Gridiron Gastronomy:

Before the Game, the Bears Still Shovel It Down, But a Nutritionist Is Calling the Plays

by Marie Felde

Carbo-loading with the football team. To anyone contemplating year-end diets, this may sound like the latest Steven King horror movie. But while the amount these fellows consume can be a little scary, what they eat is another matter.

For today's Golden Bears, high-energy, low-fat carbohydrates are at the center of their training table. In place of hamburgers, they get chicken enchiladas. Baked potatoes take over for french fries. Green salads are a mainstay. And players can count on pasta, low-fat frozen yogurt, and a bowl of fruit among the choices at every dinner.

"It used to be thought that fat was an excellent fuel source. That's not the case. We now know that carbohydrates" are the best source of fuel for endurance," says Andy Bohn. Bohn is a nutritionist with the University Health Service.

Among her assignments is working with Intercollegiate Sports. As part of a wide range of health services, including alcohol, drug, and rape awareness training, she works with teams and individual athletes eager to learn how eating right can improve their performance.

Bohn believes Berkeley is one of the few universities in the country in which the student health services work hand-in-hand with the sports program.

"Nutrition has become a hot topic. Athletes are looking for anything that can give them an edge," said Bohn.

Carbohydrates can do just that, she says.

"Studies have shown that a diet high in carbohydrates can give you a 14 percent increase in endurance."

That's why last week at the football team's training table in Senior Hall--the log cabin behind the Faculty Club--it was no surprise to see lineman Greg Webb's plate piled high with a half a baked potato, a roll, a heaping serving of chicken enchilada, beans, and corn. He went back for seconds later.

"We get a lot of carbohydrates and protein--all that keeps a football player moving. I try to stay away from as much fat as I can," said Webb, an engaging guy.

On the other hand, he is a college senior. And that means he's known to drop by McDonald's for a late-night snack now and again.

"You can get two Big Macs for $2. The other night, I had four," he said with a laugh.

And that was after a full dinner.

Although she designed a selection of six high-carbo menus for the team's group dinners, Bohn says the players don't have to eat right if they don't want to.

"When you have a hundred guys between 18 and 22, some are going to want to eat junk. But there are fewer and fewer who do," says Bohn. We have red meat twice a week, and there's always chicken. But there's plenty for them to choose from. The morning before a game is the only time they don't have a choice."

Players who will be in the game that day are required to eat with the team and that meal is carbo-load all the way. Waffles, pancakes, toast, yogurt, egg substitutes, and cereal are the usual offerings.

They eat four hours before a game. The idea, says Bohn, is to balance the time it takes to get the breakfast out of their stomachs and available to their muscles and still make it last through a three-hour game.

"We want their gas tanks full" and able to supply the players with peak energy throughout the game, she says. Immediately after a game, players get sandwiches, fruit, and cookies to replenish them.

The cookies, by the way, are not Bohn's idea. "But we have to make them happy," she says of the players.

She's Got A Sure Shoo-In For Most Unusual Job

If Andy Bohn makes sure the football team eats right, Tina Pisenti takes care of everything else. Pisenti's official title is "director of football operations." Call her the "team mom" and you're right on the money.

Her job is part caterer, part travel agent, part cheerleader, part counselor, part ticket agent, and part event planner. She's on the bench with the players each game and eats with them most nights. "I've put on 10 to 15 pounds," admits the remarkably slim Pisenti.

The care and feeding of 85 or so highly competitive young men--some weighing in at nearly 300 pounds--isn't everyone's dream job. But it is Pisenti's, a UCLA graduate in economics.

"I love it. It's unusual and always interesting. People ask me what I do, and when I tell them I work for a football team, I spend the rest of the night telling stories," she says.

But there's a downside, too. "The hours are long and it's stressful. Everyone is under pressure," says Pisenti.

She's worked with the team for nine years, the last two as director of football operations--a full-time, year-around job. She's there when they win big, and when they lose hard.

"The players this year have really held together. They've become closer as a team. If someone has had a rough game, the amount of support they get is incredible. I'm truly impressed with how sensitive they are," she says.

And she too is impressed with the sheer amount of food her players can consume. "I think we've set records," she says. "They eat a ton a food." And what do the players like best? "Anything barbecued."


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