The athlete knows the clichéd road to success: Wake up early, get in the gym, lift more weights, push yourself, practice practice practice, do the little things, push your teammates, do the big things, work harder and do more than your opponent, and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll have success. And these messages are fine. They’re motivational and help stir a fire in athletes of all ages. But the nutritionist and doctor see the gap that’s missing: The fuel to this fire.
When Doug Gillin became Appalachian State University’s athletics director in April, one of the first conversations he had with director of strength and conditioning Mike Sirignano was about taking care of their student-athletes in a more holistic way — mind, body and spirit. Together, they identified aiding and facilitating nutrition and recovery as a key element to that holistic approach. Gillin wanted to implement it right away and Sirignano was equally game.
“Since the day I started weight training, I was always taught you can’t out-train a bad diet,” Sirignano said. “So the key for weight training and strength and conditioning or practicing or whatever we do – even getting good grades – is how fast can you recover? Can you recover faster than the person you’re training against?”
He equated nutrition and diet to a car: Do you put bad gas in your car to get from Point A to Point B or do you put the best fuel in it in order to be more efficient?
With that approach in mind, and the NCAA’s recent rules changes that permits the dispersal of snacks and other non-meal foods to student-athletes, Appalachian State athletics’ AppFuel program was born.
Throughout the day, Appalachian State student-athletes can now visit newly constructed “fueling stations” that are located at the Appalachian Athletics Center and Owens Field House. At these fueling stations, snacks are available for Mountaineer student-athletes and distributed based analysis of each individual. Snacks available range from smoothies and protein shakes to hummus, crackers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Appalachian State football’s Taylor Lamb said that he’s already noticed that the fueling stations give him and his teammates more energy in the classroom and on the field. He said that he personally utilizes the stations every day.
“A lot of times, breakfast and lunch doesn’t fill guys like us up,” Lamb said. “Now, we can come up here and grab some snacks or a protein shake before practice and be good until dinner. It’s good to have a little extra to get us through a hard practice, especially because we don’t always have the time go home during the day between class and practice.”
Football head coach Scott Satterfield said that he definitely sees it benefiting his players during the season but also notes that it is a big recruiting plus.
“No. 1, it helps in recruiting because we’re telling recruits that that if you come here, we’re going to take care of you, you’re going to be able to get all the nutrition that you need for your bodies,” Satterfield said. “All the science that’s behind getting elite athletes to where they need to be shows that we have to be able to do this.”
App State volleyball has also benefitted from AppFuel. Senior outside hitter Emily Corrigan called it “huge.”
“I know as an athlete, we need to be constantly fueling ourselves throughout the day and eating,” Corrigan said. “I personally struggle with maintaining weight and gaining weight so having those stations there available to go get snacks or shakes is awesome.”
Volleyball head coach Matt Ginipro said that because his team practices early in the mornings, it’s great for his student-athletes to grab a snack before class.
“It benefits us because we’re taking advantage of an NCAA rule that lets us feed our kids more, which they need,” Ginipro said. “They’re burning thousands of calories in practice and a meal plan just may not be enough.”
From a recruiting standpoint with volleyball, Ginipro said it’s great that Appalachian State is keeping up with the nation’s elite schools when it comes to providing fuel for student-athletes.
“I think it’s great that we have made the commitment to do this because a lot of our peers haven’t,” he said. “Most of the “Power Five” schools have but it was great when we heard from Doug that we were going to do this, that it was important and that it was one of his priorities when he got here.”
Before Gillin and Sirignano were at Appalachian State, they were at the University of Missouri and the University of South Carolina, respectively. Together, along with nutritionist Melissa Bryan, they created a program that they knew would help them compete with bigger universities.
Bryan said that while in the past she has come in and given talks to teams about the value of nutrition and what student-athletes should be putting in their bodies, unless they did it on their own, the likelihood of it happening wasn’t always high. Now that the NCAA allows the universities to do it, they’re able to monitor nutrition all the way through.
“Part of the message that I’ve been trying to get out to the student-athletes for years is an athlete needs to eat every few hours,” Bryan said. “There are a couple of benefits to that. Obviously, a lot of them maintain higher lean body mass percentages than the average person, so therefore their increased metabolism means that they have more needs from a nutritional standpoint.”
Since Appalachian student-athletes are now eating more often, Bryan said they’ll have better body composition, they’ll have more energy and less fatigue and that should lead to fewer injuries.
As quickly as the AppFuel program took shape (the distribution of snacks began when fall sports opened practice in August), the actual facilities at the Appalachian Athletics Center and Owens Field House were not far behind, thanks to the work of senior associate athletics director Troy Heustess and Brett Scantlin of the Appalachian State Physical Plant. The duo coordinated a project that saw the Owens Field House fueling station open in September and the Appalachian Athletics Center station come on line in October.
With the AppFuel program entering its fourth month and construction of the fueling stations complete, Bryan said the next step is to make the program more educational in nature so that when teams come up to the stations, they already know what they should be putting in their bodies and why.
But while there is still room to grow, Gillin couldn’t be more pleased that AppFuel has become a reality.
“One of the most gratifying things that has happened for all of us this fall has been seeing the smiles on the faces of our student-athletes when they walk away from the AppFuel stations with a snack that will fill them up and ultimately help them reach their full potential in the classroom and in their sports.” Gillin said. “It is all about offering our student-athletes a world-class experience and this is one way that we are able to achieve that.”