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Hospital and University Team Up To Improve Nutrition for Student Athletes

New Britain [May 25 2006] - New Britain General Hospital nutrition experts teamed up with athletes at Central Connecticut State University this spring to lose weight and boost their performance through healthier eating.

In a unique pilot program conceived by a university coach and a hospital nutritionist, six athletes went through a 10-week program to lose weight and eat right. The athletes collectively lost nearly 50 pounds.

The idea of using the resources of the Hospital’s nutritional experts to help athletes came from Mike Ericksen, head training coach at CCSU. “Our student athletes were so poor in their knowledge of good basic nutritional habits. I had heard about the Good Life Program at the hospital and called.”

That call came to May Harter, RD, nutritionist and coordinator of weight management programs, who worked with Mike to tailor a nutrition educational curriculum to the athletes’ unique needs.

The first step was a meeting with all the student athletes. Harter and her colleague, Jillian Wanik, RD, a sports nutritionist, gave an introductory lecture on basic nutrition to the entire group. After that, six athletes signed up for a 10-week workshop, with a formal class once a week and an informal follow-up every week with Harter and Wanik. The participants were required to keep food records.

“The athletes were very enthusiastic,” says Coach Ericksen. In terms of final results, Ericksen says, “It was about more than just the number of pounds they lost; it was a real education for them in nutrition.”

Harter’s outline for the class included instruction in: basic nutrition and meal planning; reading food labels and calcium planning in the diet; energize with exercise; first steps in changing eating habits; calories do count; dining out; fat and fiber facts; portion control; coping with food and breaking the diet mentality; and maintenance of weight loss.

The curriculum is based on the Hospital’s “Healthy Solutions” weight loss program, but with some important differences for the athletes. “These students’ schedules include intense workouts once or twice per day, classes, studying late at night, missing meals, which all impact their eating habits,” Harter said. “Making healthier food choices on and off campus is a particular challenge, realizing that some students have apartment with full kitchens, others dorm rooms with small refrigerators, and many rely on food from the campus cafeteria and local restaurants.”

Very important, Ericksen said, was Harter’s emphasis on maintaining your body’s energy — before, during, and after exercise, and paying attention to your blood sugar levels. She emphasized a total lifestyle approach: the importance of eating breakfast; foods that are important for athletic performance — carbohydrates as well as protein.

“Small changes can make a big difference,” Harter says, recalling one athlete who was surprised to find that just cutting out cheese on his sandwiches had made a difference.

College athletes face particular challenges. “It’s often easier to grab a soda and fries than find a healthy alternative like fresh fruit,” says Harter. “Their schedules tend to be erratic; they’re up late at night.” But, she said, the group responded very well. One student reported that he had made lists of “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods and taped them on his refrigerator.

When the 10-week program was over, one student had lost 17 pounds; another 15; another 8. All six collectively lost 49 pounds and also dropped their body fat percentage.

Rob Kucharski, a junior at CCSU, majoring physical education from Port Chester, New York said the program worked well for him. Being an offensive linebacker, he needs more calories than the average person; probably about 4,000 a day compared to 2,500–3,000 for the average adult. Kucharski said some of the most valuable things he took away from the class were the importance of eating the proper calories so he could maintain his energy level and an ideal body weight, and that small food changes can make a big difference. “The group gave me the motivation to stick with it,” he said.

“This is an excellent partnership. To have May Harter and Jillian Wanik’s expertise is great,” said Ericksen. Administrators at both New Britain General and CCSU hope to continue and expand the program next year.

Contact: Corporate Communications, 860-224-5900 x6507

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