Fall camp can be a bit of a conundrum for 300-plus pound football players at Mississippi State. On the one hand, two-a-days under the August sun can feel like a form of torture. On the other, it results in the realization of a dream: eating, eating, eating and then eating some more. Followed by more eating.
The upside to burning so many calories on practice fields and in weight rooms is getting to eat them back onto their bodies. The amount depends on the player and position, but the intake over the course of any day of camp is quite substantial, and a great deal more than the average 20-year-old. Breakfast, snack, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner, snack…. it’s a lot of food, and someone has to make sure they’re both doing and doing it right.
To help facilitate those nutritional needs, and the similar needs of all of MSU’s 16 teams, the athletic department has hired a sports dietician – Kelly White, who joins the staff after working in a similar capacity at Oktibbeha County Hospital.
White will obviously have a big role in helping players across the department to gain weight, lose it or just maintain where they are, depending on their need and the directive of their sport and position. But a big part of her job is education. Making sure football players know what a healthy plate at the cafeteria looks like and that they’re not just eating 5,000 calories of greasy burritos.
Ensuring the baseball team knows what time of day to eat which types of food (low fat foods and complex carbs before practice, simple sugars after). She’s even taken softball players on grocery shopping tours.
White started at MSU shortly after football training camp began, so it’s there where much of the early focus has been, and she’s moved pretty quickly.
Outside the weight room in the Seal Complex, MSU now has a fueling station (and will put them in outside other weight rooms, as well) to keep players hydrated and fed.
Recovery drinks, smoothies, snack mixes, fruit, milk and cereal, goldfish or pretzels – pretty much any snack or need players have – all available, with someone there to make sure they are partaking.
Recent NCAA legislation allowing for unlimited food and snacks has actually made that job much easier for people like White, giving her more variety to work with.
“More than just bagels, nuts and peanut butter,” White joked. “Giving them more of a choice and variety will keep them into snacking on foods that we’re offering and hopefully preventing them going out and getting unhealthy snacks.”
Another new addition comes in the stations set up after practice to keep players hydrated and fueled.
After each go-round on the field, multiple tables full of goods stand between players and the entrance to the facility, with another handful of staff members making sure everyone gets what they need.
The tables are packed with strawberries and blueberries, pineapples and pickles, bananas, apples and an endless supply of Gatorade.
It’s nice to have good food to eat, sure, but it’s important to their health, especially with what players put their bodies through.
And it’s also a sneaky way for White to control their intake.
“The fruit,” she said, “not only does it have simple carbohydrates, it also has a very high water content. So they don’t really know they’re drinking water, but they are. Anything that can help improve their performance is what we want.”
During these weeks of hot, hard camp, players are required to weigh in three times per day to make sure they haven’t lost [or gained] too much weight and are staying on their guided, healthy course. If something is off, White and the strength coaches and trainers get it fixed.
Say a lineman weighs too little after practice – he has to put the weight back on by weigh-in the next morning.
Of course, that can be easy enough to do, considering how much there is to eat.
On a given day, White says she’ll go through around eight boxes of cereal (just as a snack, not from breakfast), four table-sized trays of fruit, eight jars of pickles and as many as 200 Gatorade shakes. And those are the grab-at-your-own-leisure snacks.
In addition to the food lying around, MSU has bigger planned snacks delivered at different points during the day. Then, after all of those, they finally have their actual breakfasts lunches and dinner.
“Imagine Stromboli’s setting up 125 calzones for a snack,” White explained. “Then they go to the Hilton and eat a catered dinner. It’s a lot.”
Having a nutritionist is a new position for MSU, as well as a job many athletic departments across the country are adding, and it seems to be paying off quickly.
Weights are steady, cramps are down and spirits are up. At least at dinner time.