With caloric, energy and muscle-building needs the average person can’t fathom, athletes can’t just be blindly fed massive amounts of food (although the amounts they can put away can be impressive). Instead, the kind of food hinges on details such as time of the day and point in the season. And it has to taste good. Knowing how to deliver that is par for the “course” (pun intended) for students in Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Nutrition program, the only program of its kind in the country, offered at both the Providence, R.I., and Denver campuses of Johnson & Wales.
Students graduate with a bachelor of science degree that blends the academic side of nutritional science with culinary know-how. “A lot of programs will focus on clinical versus culinary,” says Jamie Daugherty, assistant professor and culinary nutrition assistant at JWU Denver. “They may have a class or two in food science but none that do hands-on, practical applications for consumers and the general public.”
“Years ago, the choices for students were to become a dietician, work in hospitals, public health or food service management and that was it,” says Marleen Swanson, department chair of Culinary Nutrition at JWU Denver. “People want healthier food and that has opened up a vast array of positions for our students.”
Graduates of the program work in research and development with food companies, education, school nutrition, health care and as personal chefs. And some of the program’s graduates work with collegiate and professional sports teams to create their “training table,” to provide optimal nutrition based on needs throughout the season. Daugherty says the chefs have to know about both nutrition and how to craft menu items to meet the players’ needs. Graduates have gotten jobs with the St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, U.S. Soccer Team (going to Brazil for the World Cup), LA Dodgers and our own Denver Broncos.
JWU senior Brian Banister is currently interning with the Denver Broncos. The internship is designed to expose students to the field of dietetics (the interaction between nutrition and health). “I get to see what it’s like to feed an entire organization (players, coaches, training staff and administrative staff) during the regular season and soon-to-be post season. I am mainly cooking for the team, but our entire kitchen is striving to make food that is nutritious, appealing and, above all, satisfying to the players who really need it,” says Banister.
Banister draws on his education about “athletic performance cuisine”—sports nutrition with a culinary emphasis and application. Chef Instructor and Sports Nutritionist for JWU Denver, Adam Sacks, says “the curriculum is taught in a kitchen and is designed to enable students to assess, design, and execute meal plans for metabolically active individuals … to maintain, sustain and advance athletic abilities in all sport venues. Sacks says the goal is to “assist the body in recovering from any losses that result from oxidative and inflammatory stresses, glycogen depletion, fluid and electrolyte imbalances, and negative protein synthesis.”
Meeting the nutritional needs of the players is accomplished by emphasizing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, leaner proteins and healthy fats. The food has to look and taste familiar and appealing to the players or they aren’t going to eat it, says Sachs. “We can’t introduce foods that they’ll look at and say ‘what’s this?’ If they don’t eat it, they compromise their efforts and the net results. There’s a lot of intention involved in what is served.”
“I’m happy to say the players are very receptive to what we put out,” says Banister. “For each meal we have one or two lean protein options with a medium- or high-fat option such as beef. We also try our best to source seasonal produce that is locally grown.” Team favorites include freshly prepared fish dishes, roasted chicken, pasta, steaks with sauces, and a lot of potatoes. “Some of my favorites include salmon with a lemon-caper reduction, Cajun-style gumbo, and roasted butternut squash with chipotle butter and candied pecans.”
Bannister adds, “It’s very interesting to observe the eating patterns of players. Some are willing to try it all, some stick to what they grew up eating. No matter the player, they all have enormous appetites. I’ve seen individuals eating upwards of 24 ounces of chicken along with cups of pasta and multiple burgers in one sitting. Compensating for the loss of thousands of calories will do that to you, I guess.”
Bannister hopes to continue working in sports nutrition after graduation but would also like to work in a clinical setting to help patients live healthier lifestyles after diagnoses or surgical procedures. “So many dietitians and clinicians can formulate a healthy diet plan but not execute the simple task of properly cooking food to where it is appealing and flavorful to their consumer,” he says. But he believes the blended curriculum forces students to think like chefs first, and then put knowledge of nutrition and biochemistry to work after.
Post Recovery Energy Nuggets
Recipe developed by Chef Adam Sacks, MS, RD, CCC, CRC. Chef Instructor and Sports Nutritionist for Johnson & Wales University, Denver Campus
Serving size: would recommend 4+ after a great workout. This easily made treats are designed to replenish energy stores lost, some fast acting complete protein to assist in muscle recovery, healthy fats to promote a strong immune system response and finally spice to say “wow, these are awesome”
8 large brown dried figs
8 pitted dates
3T dried cherries or raisins
2T sesame seeds
2T raw almonds
2T raw walnuts
2T roasted soy nuts
1T roasted expresso beans (optional, see note below)
2T dark chocolate chips (over 65% cocoa)
1/2 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne
Sesame seeds or coconut flakes for dusting (optional)
Method of Preparation:
Pulse dried fruit in food processor to make sticky paste. Add other ingredients and pulse quickly to mix thoroughly; adjust seasonings to taste. Roll into balls, can roll in sesame seeds or shredded coconut for looks. Store in fridge up to two weeks.
Sometimes, I include a 1-2T of roasted expresso bean to mix for an added “punch.” Some research indicates that caffeine may assist in glycogen recovery after a workout.