Before, during, and after practice and game time, University of Mississippi athletes rely on sports nutrition staff to keep them properly fueled and hydrated to maximize their performance. Behind the scenes, members of the Sports Nutrition Volunteer Program make sure delicious and nutritious snacks are ready to eat and water and Gatorade are readily available.

“Proper fueling is critical for performance and recovery,” said Melinda Valliant, a registered dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and chair of the Department of Nutrition and hospitality management at the University of Mississippi. “Many athletes have little to no education on what they need to fuel their body, so the sports RD’s primary role is to educate them on their individual needs.”

Around 20 undergraduate students participate in the program and are responsible for making the food the athletes consume. As a part of their required clinical rotations, 10 students from the Coordinated Program in Dietetics work with the program, alongside registered sports nutritionists, to ensure athletes are getting the nutrition they need from the food and beverage offerings located in fueling stations surrounding athletic training facilities and event venues.  

Addison Shelton just graduated with an undergraduate degree in dietetics and nutrition and is in her first year of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. She found out about the opportunity to volunteer when a graduate assistant involved with the program spoke to her class about helping out and the benefits that come from it. 

“My duties can be endless,” said Shelton. “I work in the football weight room, so we are responsible for putting out shakes for the players in between different lift groups. We make green, chocolate and strawberry smoothies almost every day for the players’ recovery after practices. We also make protein balls, tons of fruits and even have snack tables to make sure the athletes are getting supplied with enough energy to suffice them throughout their strenuous exercises.” 

“The benefits of volunteering are numerous. I gained so much knowledge on how important properly hydrating and feeding athletes can be, especially at the collegiate level. I learned how to operate a body composition machine, which tells us the full body breakdown of fat and muscle of each athlete. I have also developed workplace skills that will serve me well in a future career in sports nutrition. Because of this program, I have learned what to do if a player needs to gain weight versus lose some weight. Overall, my experience as a sports volunteer has been nothing short of amazing. Being a volunteer gave me the insight that being a sports dietitian is what I want to do, and ultimately help and advocate for collegiate athletes one day.”

Walid Kherat is a Coordinated Program in Dietetics master’s student from Peoria, Illinois who just completed his clinical rotation with The University of Mississippi Sports Nutrition. His duties included managing all of the volunteers while working exclusively with The University of Mississippi Football players.

“I assisted daily operations of feeding football student-athletes, including fueling, recovery, snack tables, and meeting room bins,” said Kherat. “I helped them with proper breakfast and lunch choices, based on their individual goals and needs. I performed body composition tests and interpreted results, as well as individual nutrition consults with multiple student-athletes.”

Kherat developed educational materials and designed individualized meal ideas, meal plans, and eating schedules. He managed nutrition stock and inventory, along with placement of orders per team needs and works in close contact with food caterers to set up for meals and serve food.

During his time with the team, he worked the sidelines of the 2020 Egg Bowl and multiple practices and scrimmages, which include managing intra-fueling, cramping, and more. 

The volunteer program, run through the Center for Health and Sports Performance, also offers Ph.D. students and Master’s students from graduate programs in Nutrition and Hospitality Management an opportunity to conduct research.

Valliant said research in the program is widely varied, including nutrition’s role in recovery from injury and food insecurity and athletes.

Matthew Frakes is a May 2021 graduate of the Ph.D. program in Nutrition and Hospitality Management from the University of Mississippi. He will start as Director of Sports Nutrition at Notre Dame in a few weeks. His research involved the nutritional status impact on recovery from concussions.

“The purpose of this investigation was to observe the relationship between total calorie and macronutrient intake on return to baseline measurement times in concussions collegiate athletes,” said Frakes. “My findings suggest that meeting overall energy needs and the intake of carbohydrates may shorten symptom duration post-concussion.”

Kacie Poll is a food and nutrition services program master’s student who examined food security in high school and collegiate athletes in her thesis.

“In my research, I assessed the relationship of high school and collegiate household food security status to current food consumption behaviors in a sample of NCAA Division 1 male, collegiate athletes. I concluded that high school food insecurity is associated with preoccupation with food in male collegiate athletes. The food insecurity demonstrated in the sample of University of Mississippi athletes in the study is associated with preoccupation with food and food hoarding in male collegiate athletes. Screening for food insecurity and disordered behaviors in this group is warranted.”

Valliant said students interested in sports nutrition should know the practice is not an entry level field.

“Students aspiring to be sports registered dietitians need to focus on becoming registered dietitians.  We do not have a specialty at the undergraduate level, but we do have an undergraduate sports nutrition course NHM 319: Foundations in Sports Nutrition that students can take.”

Sport nutrition emphasis areas at the Master’s and Ph.D. levels are available through The University of Mississippi Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management.

Graduates can find careers in collegiate athletics, with professional sports teams, and with Olympic athletes.

For more information about the Sports Nutrition Volunteer Program or sports nutrition at The University of Mississippi, email Valliant@olemiss.edu or visit the website https://nhm.olemiss.edu/.