New UMass Amherst Program Educates Athletes on the Importance of Nutrition

AMHERST, Mass. - Men''s and women''s athletic teams at the University of Massachusetts now have easy access to advice on when to pile on the pasta and how to drink enough fluids during practices and games, thanks to a program developed jointly by the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and the UMass athletic department.

The program provides athletes, trainers, and coaches with expert, personalized advice from the University''s nutrition and exercise science departments. For example, both individual athletes and teams are given nutritionally sound ways to increase strength, speed, and endurance. Other topics include the relative effectiveness of dietary supplements, eating disorders such as anorexia, eating in the dining halls to improve performance, and how to manage medical conditions such as diabetes, according to Robin E. Levine, senior clinical nutritionist and registered dietitian, who heads the program.

Levine, who has been the nutrition counselor to the UMass men''s basketball team for the past several years, began offering information to all teams this fall from her new office in the Boyden Physical Education Building. Levine previously worked out of University Health Services, which is located across the campus from the athletic facilities. "I used to see just a few of the athletes, but since I have been here, I have been inundated," Levine said. "I''ve also gotten amazing cooperation from the coaches. The interest level all around is really high."

Robert K. Marcum, UMass athletic director, said the collaboration helps everyone involved. "It has been really valuable and has enhanced the performance of our athletes," Marcum said. "I believe it has given us an advantage." Marcum also said he views the field of sports nutrition as one that is bound to expand as athletes seek out the latest information and coaches and trainers become more aware of the need to understand how nutrition affects performance in sports.

UMass currently fields 29 varsity sports teams and supports more than 700 varsity athletes, Marcum said.

Making nutrition counseling available to the University''s athletes is an initial step in long-range plans to develop a Center for Nutrition in Sport and Human Performance, according to Priscilla M. Clarkson, associate dean for the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. The center, if approved, would offer courses in sports-centered nutrition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Clarkson said.