BEND, Ore. — Wherever the Oregon State University football team goes, food travels with it. A lot of food.
Each of the lounges at the OSU-Cascades residence hall, where the football team and support staff are staying during their weeklong trip to Bend, has a fridge stocked with yogurt, cheese and apple slices, and counters stacked with containers of Gold Fish crackers, beef jerky and energy bars. Snacks are also arranged outside the locker room at Summit High School, and at the halfway point of practice, training stops so the players can eat apple slices and replace electrolytes with a freeze pop.
As the team leaves the Summit practice field, they are greeted with a receiving line of ice cold Gatorade bottles, recovery or weight-loss shakes specially formulated for each player’s individual nutritional needs, and cups of pickle juice (it prevents cramping).
“Food has to be available to them everywhere they turn,” said Christina Weston, the sports nutritionist for the Oregon State athletic department.
“After dinner, usually, they get another snack brought in from a restaurant. We’re picking up 150 — well they’d be meals for a normal person, but we consider it a snack for them.”
The most popular snack? Smuckers Uncrustables, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich that comes in individually sealed packages.
“If those ever disappeared, there would be an uprising, for sure,” Weston said. “Usually we order big, huge boxes. There’s 100 or something in a box. And we go through more than one of those every single day.”
And then, of course, the nutrition program provides three square meals a day.
“I say, everyday, I wake up, and I assume our athletes are undernourished, under-hydrated, under-rested and overstressed,” said Evan Simon, the football strength and conditioning coach who consults with the nutrition program. “For every one athlete on our team that naturally eats and hydrates the way he should, there’s a lot of guys that are playing catch-up on a daily basis. So the ability to have foods that they like to eat prepared in a good way available for them is always paramount. It’s education, education, education to promote them eating the right things at the right time in the right amounts.”
In addition to Weston, the athletic department’s nutrition program includes two assistants and a kitchen staff of 10 or more. And during road trips, including this week’s training camp in Bend, most of the operation moves along with it. Even some of the chefs who typically work in Corvallis made the trip to Bend to aid their counterparts at OSU-Cascades.
“The planning for (this week) started the first week in June,” Weston said, noting the menu planning and ordering that had to be arranged ahead of time, and even the detailed lists of which snacks needed to be packed in the refrigerated truck for the drive from Corvallis. “I wouldn’t say it’s been all-day, every-day since then, but football really doesn’t stop in the summer; there’s always things going on,” Weston said.
Weston and Simon said one of the most challenging parts of the job is finding meal options appetizing enough to entice athletes to consume the huge amount of calories needed to perform at their best.
“You can never tell an athlete, ‘Eat this,’ because they probably won’t,” Weston said. “When it comes to meals, I just really want them to eat. Whatever I can get them to eat and get the calories in is more important than always having grilled chicken and broccoli.”
Broccoli appears to be a favorite of Beaver athletes. The vegetable is available at every meal — including breakfast.
“Our athletes, not all of them are comfortable eating vegetables, so we try to provide vegetables at each meal so they can get more familiar with them and take a little bit in throughout the day,” Simon explained. “At the end of the day, it ends up being more readily available for them, and they get more in their system than if we just had it available at one meal or two.”
Weston said each athlete has a similar menu to choose from at each meal, but they will be encouraged to consume food in different ratios depending on their particular needs. Football players who need to lose weight, for example, are supposed to fill half of their plate with fruits and vegetables and then add a lean protein and a small amount of carbohydrates. But football players who need to put on weight will fill half of their plates with carbs.
When the Oregon State athletes are at home, much of their food comes from the same distributors that serve the rest of campus.
“We have a milk company that delivers for us, and I order three times a week,” Weston said. “I pick up a lot of food at Cisco on campus in Corvallis, and they do a lot of our snack delivery. Some of the other bars and beef jerkies come from individual vendors that we develop relationships with, like the strength staff and the nutrition staff through different places we’ve worked, different conference, those types of things, what we think athletes will eat.”
Sometimes, they run low on a crucial item and need to make a grocery run.
“Earlier today, we went to the grocery store to pick up gallons of chocolate milk to make the weight-gain shakes with,” Weston said. “They always ask, do you have a lot of kids who really like chocolate milk? And I was like, yeah, 120-some of them.”
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com