Tiffany Ilten

A conversation with A&M football’s Sports Performance Dietitian

By Brian Davis ’01

How has performance nutrition evolved in collegiate athletics in recent years?

Texas A&M has been fortunate in that it was one of the first schools to employ two full-time dietitians whereas a lot of schools started out with a consultant or maybe one dietitian for their entire athletics department. Most schools have grown to where they have at least one now. At A&M, we’re fortunate to have four full-time dietitians as well as a culinary intern. What that does is it allows us to provide a higher level of care and meet the needs of all our student-athletes.

So, one way it’s evolved is the amount of resources that have been dedicated to it. The R.C. Slocum Nutrition Center is a testament to that and is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to work here. When you have a school that has dedicated the resources to providing a facility like this, you know you are going to be supported and be able to really make an impact.

“Our donors have played a huge role in creating an environment to provide the resources to be successful for our student-athletes.”

Tiffany Ilten

How does proper nutrition impact the team’s success on the field?

It can really span a variety of different areas. In terms of the impact it can have on their performance, obviously if they aren’t eating because they don’t have time in their schedule, that’s going to catch up with them eventually and they’re not going to have the energy they need. They’re not going to be able to train to their optimal level if they’re undernourished. We try to instill in them little habits that become very repeatable and second nature to them so that they don’t even have to think about it anymore.

I tell the players that nutrition can involve something as simple as hydration and it can have a huge ripple effect. If you aren’t hydrated – especially in Texas – you run the risk of cramping. If you’re cramping, you’re losing reps during practice. If you’re losing reps during practice, you’re not improving yourself or your teammates. At the end of the day, you’re not helping anyone at all because you didn’t hydrate. It can be the little things like drinking enough water or having a recovery shake to help their body recover from training that impact their performance.

What does a day in the life of a football student-athlete look like from a nutritional standpoint?

Their needs may be anywhere between 5,000-7,000 calories per day, although that may change based off training loads and individual goals. An offensive lineman has a very different body type than a cornerback and they do completely different things on the field, so we have an individualized approach based off of that. We have quick-digesting foods for energy for their early morning lift at the Davis Player Development Center. As soon as lift is over, we have shakes immediately available for them in the Clark Football Performance Nutrition area, and then we want them going to the R.C. Slocum Nutrition Center for breakfast.

It makes it so nice to have it all right here for them. They don’t have to give it much thought. During team meetings, they have foods available to boost their energy level before going into practice. After practice, we have recovery available for them as soon as they come off the field.

If you’re trying to get 5,000-7,000 calories, that means you’re eating more than three times a day and a lot of their day is consumed with eating. During fall camp they wake up, eat, have meetings, eat, nap, eat, practice and eat again because their needs are even higher during that training period.

How do you ensure consistent performance nutrition when the team travels?

We try to make it as similar on the road as it is at home. We travel with our Performance Chef Intern, Shannon Knapp, and she’s in close communication with the hotels to ensure consistent preparation methods. We bring a lot of products that they snack on at home. It’s a full operation where we are trying to transplant what they have in College Station into the hotel we are in. Access to familiar foods is the biggest key.

How has the Clark Football Performance Nutrition space benefited the program and in what ways will it make a difference going forward?

Obviously, when you walk in, it’s beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and being right next to the weight room is ideal. It’s convenient – they come from the weight room, walk right in and they can get what they need when they need it. In the offseason, we are hoping to utilize the space and do some cooking demonstrations with the guys and give them some hands-on learning experience. They can learn a new skill in a non-threatening situation like that and have fun doing it because they’re with teammates and it’s not as much of a chore. Along with teaching new skills, the space provides our staff with a great opportunity to talk to them and answer their questions. It’s been a great addition.

What does the space mean for you and your team, and what’s your message to the donors who make it and other facilities at A&M possible?

It enables us to do a lot more efficiently and effectively when we have those tools and resources. It’s creating the environment for them to succeed. Our donors have played a huge role in creating an environment to provide the resources to be successful for our student-athletes.

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