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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 30 · Number 3 · Spring 2013


Broccoli or Big Macs?

Student-athletes reach peak through nutrition, conditioning, psychology.

Photo: coach and players on sidelines

Head strength coach Matt Brand, right, motivates football player Corey Galindo as he performs a wide-grip lat pulldown
in the Toomey Weight Room. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

UC Davis offers its student-athletes a mix of resources to elevate their game — strength training and conditioning, nutrition and sports psychology.

It is all part of the master plan for Aggie Division I athletics. Just ask Nick King, a 6-foot-3 defensive end on the Aggie football team. When he arrived on campus three years ago at about 230 pounds, he lacked the brawn needed for his position. Now, thanks to a rigorous training program, he’s added 20 pounds of muscle and, with it, a bright future. Today, King is a seek-and-destroy pass rusher, one of the best in the Big Sky Conference.

“Strength conditioning has helped me tremendously,” said King. “I never thought I could get this strong. My lifts have gone through the roof.”

King credits Matt Brand, the university’s head strength and conditioning coach. Brand and his three-person staff work with UC Davis’ 23 intercollegiate teams, often arriving at the weightlifting facility near Hickey Gym at 6 or 7 a.m. and not leaving until 6 or 7 p.m. “Organized chaos” is how Brand describes the challenge of training up to 300 student-athletes a day — UC Davis has more than 550 student-athletes overall.

Energetic and passionate, Brand is known to fling the gym’s doors open in the morning with a motivational cry to the student-athletes waiting outside. A two-time A.A.U. Junior Olympics national powerlifting champion, he preaches trust, teamwork, accountability, hard work, discipline, science and technique.

“You can take an hour out of your day to get better,” he told a group of a dozen or so football players after a workout in February. “Be smart in what you do and the choices you make daily, as they will affect your performance. We only train at most two or three hours a day, so there are still 21 hours in the day. You are in control of those 21 hours. Make the right choices to build your bodies.”

The benefits of lifting, Brand said, are performance enhancement and injury prevention. But it is not about the number of pounds or repetitions.

“We never allow numbers to supersede technique.” Rather, he emphasizes quality in technique — how one lifts a weight, from the explosiveness of the initial jerk to the follow-through in locking out the arms. “Our job is all about helping put our student-athletes in a position to be successful.”

Each sport has its particular training regimen based on its movement patterns. He noted, “Volleyball and baseball (being overhead and throwing sports) will emphasize the rotator cuff more in their injury prevention programs. Cross country, on the other hand, will be focused more on total muscle balance and weak point training, with less emphasis on the absolute amount of weight lifted.”

Finally, football athletes will undergo a comprehensive training program targeting the entire body, with a primary emphasis on increasing the athlete’s strength foundation and the creation of absolute power and overall rate of force production, which is critical to success on the field, he said.

UC Davis’ comprehensive training approach is based on access to the latest knowledge about conditioning, Brand said. “It is all scientific.”

All student-athletes can make use of the athletic department’s extensive online Aggie Peak Performance Network. Brand himself doles out information to student-athletes, such as the NCAA’s list of banned substances or a pamphlet on the “Top 10” foods to eat in the “recovery” phase after a workout.


For King, the defensive end, what type of food you eat is paramount. He has benefited from the sage advice of Liz Applegate, a tenured faculty member and director of sports nutrition for intercollegiate athletics.

As a freshman, King did not have good eating habits nor know much about nutrition. Today, it is a different story.

“I don’t have the cravings for all those bad foods,” he said. “And I know what types of food to eat and when. This will help me forever.”

Applegate, who teaches the popular Nutrition 10 course on campus, says that student-athletes need to eat healthier than other students because of the physical demands of their sport.

“It’s not about just eating more calories and putting on weight, but are you doing it in a healthy way? Their nutritional needs are different,” she said. “They’re burning more calories and spending more time conditioning in the weight room.”

Just like Brand’s customized approach to lifting, each sport may have a different nutritional program.

“Depending on the time in the season, they have different types of things to consider,” said Applegate. For example, the women’s lacrosse team has a 6–9 p.m. practice. That is a challenge. “They need more protein and carbs and micronutrients, in particular.”

“Recovery” eating is a major element of conditioning, said Applegate. “They need quality carbs like whole-grain pasta, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, fruits and vegetables. Those things provide the carbs that will replenish their energy.”

A student-athlete needs 20–30 grams of protein at every meal. “They require a much higher protein intake than students who may go to the gym a couple times a week.”

Applegate is no killjoy. She says you can go to In-and-Out Burger and Taco Bell and still make good dietary choices. “There are fast-food choices that are good,” and you can plan for a “naughty” meal adventure by eating properly for awhile beforehand. On meat, she recommends eating it lean, not fried or with creamy sauces. If one is vegetarian, the issue is getting protein at every meal through non-meat protein sources like tofu and soy milk.

“When you eat as an individual, you are eating for the team. How you eat, impacts everyone else. They really respond to that.”

Applegate meets with student-athletes individually and collectively as teams. Last fall, she spoke with 12 teams and hundreds of the athletes in her office in Meyer Hall. She’s noticed a few things after doing this for 20-plus years.

“Some sports tend to attract certain personalities. For example, gymnasts are very precise eaters while football players might tend to want to eat ‘big’ to grow more,” she said.

UC Davis became a full-fledged member of Division I intercollegiate sports in 2007–08. Joshua Flushman, associate athletics director, said UC Davis every year is making progress. “We’re investing more and more in student-athletes. Everyone’s pushing to get there, and each year we’re improving.”

Sports psychology

In sports, the mind is as equally important as the body.

“Student-athletes deal with many of the same issues that the non-student-athlete population deal with,” said Jennifer Gildner, a psychologist and coordinator of the Applied Sport Psychology Program in Counseling and Psychological Services.

Gildner and two other staff provide counseling services to help student-athletes and teams deal with a myriad of issues. On top of their academic demands — which is plenty enough for most students — student-athletes face the additional pressures of travel, extensive physical training and time management. They also may struggle with motivation, confidence, negative self-talk, slumps, focus, relationships with teammates, injuries and more.

As for teams, they may benefit from counseling in group dynamics and team building activities, she said.

“For those already performing well, sport psychology can often help them to move closer to their goals,” she said.

Clifton B. Parker, associate editor for UC Davis Magazine, has written three books on baseball players: Hack Wilson, brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner, and Al Simmons.