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A staff of nutritionists offer the Gators an array of healthy eating options to fuel their performance.

Wednesday May 22, 2013Staff of Nutrition Experts Help Gators Get Fueled Up

A staff of nutritionists offer the Gators an array of healthy eating options to fuel their performance.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gators receiver Frankie Hammond used to make Sarah Snyder wince every time she saw him stuff those warm glazed ovals into his mouth.

Hammond craved Krispy Kreme donuts so much that he downloaded an app onto his smartphone to alert him every time the “hot now” light was on at the store located near UF’s campus.

Snyder, director of nutrition for the University Athletic Association, gave Hammond her best speech about eating right.

“You look for teaching moments,’’ Snyder said.

Hammond certainly offered plenty of those. He also proved to be a special case.

Seemed no matter how many donuts Hammond ate, the speedy receiver maintained his usual weight of around 185 pounds and was one of Florida’s steadiest performers at practice.

On Senior Day last fall, Hammond presented Snyder a big grin and box full of Krispy Kremes. They took a picture inside the Gators’ locker room to commemorate their mutual understanding of Hammond’s sugary habit, one loaded with what Snyder refers to as “sluggish carbs.”


In her role overseeing the nutritional approach to maximize UF student-athletes’ performance on the field and promote healthy habits off the field, Snyder is the equivalent of the team mom telling everyone to make sure they eat their vegetables and drink their milk.

Snyder and her staff meet with athletes regularly to discuss the best eating plans to reach their athletic and lifestyle goals. Some want to lose weight. Others seek to gain muscle. And needless to say, especially when dealing primarily with 18- to 22-year-olds, some are better students than others.

That is one of the greatest challenges.

“You have some kids who are like, 'I got here and I'm doing just fine and I don't need to change,’ ’’ Snyder said. “They might just wake up and eat a bowl of cereal and think that is sufficient [before a hard practice]. It's hard for them to perceive the future.

“Some are in my office going over numbers and plans and really want a developed program. We work hand in hand with them.”

Something that also makes Snyder wince is when a well-known and successful professional athlete such as Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade reveals he is finally going to embrace eating vegetables – at age 30 – after years of performing at a very high level.

In Snyder’s world, news like that is simply another teaching moment to share with the Gators.

“I've seen the professional athletes and how they come around to the nutrition by the time they're 25 or 30,’’ she said recently during a presentation detailing Florida’s nutritional approach. “It becomes important for them then, but for some people your career is over at that time. So it's like, 'How long do you want to extend your career?'

"A lot of them have goals to go to the NFL, so I can reach on that and use that [message] as a reason to take care of your body now."


Florida is one of a handful of schools across the country -- less than a dozen overall -- with at least four full-time nutritionists to work with its athletic programs. They work closely with the student-athletes and the teams' strength-and-conditioning coordinator to create the best possible eating plan and then monitor the their progress.

A former swimmer and cross-country runner, Snyder first realized the importance of nutrition related to performance in high school.

“You have milliseconds between first, second and third,’’ she said. “What can give you that upper edge if everyone is doing the same amount of practice time, the same amount of intensity? Hydration and nutrition come into play, and recovery comes into play.”

She worked as an athletic trainer at Santa Clara (Calif.) University during college and later honed her skills and knowledge working with NBA players and major leaguers at Athletes’ Performance, a renowned center for performance training in Arizona that has grown significantly in stature the past 15 years.

Gators Director of Nutrition Sarah Snyder counsels UF student-athletes on how what they eat can impact how they perform.

The cornerstone of UF’s Sports Nutrition Services is a plan based on five core principles: Fuel Up, Fuel Frequently, Hydrate, Recover and Approach.

Each component is equally important for the student-athletes to maximize their performance and reach their ultimate goals, whether it’s a volleyball player looking to add to her vertical jump or an offensive lineman in need of more bulk to play in the SEC.

Gators senior center Jon Harrison has worked closely with UF’s nutritionists to supplement his work in the weight room. Harrison’s main objectives are to lose body fat, increase muscle mass and stay lean while generally maintaining an appropriate body weight.

The 6-foot-3, 302-pound Harrison learned how to do all those through working with Snyder and others in the nutrition department.

“They enlightened me with many dietary alternatives and techniques that would help with decreasing body fat and adding lean muscle,” Harrison said. “Some of these included smaller portions, less carbs in the evening, healthy snack options in between meals, unique foods that are a healthy option without sacrificing flavor.”

Finding the right meal options for everyone on the roster is a key for Snyder, who is like a kid in a candy store (pardon the pun) over the summer as she researches new menus to introduce to the football team when it opens fall camp in August.

“I get excited about camp and planning the menus and the meals and getting creative with it,’’ she said.


As for the core components that drive everything else, here is a brief outline of each:

--Fuel Up: This is the content of each athlete’s diet. Snyder teaches the 80/20 rule – eat healthy 80 percent of the time with a 20-percent window for non-nutritious snacks like those Krispy Kremes that Hammond put away. The three basic eating plans Snyder stresses are lean, maintain and gain.

Lean athletes include those such as distance runners and sprinters; maintain athletes are those trying to maintain their proper playing weight during season, and gain athletes are those such as offensive linemen trying to put on weight and muscle. A general principal is that a lean athlete is probably going to intake 40 percent carbs/60 percent protein, a maintain athlete 50/50, and the gainers use a 60/40 model leaning more toward carbs.

--Fuel Frequently: This part of the equation keeps Snyder and her staff busy. She is a regular presence at practice in fall camp to keep an eye on how players are holding up in the intense heat under the physical demands.

Snyder is constantly reminding them to eat and snack throughout the day to maximize their performance in practice, sending out texts at the start of the day.

“You can see guys who are struggling,’’ she said. “I think those guys are the ones we attack at meal times and we make sure they are eating and if they are not, we can do alternatives. We can do a smoothie, a hot-pressed sandwich. At camp what is your go-to? Is it cereal or something very simple that I can put in front of you and you will eat?”

Once Snyder unlocks the right combination, they move forward with a revised plan to make sure the player is meeting his nutritional needs.

--Hydrate: This stage is self-explanatory. You need to maintain proper hydration levels to reach your full potential and maintain energy at practice. In August in Florida that becomes even more important as temperatures and humidity often peak during the month.

Within this component the nutritionists use the mnemonic tool of G.A.T.O.R. to constantly remind the players to hydrate, including posting signs in the locker room and Gator Room – where the team often eats meals together.

G – Gauge your sweat

A -- Always drink water or Gatorade

T -- Track water consumption

O -- Observe urine color

R -- Remember to carry your water bottle

Snyder said it’s not unusual for a bigger lineman to lose as much as nine pounds during an extremely hot practice. To replace those fluids an athlete should drink 16 to 20 ounces of water for each pound lost.

The players also get weighed every other day to make sure their weight is at a proper level throughout the season.

--Recover: Let’s say practice is over and the player has fueled up, fueled frequently and hydrated properly, the recovery stage is important to the player’s ability to do it all over again the next day.

This is when Snyder and her staff make sure the players are replenishing electrolytes and nutrients following a grueling practice in the Florida heat. This stage often happens at the mandatory training table, an official team meal for scholarship players. The NCAA allows schools to provide training-table meals four times a week Monday through Thursday.

Players have an array of options to choose from based on their nutritional needs and whether they are considered in the lean or gain category. Snyder often walks around the room and does what she calls “live plate coaching.”

If a player’s plate looks too heavy on carbs, she’ll suggest adding some color to the plate in the form of a vegetable such as broccoli or carrots.

--Approach: In short, this component is founded on the educational principles the nutritionists teach UF’s student-athletes.

They stress the importance of the 80/20 eating rule and how something as simple as choosing a grilled chicken sandwich for lunch over the fried alternative can save you more than 15 fat grams and serve as better fuel for performance.

With so many different types of athletes, the message is altered to fit the individual’s performance goals, body type and appetite. For instance, an offensive lineman might need to consume 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day, while a gymnast might only need between 2,000 and 2,200 calories for a healthy diet that can promote peak performance.

Ultimately, Snyder said the main objective is “being that support for them to help them reach their goal.”

Sometimes that means working with an athlete interested in shedding all bad eating habits. Sometimes that means agreeing to disagree about how many donuts is acceptable to eat during a week and smiling wide in a photo the way she did with Hammond.

"It's a wide spectrum,'' Snyder said.


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