Helping WVU football players find their “cutting edge” through nutrition

Gold and Blue Nation

Courtesy: WVU Football

Haley Bishop knew she wanted to be a sports dietician since she was 15 years old. In 2017, that dream became a reality after she graduated from Samford with her master’s degree in nutrition.

In February, Bishop was named the Director of Sports Nutrition for West Virginia football.

“At this level, it’s all about the extra stuff. You know you are talented, but what’s that cutting edge? I think nutrition is that cutting edge type of thing, it is the foundation,” Bishop said. “Doing all that little stuff with fueling and recovery keeps you on the field longer, keeps you from getting fatigued or injured.”

In dealing with college athletes, more often than not, it is that little stuff Bishop referred to that can set them apart in their respective sport. It can be hard to get some of them to realize that nutrition and recovery are just as important as the practice itself. That’s why Bishop takes a different approach than most of her colleagues.

WVU football players taking a cooking class led by Haley Bishop.

“One of the things that drew me to West Virginia was Coach Brown’s thoughts on making sure we develop the whole person. That’s my personal philosophy, too, and that’s why I don’t necessarily do meal plans because I want to empower them to make their own decisions,” Bishop said.

To start the day, it’s pre-fuel. This is to make sure the players are getting enough carbohydrates before their lifts or practice.

During practice, it’s intra-fuel on the sidelines. Not only does this help the players get what they need to complete the practice, but it also ensures the guys in the weight gaining category are getting calories in for those two hours they are outside.

Then it’s post-fuel for recovery or for those athletes doing extra work after practice. This makes sure they are getting calories in right away.

After that, the athletes will receive brunch and dinner at the facility. Bishop works closely with the athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff to develop goals for each individual so they know exactly what they need out of every meal.

“They will tell me where they are currently, where they want them to be long term and some short term goals we can achieve. On the other end, if we have injuries or soft tissue issues, I work with (head athletic trainer) Vince (Blankenship) to see what supplements we can do,” Bishop said.

From there, it will be determined which one of the three plate models best suits that individual — lean out/injury, weight maintain or weight gain. The goal is for the plate to have protein, carbohydrates and color — or fruits and vegetables.

“I go through the training table with them and help them pick things that fit their goals. I get them to show me their plates and ask them things like ‘what are you missing?’ or ‘what can we add here to reach your goal?’,” Bishop said. “I try to teach them as they are doing it so they aren’t just blindly doing it, they know the reason I’m adding something.”

For the baseline or weight maintain plate, each portion should take up a third of the plate. If you are in the lean out or injury group, your plate will be focused on more protein and color with a smaller amount of carbs. The weight gainers will keep the amount of protein and color the same and only the carbs will increase from a third to a half of the plate.

“One of my favorite things about being a dietitian is seeing that click moment. You talk about it, you show them what it is and you continue to repeat yourself. So, when they show you their plate or they talk about adding things, you are like ‘yes, that’s right. Good job!’,” Bishop said. “It’s honestly just continuing the conversation. I think that’s a huge part of my role — relationships. Just getting to know them, know their personalities and how I can help guide them best.”

Those relationships have already led to growth when it comes to the players maintaining their nutrition outside of the facility. Bishop will receive text messages or facetime calls from players proudly showing off their balanced plate or the meal they cooked for themselves at home. Now of course, some players are more into it than others, so Bishop came up with an idea to get everyone more involved: cooking competitions.

“I think cooking skills are super important. We feed them twice a day most days then they go home and eat the rest of their meals on their own. We can’t tell them all these things we need them to do without giving them the proper tools to execute it,” Bishop.

Food and competition. Sure seems like two things that would definitely get the attention of college football players, and so far, Bishop has seen the buy-in. Since the student-athletes have different cooking backgrounds, they started with a smaller cooking class that taught them how to make french toast.

“It seems super simple and basic but at the same time, some of these guys have never even been behind a burner before versus some of them that are really good at cooking. It’s fun to see them interact with their teammates and encourage each other through that, too,” Bishop said.

So, that begs the question: who is the Gordon Ramsey of the football team?

“Well, Zach Frazier has cooked for his accountability team before and will make things at home. VanDarius Cowan cooks and will send me his meals at home. KJ Martin made hibachi the other night,” Bishop said, adding there are too many others that come to mind to name.

The classes will continue when the players get back to the facility in June, so there are plenty more opportunities to work on those chef skills. There are also a number of other classes Bishop will lead over the summer, including one for newcomers and early enrollees. It will start with a grocery store tour and lead to learning how to make balanced meals that are dorm friendly. There is also a cookout planned that will pit the offense against the defense.

“One group will cook the protein then there will be another group that preps. Once their session is over, they can’t go back, so they have to make sure they are doing their job and giving the next group exactly what they need to continue making the meal,” Bishop said. “We’ll make it fun with judges to see which food tastes the best.”

Nutrition is a critical piece of that product that we will see out on Mountaineer Field this fall. Bishop hopes by making it fun, the players will want to become more involved in making sure they have the correct fuel to help them reach their goals. It’s been only a few months in her new role on Coach Brown’s staff and she’s already having an impact on one of the program’s main goals of developing the person, not just the football player.

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