schafer|
|24||Notre Dame||Erika Whitman and Kayla Matrunick|
Available for logged-in reporters only