During the 2014-15 season, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski coined the phrase “Eight is enough” to describe the Blue Devils’ championship run driven by eight players in the team’s rotation.
But eight was not nearly enough to count the number of post-practice recovery smoothies the team consumed on a regular basis. Duke got in the habit of tweeting pictures of its smoothies throughout the season, with one photo showing at least 24 smoothies with five different flavors for the Blue Devils to refuel. Part of the team’s nutrition room includes an iPad that displays various recipes for Gatorade recovery shakes.
On the football field, head coach David Cutcliffe and company have also prioritized nutrition, switching their caterer in Fall 2015 and dubbing this season the “year of the beast.”
The emphasis on nutrition at Duke is part of a nationwide trend. After Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier won the national championship in April 2014, he said that he sometimes went to bed “starving” because he couldn’t afford food. A week later, the NCAA ruled that teams could provide unlimited food—a decision that had been recommended long before Napier’s comments—kicking off what has been dubbed “the next arms race in major sports” by The New York Times.
“The world has finally gotten the message of how important food really is,” said Franca Alphin, Duke’s director of nutrition services for student health who also oversees athletes’ nutrition.
‘They’d have no points’
In September 2015, the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association reported that major college athletic programs on average more than doubled their nutrition spending from $534,000 to $1.3 million following the NCAA’s decision.
Duke athletics spokesman Art Chase declined to provide the department’s specific budget for nutrition but acknowledged that it is spending more on nutrition than it did in years past.
Last week, the University opened its first buffet-style training table for dinner that is available to all 26 varsity sports in the new Blue Devil Tower, which houses Wallace Wade Stadium’s press box and executive suites. Training table was previously only an option for men’s basketball and football, Alphin said, adding that one of the biggest results of the NCAA’s rule change is that teams can also provide snacks throughout the day and not just at meal times.
“Now they have access to more food. You might say why does that make a difference? Because a lot of the athletes would come in here and I would talk to them, and they would be out of [food] points,” Alphin said. “They’d have no points, they would literally rely on friends to order food for them and I’d be educating them on how they should eat and what they should eat, and they’re like, ‘I have no money.’ That’s really hard to do sports nutrition education.”
Despite the increased importance of athletes’ nutrition, according to the September 2015 CPSDA report, there were only 53 full-time college sports dietitians in the country—about one for every 9,000 NCAA athletes.
Because of Alphin’s other responsibilities at the University, she is not considered a full-time sports dietitian. She noted that many schools use a combination of full-time, part-time and contract dietitians, adding that fellow ACC schools like Virginia Tech and North Carolina have three sports dietitians. Alphin said that Duke could use more dietitians focused on sports—she is currently the only one in charge of overseeing nutrition for all approximately 600 Blue Devil athletes.
“From your mouth to God’s ears, I can only hope,” Alphin said. “I do what I can and I love what I do, and I will continue to do that. But certainly as a sports dietitian, my goal would be and I would hope that in the years to come, we’re going to have more support.”
From fencing to food apps
Luckily for Alphin, one Duke athlete has taken the task of educating athletes about nutrition into his own hands.