NCAA rules have changed, and Boise State football is pushing players to use food as fuel
In dark letters nearly a foot high on a white wall inside the Boise State football team’s weight room, the phrase cannot be missed.
“Can’t out work a Bad Diet!”
Always seeking an edge, the Broncos are placing a bigger emphasis than ever on nutrition. Players were given workbooks at the start of spring semester to track the daily calories they consumed, and this summer they switched to a smartphone app that does the same.
“This last spring, we really took it to the next level,” strength and conditioning coach Jeff Pitman said. “... It’s been a huge push for us, and something I think has helped a lot.”
NCAA rules that went into effect in 2014 allow schools to provide unlimited snacks. At the fueling station in the weight room, above which the slogan sits, players stock up after a lift, or before and after meetings.
Pitman jokes, “They’re like ants on an anthill sometimes.”
“It’s huge. I think they talk about it a lot more now,” head coach Bryan Harsin said. “Everybody’s lifting, everybody’s running, everybody’s doing the same thing.
“So how do you get the advantage? It’s how you eat, it’s how you fuel your body.”
Leading that charge is Boise State Director of Sports Nutrition Hilary Horton-Brown.
An energetic presence, she often tweets food ideas from her account (@BroncoFuel) and provides recipes for players. She jokes she’s “obnoxious with ideas.” She even takes younger players grocery shopping to put them on the right path once they’re out of the dorms.
“From Harsin on down, we’re into it, and that makes my job so much easier,” Horton-Brown said. “Being able to have those rules, you know they’re taking care of themselves, and using the app, tracking 100-plus guys is much easier.”
Senior linebacker Darren Lee said of Horton-Brown: “She works miracles with us.”
He’s a prime example of the benefits of improved nutrition. Players meet with Pitman in January and have their body fat measured about every four months. They’re weighed once a week.
Lee, who has taken on a much larger role at middle linebacker, was asked to get his weight up, but his body fat down. He added about 5 pounds in the offseason and cut himself down from 16 percent body fat to 11.
“For me, I’d eat like normal, then met with Hilary and we tweaked it a bit. I was always bad about breakfast, would just eat a banana or something. Now it’s add some oatmeal, drink a milk,’’ Lee said.
“I really feel like this is the next step we’re taking as a team, emphasizing on nutrition.”
Across the board, the Broncos have noticed a change, speaking frequently about it throughout the year.
“That’s a big part of our program now, nutrition,” senior running back Devan Demas said in fall camp.
Before the season started, junior running back Jeremy McNichols said working closely with Horton-Brown and Pitman helped him prepare for a long season of work.
“I’ve noticed it a lot. I never really understood how important that was before this year,” McNichols said. “I used to sometimes feel sluggish, and it was because of what I ate. I feel great now.”
Junior tight end Alec Dhaenens said the emphasis is about more than just making players feel better throughout the day.
“We had a lot of injuries last year, and I feel like we’ve had less injuries this year, with our nutrition, our diet and the weightlifting,” he said.
Pitman said this year has been the best in terms of keeping players’ weights up during the season in the three years Harsin’s staff has been in place.
“In the past, weight just peeled off guys,” Pitman said. “... Definitely seen a difference. When the former players come in here, the food is the first thing they notice, like, ‘If I only had that, I’d have done this’ or whatever.”
Boise State is allowed to provide supplemental meals once daily, and breakfasts are served Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during normal game weeks. The travel team is served dinner Thursday and while on the road. Horton-Brown puts red, yellow and green stickers on the items being served as a guideline for what’s healthy and what might be needed in moderation.
“They’re receptive to it,’’ Horton-Brown said, “and it’s really big when they buy in, just like they do when it comes to everything on the field.’’
Eat like a Bronco
For many of the players on the line, the goal is to eat 5,000-6,000 calories a day to maintain their size, but also not to put on bad weight. Boise State Director of Sports Nutrition Hilary Horton-Brown put together meal calendars for players aiming for all sorts of goals. This is an example day for a player trying to eat 5,000 calories.
- Breakfast: Two bagel sandwiches with ham and cheese, two apples
- Snack 1: Three large handfuls of grapes with one cup of granola
- Lunch: Baked potato with low-fat sour cream, a can of chili and a pint of milk
- Snack 2: One pint of chocolate milk or protein shake
- Dinner: Two chicken patties or salmon patties on wheat buns with cheese, three cups of oven fries and a can of green beans
- Snack 3: Four oatmeal cookies with a pint of milk
That’s a lot of food
Boise State’s fueling station is a popular place in the Bleymaier Football Center. With more than 100 football players hungry after workouts, practices, meetings and class, it needs to be well-stocked. Assistant strength and conditioning coach Brandon Pringle oversees the orders. Here’s a look at what it entails:
- 600-800 pints of milk and 300 cups of yogurt per month delivered by sponsors
- Two or three grocery orders per month, totaling about $2,000
- A typical order includes 200 eggs, 50 bagels, six loaves of bread and 40 apples
- Partners also provide some snacks, including beef jerky, pretzels and energy bars
No. 22 Boise State at Hawaii
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Aloha Stadium (50,000, synthetic turf), Honolulu
TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Adam Archuleta, Cassie McKinney)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 8-1 overall, 4-1 Mountain West; Hawaii 4-6, 3-3
Series: Boise State leads 11-3 (Broncos have won five straight by a combined score of 227-37; won last season 55-0 in Boise)
Coaches: Hawaii, Nick Rolovich (4-6, first year) ; Boise State, Bryan Harsin (29-7, third year; 36-12, fourth year overall)
Vegas line: Boise State by 18
Kickoff weather: Mid-80s, light winds