Hungry, Hungry Hilltoppers: Dietitians key to helping student-athletes succeed

Nutrition in collegiate athletics has evolved.

"You need to know when to eat, what to eat, where to eat, and how much to eat," said WKU Dietitian Brandi Breden.

Specific diet components hasn’t always been a major focus in the lifestyles of student-athletes. Now, in 2018, all of that has changed.

"It’s changed because we have a dietitian presence now," WKU Dietitian Summer Spillman said. "Nutrition was, you kind of had to figure it out. or someone else took it on and maybe it wasn’t their focus. Maybe they studied it a little bit, but it wasn’t their focus. Now you have someone that studied it. They have a degree. They focused on this."

Athletes spend so much of their time and energy worrying about classes, practices and games that they don’t really have time to worry about what kind of foods they should be eating. But proper nutrition has shown to lead to better results on the field, court, or diamond, and that’s where the WKU nutrition coaches have come in to play, helping guide the student-athletes come meal time.

"We kind of have a rule that they need six colors on their plate," said Breden. "We’re not going to judge if they want to eat fried chicken, but we also want to make that balanced."

These nutritionists have become more present elsewhere as well. Breden and Spillman can be seen on the sidelines at WKU Football practices, offering small snacks to players who need a boost of energy, or sometimes, a beverage that might sound a little strange to most people.

"We also have pickle juice with us as well," Spillman said. "It helps with cramping and electrolyte depletion. When you lose a lot of water, you want the sodium in there to help retain it. Then it helps with the cramping."

Each sport has its own specific nutritional requirements for the athletes that play the game, and that includes basketball and football.

"With basketball you need a lot more carbohydrates," Breden said. "Then football you need a lot more protein for strength and more force on the field."

These dietitians want to help their student-athletes meet their current nutritional goals, but they’re also hoping that they set up these kids for successful, healthy lifestyles after their time on the Hill comes to an end.

"A lot of the things that we educate on can be applied to non-athletes or athletes later on when they’re done with their careers," said Spillman.

For more information about the WKU dietitians, check out their site here.