Jan. 11, 2012
By Jack Smith
Coach Brett Hawke says his men's and women's swimming and diving teams are the fittest they've been in years.
Auburn swimmers have always trained hard. The only difference is they are eating better, thanks to the work of Scott Sehnert, sports dietitian for the Auburn Athletics Department.
Hawke says having a sports dietitian on board has improved the performance of his student-athletes and has even been a boost for recruiting.
"It has really given us an edge in recruiting because of the attraction of performance management and all the challenges freshmen face dealing with diet their first year," Hawke said.
Women's Basketball Coach Nell Fortner says Sehnert's educational work in nutrition, which may involve everything from planning menus for Auburn Athletics' training table to grocery store tours, has helped her players make healthier choices.
"He's done a great job educating our athletes on good foods to eat in the realm of how they eat," Fortner said. "They are still 18 to 22 years old, so they don't eat as healthy as they should. He tries to help them eat healthier as far as snacks, and maybe what are better things to eat at McDonald's or Chick-fil-A, because they find themselves eating there a lot."
Senior Woman Administrator Meredith Jenkins said Sehnert's work has helped Auburn athletes understand how nutrition impacts performance.
"Scott has had an incredible impact on our teams and student-athletes," Jenkins said. "He does a great job educating them on all areas of nutrition. They understand now what they should be eating prior to practice and events, and what foods will help them recover and help with injury prevention and immune support. Many student-athletes have commented on how much better they feel and how their energy levels have increased."
Sehnert said around 24 NCAA schools have full-time sports dietitians, but it is a rapidly growing trend.
Since he works with all 21 sports at Auburn, Sehnert stays busy. His role includes education and planning, including working with a chef to ensure that healthy meals are planned at the training table, which is located in The Village student housing. He also does cooking demonstrations, one-on-one counseling, Twitter updates and even "porcelain pointers," in which he posts healthy notes in athletic facility bathrooms.
"A huge part of what I do is broad-based education, but I also do food service all the time," Sehnert said.
In addition to knowing everything there is to know about nutrition, Sehnert has to be well versed in NCAA rules, which allow institutions to provide its student-athletes one training table meal a day. The Auburn football team, for example, recently had chicken fajitas, rice and a casserole with lean ground beef for lunch after practice as the team stayed on campus to prepare for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
While meals are limited by the rules, Sehnert can provide fruits, nuts and bagels at any time. The football team consumes as many as 200 to 250 bagels and fruit cups a week when they are either practicing or working out.
While the diets of many Auburn student-athletes have vastly improved since Sehnert came on board, a major project in the works will take the program to a new level. The Wellness Kitchen, a $5 million facility being funded by Auburn Athletics, was recently approved by the Auburn Board of Trustees.
It will be located close to the Auburn Athletics Complex and a short walk from the new student housing soon to be built on the site where Sewell Hall stood for many years.
Jenkins said the facility will serve student-athletes as well as regular students with special needs.
"Scott has been instrumental in the planning of the new venue," Jenkins said. "His vision has really helped with the planning of this facility, which will be one of the best in the country."
"It will benefit all of our student-athletes, but it will certainly be more convenient for our football players," Sehnert said. "We will have an executive chef who has the same vision that I have for our athletes. We will look for ways to feed them that they will enjoy but also helps them train and recover." An example might be a pizza station where they can make their own pizzas--but with turkey pepperoni and whole wheat dough.
While the facility is being planned and built, Sehnert will keep building the foundation for healthy diets, whether it's taking teams on grocery store tours, writing "porcelain pointers" for bathroom stalls or counseling athletes one-on-one about their food and beverage choices.
"I'm here to work with all of our teams," Sehnert said, "and I really enjoy what I do."