Sports RDs Urge New NCAA Feeding Rules to Make Athletes ‘Whole Again’ After Exercise

Newswise — October 25, 2012, Chicago, IL--Sports registered dietitians working in college and professional sports are asking the NCAA to toss out rules that restrict athletes to only one meal per day and instead permit unlimited interval feedings as needed throughout the day to fully restore athletes and make them ‘whole again.’ The Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA), founded in 2009 largely by sports registered dietitians (Sports RDs) working in major college athletic programs, published its first position statement today to encourage the National Collegiate Athletic Association to reform rules that currently allow schools to serve only one meal per day to student-athletes in season. New feeding protocol for athletes is just one of dozens of reform concepts currently being considered by the NCAA.

Efforts to regulate feeding were last updated by the NCAA in 1991, ostensibly to enhance “competitive equity” and to provide what the NCAA said was a free added benefit for athletes on scholarship or receiving financial aid. Since then financially aided athletes are eligible to be served one meal per day from a training table, which is a planned meal served in a dining hall. The training table is available to walk-on athletes who do not receive financial aid, but they’re required to pay a prescribed amount for the same meal. CPSDA recommends today that all college athletes, whether or not they receive financial assistance, be offered unfettered access without restriction to whole foods and, as necessary, dietary supplements, to replace nutrients, fluids and electrolytes expended while preparing for their sport.

"The financial impact will vary by institution, however sometimes you have to spend money because it is the right thing to do for the athletes,” said University of Southern California Athletic Director Pat Haden, a Rhodes Scholar quarterback on two USC national championship teams and veteran of the National Football League. “Feeding athletes throughout the day rather than in one large meal will help athletes’ muscles to recover more completely and will teach them how to eat for a lifetime, not just for the four years they are under our care.”

Current NCAA feeding rules are considered outdated by the CPSDA—in part because they fail to fully take into consideration reliable nutrition-related research—and because they require schools to calculate everything from the financial impact that food has on an athlete’s financial aid package to when and what types of foods can be offered. CPSDA Past-President Dave Ellis, a well-traveled veteran Sports RD of 30 years who pioneered sports nutrition programs at the University of Nebraska and University of Wisconsin, characterizes NCAA regulations as “silliness that consumes the day of a university compliance officer.”

In the October 2012 issue of Athletic Business magazine, current CPSDA President Amy Bragg added, “Let’s take all these questions…and just throw them away, and (simply) allow athletic departments to feed within their respective budgets and take care of the athletes.

“With one meal a day, we can’t even make them whole again as far as what we take out of them,” adds Bragg, a former Texas A&M Sports RD now in her third season as Director of Performance Nutrition for the defending national football champion Alabama Crimson Tide. Bragg and Ellis were among the five original Board members elected by CPSDA membership in 2010 “to speak with one voice” about reforming feeding protocol for college athletes. The others were current University of Virginia Sports RD Randy Bird (CPSDA Vice President); USC Sports RD Becci Twombley (CPSDA Secretary) and Indiana University Sports RD Amy Freel (CPSDA conference chair).

Said IU’s Freel, who was invited this year to serve as an ad hoc member of the NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports: “We’re in the trenches every day with athletes and can help them achieve their goal of becoming bigger, faster and stronger. But it must be done safely, through proper nutrition that is designed to place as much emphasis on recovery after activity as on game-day performance. That distinction is what sets sports nutrition apart.”

USC’s Twombley compares advances in nutrition since the current feeding regulations were put in place two decades ago to the technology revolution during the same period, stating: “As science evolves, Sports RDs need the freedom to put nutrition research into practice to benefit athletes. We know the NCAA will eventually adopt new feeding protocol. We’re just urging reform sooner rather than later.”

The CPSDA Position Statement calls for one simple rule to put nutrition on track.

“What Sports RDs would like to have is one over-arching rule in college that grants institutions permission to feed as best we can with the budget we have available,” confirmed the University of Virginia’s Bird. “We have the knowledge, science and, in a growing number of major colleges, the Sports RDs who can improve the health, well-being and performance of our athletes.”

Half or more of the top 25-ranked college football teams in recent years have had at least one full-time Sports RD on staff. But only 33 of the NCAA’s 120 Division 1 member schools have one or more full-time Sports RDs, which the CPSDA defines as RDs employed by the school to work at least 40 hours per week with athletes in a structured athletic program. Nearly half of the CPSDA’s 700-plus members are college students of dietetics that are nearing graduation and preparing to become Sports RDs.

Ellis, one of the most highly regarded Sports RDs in the U.S., expects the number of full-time Sports RDs to boom in the next few years as NFL and Major League Baseball teams discover what he calls the “nutrition advantage” that major college teams have been cultivating for years. Special Forces within the U.S. Military also have a pressing need for Sports RDs.

CPSDA is a national not-for-profit organization operating out of Chicago and led by a nine-member Board of Directors who volunteer their time, all of whom are registered dietitians. CPSDA holds its annual conference in May each year, and will convene next in St. Louis May 20-23, 2013. The CPSDA documentary “Sports RDs Rising,” released in March 2012, illustrates the struggles and successes of the organization in its formative years. To learn more about CPSDA visit or contact headquarters at 708-974-3153.

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