While the cliché "you are what you eat" might be bit overstated, there is no question nutrition plays a huge role in helping an athlete achieve their optimal level of performance. BuffStampede.com caught up with Laura Anderson, Colorado's sports dietitian, to find out how she helps fuel the Buffaloes. Here is Part One of our three-part series of Q&A's:
When exactly were you hired here at CU?
Laura Anderson: "My start date was during the last week in August [last year], so right when school started. I actually missed fall camp last year. It has been fun because we're doing all the fall camp planning right now. Fall camp is big for football so we provide three full meals and a night snack for the football team, just during the month of August, for those three weeks when they are heavy into fall camp."
You seemingly came in at a good time with the new NCAA rules allowing for an athletic department to provide more food to its student-athletes. Have you heard horror stories about how it was before you got here?
"I have, especially coming from meeting with all the other Pac-12 sports dietitians. But I don't know, I guess for me, I don't really care what was being done before. I knew when I came in what the expectation for me was to provide. I knew what the budget that I had to work with for the year was. So I just rolled with that and the first thing that I did to get us really up to speed was I implemented a performance based menu and standards that I provided to the training table crew so that it made it very easy for them to know what I wanted and expected. If anybody were to walk in to a CU training table, they would know what is going to be provided every single day.
"I had to switch out foods for lean proteins. Every single day we're going to have two-to-three lean proteins being served for our training table meal for football. So this is for football only because that is our biggest meal that we do provide. We also provide a couple different starches, a couple different vegetables. The preparation methods of those different foods is important. The fresh fruit is also important so we promote that.
"We want to provide, calorically, what some of those individuals need but everything needed to stay very performance based. And that is very important to me that you can eat very, very healthy. You can meet all your energy needs with healthy foods. We had to build that plate correctly. That was obviously very important to me from a performance nutrition standpoint. That is the first thing that I did.
"Then, fueling stations was a little bit more tricky because there were some compliance rules still in place with what was okay and what wasn't okay. That was an entire Pac-12 gray area in that I don't think it is still clearly defined. Each has their own interpretation of what that looks like for a fueling station. I know what our compliance department's interpretation of that is. They make it very clear of what can be served and what cannot be served. I try to work within that because I respect them and they do an awesome job. I feel like we can do a really good job staying within those compliance standards."
Before we started the interview you talked about your past working with members of the military... how did that prepare you for your current post here at CU?
"I would say from the sports side of things, the Olympic Training Center [in Colorado Springs] really made me into the practitioner I am today. I had an amazing mentor there, a woman by the name of Susie Parker-Simmons. She really helped prep me with regards to being able to handle myself, not only politically within a University setting, but also getting me up to speed with regards to sports nutrition and how it is different than how I would practice in a regular outpatient setting.
"So I would say the Olympic Training Center probably made me into the provider I am today but what made me the best was my last four years working at 10th Group with the Special Forces because that environment would challenge anyone. It is a very arduous environment. It is not for everybody. We had no running water, we had no flushing toilets. And right when I started, I was the only female working on the team. It was myself with four male co-workers and about 1,800 guys. So it is just really being able to handle yourself in that environment and gain their respect. I think your work always speaks for itself so for me, once you are accepted into that environment, they really take care of you.
"It was just a really gnarly environment. And planning for those individuals was actually really difficult for me at times because I was used to having lots of provisions available. When the guys would come to me before deploying for three or six or nine months, which was typically the rotations that they were on, they would say, 'Okay, this is what we have available to us, can you write us a 28-day menu that we can cycle through while we're there?' It was really, really hard because I felt I was writing the most boring, uncreative menu you could imagine. It wasn't really performance based at all because there were no fresh fruits and veggies available and if there were lean proteins available, they were some things I didn't even know how to prepare myself. So I would research if they were going to be doing their own game hunting while they were there and I would try and come up with recipes that they could use. It was very difficult. I started developing travel deployment kits. I would put together things that they could purchase and take with them, like your standard trail mix and things that they would not be able to buy in the economy over there.
"Special Forces guys are very unique because they are not deploying to places where there is menu established. I think that is the big difference between big armies and Special Forces is that they have to take care of themselves during those time frames. So rotations are much shorter but that job I guess really pushed me to be very, very creative with what you had available. I think it made me a very efficient employee, that I can multitask. I saw a lot of people. I have never counseled so many people ever than I did at 10th Group. I would see every new individual that was coming into the group."
Walk us through what a typical day at work is like for you here at CU...
"I ride to work on my bike every day because I was too cheap to buy a parking pass (laughing). I get my day set up in advance so I can look at my calendar and know what I have going on for the day. It is very different day to day. But on a typical day, I always like to pop upstairs to see how my training table crew is doing. What has really been beneficial, especially during the summer time frame, is what I call curbside consults. I probably do my best job when I run into them outside of this office setting. So I'll do a lot of nutrition consults at the bike rack, actually. Some of my best work is done there because I'll see the athletes outside and it is a non-intimidating environment. Where I think sometimes coming to the office, especially when I first started, was a little bit intimidating. They didn't know me, they didn't know my personality so now when they see me at the bike rack it is a little bit less intimidating. Or if I am up at the training table and they are getting their foods and they are moving through, or if I am helping at the back of the line, passing out omelets, I actually get a lot of nutrition coaching done during that time frame.
"I always try and make myself available at one of the meal time frames and also do a quick check up to make sure what is being provided to them on the line is really what was planned for the day. As we get through the semester, I don't really have to check that line as much but right in the beginning of the year, I just kind of do a quick check to make sure the food is up to standard. Or if I am getting some complaints here and there, I definitely want to pop in and see what is going on.
"Some days I'll have six individual consults that I do throughout the day. Right now there are not as many athletes around so I might only be seeing about three or four individuals during the day. But I am doing a lot of planning with getting protocols in place within the medical teams for individuals that are suffering from iron deficiency. As a medical team, it is important that we're all saying and doing the same exact thing and making sure we have an appropriate monitoring system in place for those individuals that do show up with some iron deficiency.
"We're working on relative energy deficiency decision trees, bone marrow density issue decision trees, so that we can have an appropriate standard of care in place if our athletes are having any of those issues during their time here. I have been doing a lot of that during the summer and doing a lot of planning because we are moving over to the new facility so the way we operated this year with regards to fueling stations and where meals are going to be provided, it is all going to change. I am constantly, every single week, meeting with my crew up there because we don't 100 percent know for sure when we are going to make that move over to the new facility. We are just getting everything in line so if we get told we are ready to move next week, we can do that and we'll be very comfortable. Two weeks ago we went through and looked at every single piece of new equipment that is getting put in there and labeled it on a big blueprint of what the kitchen is going to look like over there. That way it is easier to wrap your mind around how it is going to look and how we are going to help facilitate the traffic through that area if we have to feed 110 guys an hour.
"It has been just a lot of planning. This summer is different, I imagine, than other summers to come because of the move that is going to happen and having to change the way that we're going to operate. Obviously next summer it is going to be completely different because I will be able to focus a lot more on decision trees and education development.
"I did some hydration testing with men's basketball two weeks ago. I passed out their results and did a hydration education session with that. I have done a lot of body comp assessments for the incoming freshmen and talked to them about nutrition issues: fueling schedule, that transition from high school to college, living in the dorms and not having their parents to prepare foods, and what it is like navigating C4C or the Dal Ward Center for their fueling opportunities. I didn't know what to expect this summer but it has been good. I thought it was going to slow down but it didn't. Part of it is because of the move."
In Part II, Anderson will talk about individualizing nutrition plans for the football players and how the new Champions Center might help her, among other topics.
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