Dec. 10, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
D.J. White and Adam Gotsis have had a little more time this week to grab a bite, but there are plenty of times when Georgia Tech’s football players and all student-athletes find it difficult to squeeze in time for nutrition. It’s easier now.
Until recently, NCAA guidelines on when athletic programs could feed student-athletes and even what they could feed them, made meals a hit-or-miss deal: Student-athletes made it to dining hall(s) on time, or went without – unless they paid to feed themselves.
The concept of snacking between meals – which is important for young people burning more calories than the average Jack or Jill – was problematic.
Any food that might fall outside the meal plans of student-athletes was, generally, off limits – unless the student-athlete provided it for himself/herself.
A new “snack bar,” or nutrition station, on the ground floor of the Edge Building offers more opportunities, and relaxed NCAA guidelines opened the door. Until changes this summer, it was make-it-to-mealtime or bust for many student-athletes.
“Most of the time, I’m able to eat lunch between 11-12, but sometimes you have a group project or something and other times, you’re just hungry,” said White, a junior cornerback for the Yellow Jackets. “I often go before practice.”
Gotsis, a junior defensive tackle, agrees.
“That thing’s awesome, especially when you get done with class at 1:30 or 1:45 and meetings start at 2:15,” he said. “By the time you get dressed, you can quickly run down there and grab a bar or a protein bar or something, a milk or a yogurt, and just come up to the meeting room and eat real quick.”
NCAA officials agreed in April to relax nutrition guidelines for student-athletes, roughly one week after UConn guard Shabazz Napier garnered attention after guiding the Huskies to a national title when he spoke of “hungry nights.”
Asked about the evergreen topic of compensation for student-athletes, his answer stood out.
“We’re definitely blessed to get scholarships to our universities, but at the end of the day that doesn’t cover everything,” he said. “I don’t think student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but . . . there are hungry nights that I go to bed starving.”
Soon thereafter, NCAA officials relaxed nutrition guidelines. Phase-in began late in the summer.
Tech, like many schools, is making changes and studying what’s happening even while rolling out adaptations.
There were and remain “refueling stations” in Tech’s primary weight room and at the Zelnak Basketball practice facility, where athletes from several sports in addition to basketball work out.
Recovery foods and drinks were the norm there, and remain so although some snack options also now exist at those “satellite” stations.
Leah Thomas, Tech’s Director of Nutrition and Director of Total Person Support Services in the Georgia Tech Athletic Association, is overseeing this growth in eating options. While there is work to be done, she’s pleased by progress.
“Up until August of this year, we could not provide student-athletes a meal outside of their scholarship meal plans except occasionally, and those would have to be approved by compliance,” she said. “We have had the resources to provide recovery products, weight-gain products out of our weight rooms historically.
“It could never be food; it had to be classified as a supplement, like vitamins or minerals, energy bars, recovery shakes. Even within those rules, no one product could have more than 30 percent of its calories come from proteins . . . I couldn’t give them a peanut butter sandwich, but I could give them a Power Bar.”
Now, in a generous space outside the main training room in The Edge, it is common at almost any hour of day to see student-athletes in the new snack bar.
“I think the [NCAA’s] intent was, ‘incidental to participation,’ for when they would miss meals because of practice or class,” Thomas explained. “We’re allowed to provide food and snacks. I’ve been here 12 years, and never seen that room utilized. It’s perfect. We invaded it, and built some stuff to incorporate new NCAA legislation.
“We have flavored milk, bagels and peanut butter, yogurt, home-made trail mix, walnuts, almonds. We have a new blender and a Smoothie machine coming. We have student-athletes in and out all day. There is a TV, [phone] charging station, couches. We have waves starting first thing in the morning, after weight-lifting.”
Thomas is not at the snack bar all day as she has plenty of other responsibilities in the GTAA. Some student-athletes volunteer to help staff it, however, and in the event none are there, members of the training staff have access to the room.
The snack bar and additions to the nutrition areas in the weight room and at Zelnak are not finished products. Tech officials are studying the patterns of student-athletes, and budget amendments are likely as the concept has quickly become popular and oft-utilized.
Enhancements are practically certain to come, and will likely be piggy-backed with pending improvements to the student-athletes’ academic counseling area on the third floor, and the training room.
No study is required to be certain that the new snack bar is a hit.
It is common for student-athletes to swing by after receiving treatment or tape in the training room.
“It’s a great thing,” White said. “Sometimes you’re on the go, and you don’t have a lot of time to eat. It’s great to get something nutritious before practice.”