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What Retailers Can Learn From College Athletic Foodservices

The Lempert Report: The Associated Press took a look at the menus and eating styles at the Power Five schools.

The Associated Press took a look at the menus and eating styles at the Power Five schools, the group that includes the Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12. According to the AP, the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been poured into the Power Five conferences—much of it from television rights and fees—have enriched dozens of schools and allowed them to give their athletes the best of everything, right down to what they eat every day.   

Nebraska will spend $3.3 million this year on athlete nutrition. In addition to the high-quality food at the training table and healthy snacks at fueling stations, the budget covers a director of food service, executive chef, registered sports dietitian and three assistants, and more than a dozen other staffers. Nebraska’s athlete nutrition program dates back to 1938, when the old Big Six Conference approved training tables for football players only. 

Clemson this year opened a $55 million football-only building featuring a dining hall where a player’s biometric readings will help determine his recommended diet for the day. The player will put his thumb on a scanner and step on a scale, and his personal menu will be produced based on the information gleaned from the readings. 

At Alabama, nutrition spending is up to a national high of $3.6 million this year, and the Crimson Tide broke ground this summer on a more than $15 million dining hall that can seat 817 athletes. The building will house the nutrition staff’s offices and a demo kitchen where athletes will be taught how to cook their own meals. 

Accounting methods vary, but the common range for nutrition costs at Power Five schools is $1.5 million to $2.5 million. 

Wyoming led the Mountain West Conference in nutrition spending at $900,000 last year, three times more than in the 2014-15 season, and has hired two nutritionists. Additionally, Houston of the American Athletic Conference is spending just over $1 million, which ranks at the top of the Group of Five schools that responded to the AP survey. The University of Akron athletic director said he is convinced poor nutrition led to the Zips’ basketball team struggling at the end of last season.

“We went into a tailspin where we couldn’t muster a full game’s worth of energy,” he said. “It was apparent we were not well-nutritioned.”

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