Trojan Training Table
© October/November 2013
USC Director of Sports Nutrition Becci Twombley uses cutting-edge nutrition and recovery practices to help Trojan athletes “Fuel On”.
Just as strength and conditioning programs have become increasingly sophisticated as coaches strive to provide each athlete with the most effective training regimen, highly-developed custom nutritional programs are becoming the norm in collegiate athletics. It’s widely recognized that the “fuel” that is consumed by athletes prior to and following training is a critical element in allowing them to perform at their highest level and recover effectively from punishing workouts.
At USC, it’s Director of Sports Nutrition Becci Twombley who makes sure that athletes have the knowledge, the resources and the products to help them “Fuel On” and deal with the rigorous Trojan training programs and high performance standards. Twombley, who is also Vice President of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association, recently spoke to AFM about the science behind sound nutrition and recovery, provided tips for high school coaches and described the role that Muscle Milk products play in USC’s sports nutrition program.
AFM: What role does proper nutrition play in helping athletes perform at the highest level?
Twombley: Proper fueling allows athletes to perform at their highest potential more consistently. Most athletes know that training hard is vital to their performance. What they don’t always realize is that, without good recovery nutrition, they are not benefiting from their training to the fullest extent.
How do good nutritional practices help athletes recover from practice or games?
From a nutrition standpoint, recovery begins before the training session begins. Loading glycogen stores in the muscle prior to training decreases the amount of breakdown that occurs during training. If the muscle is less beat up, all it has to do is grow. Strength and size gains are much greater when an athlete fuels for training each day. Post training, replacing carbohydrate and protein quickly is vital. We aim to get at least 60g of carbohydrate and 20g of protein in each of our football players post training. This allows the muscle to repair quickly (from the protein) and to reload energy (from the carbohydrate). Adding antioxidants with fruit or fruit juice will help the body rid itself of the free radicals that were produced from the intense training.
Are nutritional programs for football players different from those of other sports?
Nutrition programs vary for each individual. Position, role on the team, strengths, weaknesses and goals are all factors when creating a meal plan for an athlete. Since we have athletes from all kinds of backgrounds, part of the challenge is trying to educate on many different levels. In general, football players don’t have to be concerned with whether or not a food is high calorie, but they ALWAYS have to demand high-quality foods. Sports nutrition is not about weight management, but about fueling the cells so that they can work for the athlete. If a cell has to sort through all of the preservatives, antibiotics and pesticides before getting to the “purposeful” part of a food, it is going to be inefficient in its metabolism and muscle growth. If an athlete fuels with only the “good stuff”, that athlete will be able to spend all of his energy on getting better – every rep, every snap, every drive.
What role do Muscle Milk products play in your nutrition programs for Trojan athletes, specifically football players? When is it most important for athletes to use Muscle Milk products?
Cytosport, the maker of Muscle Milk Collegiate, provides a safe product for athletes that is evidence based. What I mean by that is they don’t add ingredients just because they sound good. They use ingredients because they have been shown to be helpful with quality research. At USC, we use Muscle Milk Collegiate after every training session. Our Fueling Station in the weight room houses four full-size fridges that keep recovery products like Muscle Milk. As soon as a training session is over, the teams can start their recovery process immediately by replacing the carbohydrate and protein that were used up during training. We also use Muscle Milk Collegiate Powders to make customized smoothies for athletes who require a little bit more than 250 calories. For the injured guys, we can add berries, pineapple and cherry juice to help decrease inflammation while maintaining their calorie needs. For those who need to gain weight, we can boost the calories in the smoothie with peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter and bananas.
What should high school coaches and players be doing nutritionally to prepare athletes to succeed in college?
High school coaches should communicate with words and actions to their players that nutrition matters. Often the coach will comment on an athlete’s meal choice or weight, while slurping down a energy drink, or finishing up their “Drive-thru” dinner meal. If the coaches demonstrate that fueling is important to them, the athletes will be much more likely to adhere to a sound nutrition program. Coaches should also look for a good nutrition resource for their athletes. Find a local Registered Dietician that specializes in sports and invite them to practice to speak for a few minutes. A small investment can make a huge impact on a team. The bottom line is that sports nutrition should be as much a part of a high school team as sports medicine or strength and conditioning.
How has growing awareness of the importance of sound nutrition changed the eating habits of college athletes in the last decade?
Athletes are becoming more nutrition-savvy. Many of the incoming freshmen this year were eager to get their nutrition programs and get started. They are starting to come in with knowledge of the importance of protein and carbohydrates. For most high school athletes, however, sports nutrition still means supplements, which is very backward thinking. Supplements won’t be helpful until the rest of the day’s fueling is under control. If athletes are getting more than 25% of their calories from nutrition supplements, they are missing the boat. I like to recommend that athletes stick to fruit prior to training and Muscle Milk Collegiate afterward. The remainder of the day can be fueled with real food. Not only is it delicious, but calorie for calorie, real food is cheaper than supplements.
Your motto is “Fuel On!” - can you tell us a little about that and what it means?
“Fight On”, the USC fight song, was written in 1922 by a USC dental student and quickly became synonymous with Trojan Athletics. It took on new meaning when it was played during World War II to inspire troops during the Aleutian Campaign. The battle cry “Fight On” has evolved into a term that means “we can achieve more”. Whether in victory or adversity, the USC motto reminds us that we will become better everyday because WE ARE SC. “Fuel On!” is the reminder that to achieve greatness, we must fuel exceptionally. Physical training can only consume a small part of the day, because the body must rest and recover to be at its best. The mental training and active recovery, however, must be a 24-hour, 7-days-per-week commitment. It’s having the discipline and commitment to make the purposeful choice when no one is watching. The athletes know that when they are eating with the correct energy balance, type and timing that they are, in fact, “fueling on”.