By Luke Johnson | LSU Student
Jamie Mascari knows what to feed a Tiger to make it fierce - color-coded meals.
LSU's first-year coordinator of sports nutrition has revamped how LSU athletes are fed by tailoring meals to match rigorous athletic training and placing emphasis on nutrition education.
"[Nutrition is] something that we're looking at regularly," underscores LSU Football Coach Les Miles. "[Mascari is] doing a great job in terms of pointing our guys in the right direction … It's tremendously important, and it's going to become more important.
"That guy that would have graduated at 235 [pounds] now graduates at 263 [pounds] and he's chiseled in steel and it all looks right."
Mascari educates athletes with a simple stop-light analogy when presenting their food: Don't bother slowing down when green, proceed with caution when yellow, and only proceed only if feeling dangerous when red.
When football players trickle through the chow line to pile food on their plates, they see the colored labels above each dish that explains the consequences of eating each type of food.
Green is safe to eat without a second thought. Yellow is okay with moderation. And red is high-calorie, high fat (and delicious, of course). It wasn't always this way.
"We used to get a bunch of cookies on Friday night," said senior kicker Drew Alleman. "Then, she came in and told us the good things and bad things about food."
Mascari works closely with LSU Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Moffitt to ensure players are getting the proper balance of calories and nutrients to supplement their workouts.
She makes certain players understand that their diets are part of training. Each night after practice, the team gathers for a ‘"raining table" meal. "It's called training table because we like to make sure they realize that what they're eating is part of their training regimen."
Every day, sometimes several times a day, Mascari speaks with Moffitt about players' performance in workouts and their physical measurements.
"We monitor their weights, but the number doesn't mean as much as their strength and their stamina," Mascari said. "We may have a guy that we want to lose weight, that's cool, we'll see if he's losing. "But I always make sure to ask coach if he's maintaining strength, keeping up his energy levels and looking good in the weight room."
Mascari received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from LSU, where she spent her undergrad years as a cheerleader.
She developed an interest in nutrition as a high school senior when her cheer coach sent her to see a sports dietician. She immediately noticed the benefit a proper diet had on her performance.
"She streamlined my diet," Mascari said. "I wasn't eating enough, so she bumped up my calories, she told me about all the different nutrients I needed. I thought it was really cool because I saw a huge difference in my skill level."
The players have noticed the effects, as well.
Sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry said junior running back Spencer Ware dropped nearly 20 pounds this offseason after seeing his yards-per-carry average drop more than three yards from his freshman to sophomore seasons.
"It's showing in his play," Landry said. "It just came from eating right and his work ethic. Those two go hand-in-hand."
Eating right isn't the only thing Mascari has to keep in mind.
"You have to recognize two things; what is the optimal nutrition for [a specific] player, and what does he enjoy eating?" Miles said. "Just because it is optimal nutrition, doesn't mean it's enjoyable eating."
Mascari integrates southern comfort food that most of LSU's athletes grew up consuming — the fried food and the red beans and rice — with the appropriate nutrients to fuel their athletic performance.
"Of course, that's not the best for an elite football player, but we do try to incorporate it. We have healthy options, as well, but we include their favorites so they don't feel like they're being deprived."
While the connection between diet and on-field performance may have been eye-opening for some, it doesn't mean players aren't going to cheat on their caloric intakes from time to time.
They are, after all, still college kids.
"I'd say Sundays are my cheating days," acknowledges Alleman. "Some Sundays I just want a good ice cream. It's easy for us to cheat. Once you're at your house, you can do whatever you want."
Just as long as it is not under Mascari's eye.