ONEONTA, N.Y. – Several Oneonta student-athletes are getting a taste of how to implement healthier choices in their food regimens to help them perform their best on the field.
It's all thanks to the school's Nutrition for Performance club (NFP), which hosts a pair of cooking classes each year – once during the fall semester and once during the spring. Dr. Jennifer Bueche, Oneonta's Faculty Athletic Representative serves as the faculty advisor for NFP, played a major role in helping begin the initiative. "I saw a need to provide reliable, accurate nutrition information to help our student-athletes in their efforts to enhance their athletic performance," Bueche said. "As a practicing Registered Dietitian (RD) for more than 30 years, I knew that many of our dietetic students were looking for opportunities to gain experience in the nutrition and dietetics field and were particularly interested in sports nutrition."
In 2012, the foundation for NFP was starting to take shape. "With the support of the Athletic Department, particularly coaches and athletic trainers, I was able to connect dietetic students with opportunities to work with athletic teams and individual athletes," Bueche explained. "As a result of these experiences, the dietetic students expressed a desire to form an interest group called Nutrition for Performance and asked me to be the advisor. In 2016, Nutrition for Performance expanded to serve all students and became an official Student Association sponsored club."
Since then, NFP club members have been providing several student-athletes with nutritional information as it relates to sports performance. This has been done through the cooking classes along with menu planning, recipes, and shopping tips. Bueche says NFP members have also served as Nutrition Ambassadors for individual sports teams, and have provided assistance in navigating the dining halls to highlight the best choices.
Oneonta softball coach Sara Curran-Headley serves as a facilitator in providing student-athletes for the club to work with, and purchases ingredients to be used in the cooking classes. Those ingredients are all chosen by the NFP club members with funding from Oneonta's student-athlete affairs budget. Sometimes, buying healthier items can take its toll on a shopper's wallet – but Curran-Headley says NFP is proving that making better dietary choices doesn't always have to be expensive. "NFP students typically spend under $100 to feed over 30 students," she explained. "They are also typically making four to five different dishes in each class." Each room features about six 'kitchens', and one or two NFP club members are in charge of instructing each kitchen.
The various recipes taught aren't just ideal for a healthier lifestyle – they're easy on the taste buds, too. Some recipes have included peanut butter energy bars, protein powder pancakes, egg muffins, vegetarian Mediterranean wraps, and red pepper hummus. Some student-athletes who have worked with NFP club members say while many of their peers may eat healthy, there are other student-athletes who aren't doing themselves any dietary favors. Curran-Headley says even with a lot of exercise, student-athletes need to be conscious of what they're consuming. "Student-athletes will often spend a lot of time in the weight room or gym and then sabotage their workouts by not eating properly or not getting enough sleep or drinking too much alcohol," she said.
NFP also provides consultation regarding specific topics regarding nutrition and health. The club sends representatives to Oneonta Student-Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) meetings, and holds a Nutrition Expo during Division III Week. "They present on a number of topics including hydration, information about supplements and proper proportioning of food. It is quite an undertaking and is well-attended every year," Curran-Headley shared.
Many student-athletes who have been working with NFP club members say they're better off for what they've learned, whether they have discovered new culinary skills, or simply learning more about nutrition. In Oneonta junior women's basketball player Alexa Amalbert's case, it was learning about utilizing nutrition to get the most out of her workouts. "It's important to have something to eat, even if very little, within 30 minutes after a workout," she shared. "I usually wait at least an hour to eat after practice because of time in the training room and showering, so by the time I get home it's well over 30 minutes. This is something I could definitely learn to do better."
"I learned that I didn't need to be taking in as much protein as I was, and that for me to gain weight, I would need to increase my carbohydrate and fat intake as well, being that the body does not utilize protein as much as I had previously thought," Oneonta senior wrestler and SAAC member James Bethel said.
"One of my big takeaways from Nutrition for Performance is that there are very yummy, healthier alternatives to fattening foods, and they're not that difficult to make," Oneonta senior women's swimmer Jamie Demerest added. "I also learned about meal prepping, and how that can save you time when going from class to practice, then sometimes back to class."
Student-athletes who have gained some dietary wisdom, thanks to NFP, are also feeling the benefits of putting their newly-acquired knowledge to use. "You feel lighter and more energized to perform your best. You feel more awake throughout the day," Demerest said.
"I was very cautious of what I was consuming this past season for the first time outside of weight-cutting reasons, and I felt great! My performance was consistent, and I was recovering quickly," Bethel shared.
It's those results that have these student-athletes encouraging their peers to consider giving NFP a closer look. "Expanding student-athletes' knowledge on how to eat healthier can benefit everyone – ourselves, our teams, our programs," Amalbert explained.
"Very informational, the students that help you cook are very nice," Demerest said. "It's a fun activity to do, you make friends, and it's very beneficial to an athlete's well-being."