July 31, 2013
This is the first in a series of stories related to the Health and Sports Performance Division of Ole Miss Athletics.
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- When head football coach Hugh Freeze arrived at Ole Miss, he started requiring breakfast every morning for his players. It not only paid off with a 7-6 season, but it also helped push forward plans for a performance nutrition center, which is scheduled for completion by late 2013.
"We started noticing kids were more successful in class, they had more energy in the morning, their workouts were better, their spring practice was better, and they seemed to be performing better in the weight room," said Shannon Singletary, senior associate athletics director for Health and Sports Performance.
"We started noticing all of that, and then it became a priority for [Director of Athletics] Ross [Bjork] because he has been at other schools that have had them. With Ross, his emphasis is the well-being of the athlete, so when he got here, along with Coach Freeze, they made it a priority."
The new dining facility, which is one of a couple changes in the area of nutrition within the health and sports division, will include a full kitchen and dining hall that will be part of the Ole Miss dining program and open to every student and faculty and staff member.
The term, "training table," long a buzzword for fans, has evolved into the performance nutrition centers of today, and from his conversations with colleagues, Singletary said this is the new trend that is about to get kicked off in college athletics.
"The training table, basically, is the performance nutrition center," he said. "The term `training table' came from back before the NCAA changed the rule in the mid-1990s to take the training table away, saying that you could not have an athletic cafeteria that only served athletes. The term `training table' kind of went away.
"Now, the term `training table' is popping back up because people are building performance nutrition centers, and they are opening them up to the public, which is OK, according to the NCAA regulations. Now, people are starting to use the term `training table' again."
Another change is the new partnership between the Ole Miss Athletic Department and the University's School of Applied Science. A new full-time sports nutritionist will be hired, who will be housed in nutrition and also have an office in the Indoor Practice Facility. Also, as part of this partnership, 8-10 University undergraduate students with a background in nutrition will have the opportunity to work for athletics.
"We're the first in the SEC to have an academic-athletic link," said Melinda Valliant, Ole Miss Sports Dietitian. "The sports dietitian is going to be hired in our department [Dietetics and Nutrition], and we are working with athletics to provide that service, which for me is exciting because I'm a faculty member, and it allows me to have that connection.
"And for our students, it's going to be a fabulous opportunity for them to get some work experience, and for athletics, they will be getting eager, fresh, excited students."
Before the construction of the new dining facility, a large emphasis is placed on enhanced meals, meaning the team meals and pregame meals, the meal -- one meal a day -- the NCAA allows athletic departments to feed student-athletes.
Valliant and the new full-time sports dietitian will work with the coaches, the director of operations and athletics trainers to design those particular meals, in addition to other consulting, from cooking classes to helping student-athletes shop at the grocery store.
Another large part of nutrition for student-athletes is the "Fueling Stations," with a location in the Starnes Athletic Trainer Center and two more being built in the Indoor Practice Facility and Basketball Practice Facility. And as part of the collaboration with the new academic-athletic link, the Athletic Department will now have personnel with a background in nutrition to help man those stations.
"They're so critical especially for those early morning workouts," Valliant said of the `Fueling Stations.' "The student-athletes work out at six, then they have class at eight, and they don't have time to go home, so those fueling stations have made a huge difference in helping the student-athletes recover from their workouts, and also go to class with some brain fuel.
"It's important to me to think about our athletes not only just performing well in the weight room and on the field, but in the classroom as well. And we know there is a link between them being able to eat and get to class."
Whether it's new facilities, new staff or new partnerships, the focus is on the studentathlete as a whole, where they are in their lives and help them be the best people they can.
"I just have an interest in helping people get better, whether that's to improve their fitness, or improve their nutritional health," Valliant said. "And with athletes, it's nice to see somebody come in and adopt some nutritional changes, then play better on the field or court. So I enjoy it because you really help people reach their potential."
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller