Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Nebraska Athletics' Nutrition Program.
Even though Mike Riley and his Nebraska football staff are closing in on their 2016 recruiting class next week, now’s a good time to remind everyone about one of the greatest recruiting lures in college athletics – the University of Nebraska Athletic Training Table.
Nebraska’s fabled home for a combined 15 breakfast, lunch and dinner meals a week has served four 2016 Husker Pro Bowlers well, and Riley would be the last to underestimate the importance of making daily choices in one of the world’s best cafeterias, located inside Memorial Stadium’s Hewitt Center.
“Our Nutrition Program is a vital part of every student-athlete’s life and it’s another example of the excellent resources here at the University of Nebraska,” Riley told me this week. “From day one, I was impressed with the atmosphere, the quality of food, and the careful consideration that goes into our Training Table.”
Nebraska Training Table Dining Service Associate Ruth Hood prepares a healthy blueberry turkey sandwich that includes apple slices.
Huskers Were Forerunners in Combining Nutrition Science and Athletics
Players, coaches and staffers are proud Nebraska was a pioneer in Sports Nutrition. They believe the Huskers’ iconic status reflects an ongoing commitment to reinforce its longheld reputation. Because the Huskers were forerunners in combining Nutrition Science and Athletics, they cater both to the superb athletes as well as those willing to work their way to the top.
“When I came to Nebraska as a freshman, I was only 205 pounds,” said Chris Weber, a sophomore linebacker starter who majors in Nutrition, Exercise and Health Science. “I knew I would need to add 20 pounds to play here, so over the course of two years, I gained those 20 pounds with the help of our Nutrition staff. Lindsey Remmers and all of her interns do a great job of helping you figure out what you need to be eating and coming up with a plan to get you where you want to be. The nutritional side, along with the weight room, were two big reasons why I was able to get on the field.”
"Outside of the stadium and practice facilities, Nebraska has provided a major component that’s just as important as the rest – Nutrition,” said Graham Nabity, a Husker I-back and Construction Management major. “I would never have been able to withstand the rigorous side of football without our outstanding Nutrition Program. The only way to recover at a rapid pace after pushing yourself to the limit is having the proper post- workout nutrition led by Lindsey. What you put into your body is just as important as working out. The amazing nutrition team that supports us gives us a chance to thrive. The Training Table has the healthiest and highest quality foods that are used to combat and build up the body whenever it’s broken down. That’s why I make sure I eat every meal at the Training Table.”
Manning, Remmers Share a Vision for Nutrition and a Mutual Bond for Health
Nebraska Wrestling Coach Mark Manning (pictured above left) and NU Director of Sports Nutrition Lindsey Remmers (right) share a vision and a bond. "What I’ve experienced as a college coach and as someone who has coached on the international level, each student-athlete's nutrition and diet is an important tool for young athletes to learn how they can best fuel their bodies,” Manning told me. “As the best high school athletes in all sports make their way into the collegiate arena, the margin of error for success is less, due to the level of athlete they’re competing against and the level they’re trying to aspire to reach.
“Nutrition is usually an area I feel many young athletes know little about or have never been given much information on how they can best fuel their bodies for maximum output,” Manning said. “At Nebraska, we have tremendous support and knowledgeable people who help our teams as a whole. Our nutritionists reach out to student-athletes on an individual basis to give each one the opportunity to ‘fine tune’ their body for their best performances on an everyday basis.”
Remmers and her associates “educate and continually motivate our student-athletes to correct their diet and give our athletes options on how to properly fuel their bodies in order to be their best,” Manning said. “We have a world-class cafeteria (Hewitt Center) with people that prepare and serve food for our student-athletes. It's one of the best in college athletics. Our student-athletes are surrounded every day by people who can help them excel from a nutritional standpoint. I see nutrition as another tool and skill that each student-athlete can use to better themselves. Most coaches realize that nutrition can be a huge asset in the development of our student-athletes, and we’re blessed to have the right people in place."
Husker Wrestler Tim Lambert: Remmers Has Created Great Opportunities
Husker wrestler Tim Lambert believes that Nebraska has made nutrition a specific priority for all student-athletes. “In my last four years at Nebraska, our Nutrition Program has given us an added competitive edge,” he said. “Wrestling well and competing at the highest level requires adequate nutrition to reach the highest level of performance. Lindsey Remmers has helped our team first-hand with post-weigh-in meals and weight-class specifics. She’s created great opportunities for us to fuel properly and have the energy to compete at our best!”
Remmers appreciates the support from both coaches and student-athletes. "Nebraska has always embraced nutrition," she said. "Being around it for 10 years here, I've been able to see what we’ve done with new people coming in and bringing new ideas to the table. We’ve all worked together to expand nutrition in different ways. When I first came here, nutrition snacks or supplements were passed out from an office. Now we have two fueling stations for our student-athletes – The Oasis at the Devaney Center and The Landing here in the North Stadium.
“Early on, our snack bar options were a granola bar, a protein bar and two or three shakes," Remmers pointed out. "The options have multiplied and our student-athletes are taking advantage of the new legislation that allowed us to offer so much more. We have a variety of bars, shakes, milk, fruit, yogurt, bagels and other things that our student-athletes can grab on a busy schedule. Where I went to college, we didn't have anything. Today, if you're hungry when you come in, you just go to a fueling station and grab something to eat. It's the same opportunity for student-athletes from all 24 sports. One program doesn't get more than another and I'm proud that we can offer the same for everybody across the board."
When Remmers Was Pairing Nutrition with Athletics, It Was Not Prevalent
"When I started thinking of nutrition and athletics together, it wasn't really that prevalent," Remmers said. "I was an undergrad and my professor (in a Southern state) told me: 'You’ll never get a job doing that' (sports nutrition). When I started here in 2005, there were only 10 to 14 full-time sports dietitians in the country. Now there's close to 80. Nutrition has definitely grown because athletics is realizing how important it is. You can't live without eating, so how do you expect athletes to train without eating.
"Legislation that allowed us to serve a larger morning snack was huge because athletes didn't have much to eat after morning training," Remmers said. "I'd say 70 percent of our athletes train in the mornings, yet all they could grab for years were a snack bar and a chocolate milk from a fueling station because they would have to run straight to class. Now, our budget allows us to offer a plethora of hot morning snacks, and that includes eggs, sausage, toast, waffles and other healthy things that help you fuel up and recover. Student-athletes burn a lot of calories and now we're finally able to provide them with what they need.
“NCAA legislation was a long time coming," Remmers said. "In my opinion, it should’ve happened 10 years ago. At Nebraska, we don't go with trends. We just go with what we know works. There are so many diet trends out there. If you tried to follow every trend, you would go nuts. They don't work because every individual is different. We apply science to what we're doing, but I think the science is pretty sound. We just keep doing what we've been doing, and if something new comes across, we'll look to see what sport it might fit to make us better.”
If Remmers Had Not Been a Student-Athlete, Nutrition Would Not Have Called
Having been a high school and collegiate athlete, Remmers was looking for a niche that could “put two-and-two together” and connect sports with nutrition. “If I hadn't been an athlete, I don't know if I would've even gone into nutrition and eating better,” she told me. “I would've taken a whole different path. I didn't think anything about what I ate until I was probably about a junior in college. Nowadays, kids are coming in and they're already knowledgeable about nutrition, which is a sure sign of progress.
"We're here to teach student-athletes as best as we can about what they should be eating to make the most of their training…that's what our job is," she said. "Our hope is that they learn from us and take those lessons into consideration and elevate what they're doing. What you eat can make or break your training. You can stay at the same level the whole time. You can change what you're eating and all of a sudden, your body's recovering better. When you can do more with proper nutrition, then you can also elevate performance.
"I try to maximize everything we do, and then some," Remmers said. "We have vouchers that we call Husker Bucks, giving our student-athletes the opportunity to eat nutritional meals on weekends near campus. Very few schools have a program where its student-athletes can go downtown and eat what they choose. Even though it’s only 10 Husker Bucks a day on Saturdays and Sundays, at least I know they're eating something healthy because the vouchers are only good at places we’ve visited and approved.”
Soccer Coach Walker: Nutrition Expertise Goes Well Beyond Athletic Careers
Nebraska Soccer Coach John Walker has led Nebraska to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, coached the Huskers to 10 conference championships and mentored and guided 18 All-Americans. Not surprisingly, a big part of Walker's success relates to nutrition. "There are so many aspects to being a high-performance athlete and nutrition is an important one," he told me. "The physical demands from training and competition are immense on student-athletes.
"Excellent nutritional habits can help their recovery and improve their wellbeing," Walker said. "The resources here at Nebraska are incredible in this area. We have an excellent nutritional staff to educate our players in group settings and on an individual basis. The nutrition staff helps us in planning meals on road trips, takes care of pre-game and post-game meals and designs individualized menus based on each player’s needs. The information our nutrition staff provides is something that our players will use well beyond their athletic careers."
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