By Barry Janoff
September 29, 2015: In 1991, the NCAA placed limitations on the amount of money that could be spent and the total intake of meals, snacks and dietary supplements among Div. I student-athletes in what was described as an attempt to ensure "competitive balance" among schools and teams.
In April 2014, the NCAA lifted those restrictions "in an effort to meet the nutritional needs of all student-athletes." The policy went into effect on Aug. 1, 2014.
Now, a new study shows that major college athletic programs over the past year have boosted their spending for meals, snacks and dietary supplements to feed athletes, from $534,000 to more than $1.3 million, a 145% year-over-year increase.
The study from the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Assn. also shows that when dietitians who work with NCAA student-athletes were asked to rank how satisfied their athletes appear to be with the greatly expanded food offerings, with ten being "completely satisfied," the cumulative score was 8.
The survey, conducted in August, reflects food budget comparisons at 23 programs, some 7% of the 345 NCAA Division I schools.
Thirty-one of the 53 full-time sports dietitians nationwide who head up the nutrition program in their respective athletic departments qualified to participate in the study, most of them from the NCAA Power 5 Conferences, per CPSDA.
CPSDA said that its survey findings "clearly revealed that many more NCAA Div. I programs are feeding all of their athletes now — an average of 569 per school, which accounts for essentially all intercollegiate athletes in a typical athletic program — compared to providing meals and snacks for an average of 368 athletes per school a year earlier."
According to Cincinnati-based CPSDA, sports nutrition has been a "slow growth proposition in college and professional ranks dating back to the 1980s, when the University of Nebraska, Penn State and precious few other schools were leveraging science to feed athletes the proper blend of foods and beverages to refuel."
Only 13 colleges had a full-time sports dietitian on staff in 2007, according to CPSDA president Scott Sehnert, sports dietitian at Auburn University.
There were none in professional sports at that time, but ten NFL teams have at least one full-time sports dietitian today, according to Sehnert.
In addition, sInce the NCAA limitation rules were lifted, 11 colleges hired their first full-time sports dietitians in 2014 with another four hires during the first half of 2015. Four sports dietitians who were working part-time for their school a year ago were promoted to a full-time position, according to the survey,
The study also shows that removing food limitations has "increased the accountability for sports dietitians working with these programs." Eight out of ten are working considerably more hours now, according to the survey, 36% of them by 15 or more hours per week.
"Much more administrative work, and more interaction with food service," Sarah Wick, Ohio State sports dietitian, said in a statement. "We have more athletes to work with. At the same time, we also know that more full-time jobs will be opening up for students of dietetics who volunteer for us now, which is good for them, and very good for our profession."
Former CPSDA president Dave Ellis, who doubled as both strength coach and sports nutritionist as a student at Nebraska beginning in 1982, credits then head football coach Tom Osborne with setting the gold standard for feeding athletes.
“Tom was and is a visionary on the value of fueling student-athletes, and he won three national football championships with the Cornhuskers, which validated his beliefs,” said Ellis, who according to CPSDA has installed sports nutrition programs for dozens of college athletic programs and professional sports teams. “But here we are 30 years later and the full-time jobs for sports dietitians are only just beginning to get firm traction, including within the NBA as teams have just placed the first such positions in the last few weeks.”
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