Dietetics students hope to improve athletes’ eating habits

A collaboration between senior dietetics students and athletes has guided and expanded the nutritional intake of athletes for three years.

“Bulldogs in the Kitchen” is improving the cooking skills and nutritional habits of athletes on the Fresno State campus.

“We pitched a bunch of ideas, we did some assessments on them, and it evolved out of us assessing some of the needs these athletes had, some of the skills they were lacking,” program director Lisa Herzig said.

The program provides benefit to both parties, as the dietetics students get a chance at real-world experience in the area of their future professions, and the athletes learn basic cooking and nutritional skills.  The objective of Bulldogs in the Kitchen is to teach athletes basic cooking skills they can utilize at home, on campus and on the road between sporting events.

“They are very proud of the work they have done,” added Herzig.

Participants had various levels of nutritional and cooking experience at the start of the program.  A single athlete was a “natural” in the kitchen.  The majority of the athletes were reportedly hesitant and timid initially, but were ultimately very confident and proud of what they had learned.

Former lead student and tennis player Alyssa Sahakian was present for the genesis of the program.

“The first year we started, there were three of us and I was an underclassman,” Shakian  I was working with two seniors presenting the information for the first time. It really opened up a lot of their eyes. Many of the athletes did not know they had to eat before and after an event.”

When Sahakian became a dietetics student she had recently transitioned from being a kinesiology student and a former athlete.

Sahakian asked Lisa Herzig if there was any collaboration between the dietetics and athletics departments.

“We contacted Andy Bennett and he is the one that initially came back to Dr. Herzig and said, I think we need to collaborate with you guys and get this thing rolling.”

The following year, cooking classes were held for the athletes three times a week.  The goal was to give the participants an easy meal they could make with basic ingredients.

The sessions give a tour of a grocery store, and give instructions on which kinds of fruits and vegetables to look for, healthy bread choices and proper dairy choices.

“The program just got bigger, and it just continues to get better with the nightly PowerPoint sessions we held,” Sahakian said.

Dietetics students guide Fresno State athletes in menu planning, shopping for food products, and budget development.  Many Fresno State students require assistance in this type of meal planning.

The recipes used in the instructional portion of the course change with each new class of graduating seniors, but the basic skills covered in the curriculum remain constant.  There is a five course meal prepared during the two hour long program which is presented at the end as a buffet for athletes to sample.

The program allows the dietetics students to visually see the athletes using their newfound cooking techniques.

More in-depth and statistical data interpretation is currently in progress, as a master’s degree student is examining the effects of the program in terms of athletic performance.

“The assumption is that there is improvement, just their skill level has improved by being exposed to this type of education,” Herzig said.  “You could see by the end of the skills course that their confidence level improved.”

A booklet is available that provides menus, recipes and a step-by-step guide for budgeting and shopping.  Special dietary needs such as food allergies and vegetarian dining are included.  The booklet is only available to those in the program, but a PDF version is being considered for release to all students.

“It’s amazing to be able to see how the senior students can take all the knowledge they learned and turn around and teach those who don’t have that skill yet.”

“It’s a win win situatio,” Herzig said.


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