Georgia's Director of Sports Nutrition Jen Ketterly was recently awarded the Excellence/Perseverance
Award from the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietician Association
(CPSDA) at the group's annual convention earlier this month. The award is given
annually in recognition of "immeasurable enthusiasm and extraordinary
dedication" to the profession and the organization. In her role as the head of
the two-year-old sports nutrition department within the UGA Athletic
Association, Ketterly is responsible for managing nutrition education for
student-athletes, writing individual nutrition plans, monitoring body
composition, evaluating nutritional supplements, and planning pre-game and
travel meals for the teams. In addition, she oversees nutrition care for football,
men's and women's basketball, volleyball, and women's golf.
Just after Ketterly's award was announced, UGA Director of Athletics Greg McGarity was given the CPSDA's Tom Osborne Award for Commitment to Nutrition, as he was instrumental in starting the program at Georgia and has allowed Ketterly and her team to be successful through his support of their work.
Between The Hedges recently sat down with Ketterly to discuss the ins and outs of her work as Georgia's nutritionist, and what results she has seen from the student-athletes after two years here.
Between The Hedges: What did the CPSDA award mean to you?
Jen Ketterly: It was great to be recognized by our association, my peers and colleagues. It's a testament to the people I've worked with and the places I've been. I'm a believer that you're a sum of your parts, and this shows that I've been around some great people and places in my career.
BTH: How did you get into sports nutrition and how did you get to Georgia?
JK: I was a student-athlete - I played basketball at Cornell University - and growing up at some of the elite camps I attended they would have sessions for us on things like GRE and SAT prep, but they'd also have information on nutrition, and how hydrating and taking iron and eating certain foods could have a positive impact on your performance. I remember thinking it was really cool that those things could affect the way you played. When I was recruited to Cornell I was lucky that they had a great nutrition program. At the time there was only one full-time sports dietitian in the country, and that was Kris Clark at Penn State. It was just coming onto the scene and it wasn't even a field of its own at that time. It was just an idea. I thought it was something I would really like to do and it seemed like a neat path. It's been great to see it develop to where it is today, embraced by athletic programs everywhere. I got to Georgia through stops at UConn and UNC.
BTH: How did the start of the program here at Georgia come about?
JK: We didn't have a nutrition program at all before our staff came on bard. We were one of the few SEC schools who didn't. When Greg McGarity came on board in 2010, he recognized that as one of the gaps in our services provided to student-athletes. He came from Florida and worked with their training table there, and when he came here he was able to identify that need. Ron Courson was charged with running the search and also absorbing the nutrition program under the sports medicine department. That's how it happened.
BTH: What are your primary responsibilities?
JK: We wear a bunch of different hats each and every day. A couple of key areas are, first, the training table. We have a temporary space in Stegeman Coliseum that services our football, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, tennis, and some baseball student-athletes - and we oversee that effort administratively and programmatically. We work with food services on that, and at first we had to do everything from planning the menu to running electrical lines for our hot bar to ordering mass beverages for 200 people every day. Training table is a big area for us. Second, we are tasked with servicing our programs - similarly to how the athletic trainers and sports information staff have people assigned to sports, we have that as well. So our staff members work directly with the teams to meet with the student-athletes and make plans based on their needs. We work on education - our goal as a staff is to change the culture of what nutrition was in the athletic department. We want to be very performance-based and positive. We work with the sports' directors of operations on planning meals both and home and on the road, and on game days we manage what needs to happen in terms of hydration and fueling so we can be the best-fueled team out there. We work with supplement vendors to manage that product, and from a health and safety standpoint we make sure that we are educating on the risk and benefits of certain supplements, because of course we have to adhere to stringent UGA and NCAA drug testing policies. Those are a few of our biggest jobs.
BTH: How have the student-athletes received the nutrition education?
JK: That has been one of the most pleasant surprises since being here. Our program is celebrating its two-year anniversary this July, and since we've been here we've had great support from the coaches. They've embraced what we're doing without a doubt. The majority of the student-athletes have taken it all in stride and opened themselves up on how they can get better. We take the angle not of "don't do this and this" and letting them know that they don't have to give up everything they like, but letting them know it's a learning process and teaching them how they can best utilize foods and fluids to their advantage.
BTH: How has the department grown since you arrived? Have you achieved the goals you set?
JK: Coming in, we would laugh because we came into our offices and there was nothing here. Maria [Breen] and I were hired on the same day and we came into these empty offices, and we were like, "Okay, here we go." My goal was to begin to establish that conversation about nutrition, about what it is and what it means. Our philosophy is just as it says on our logo - "Prevent, Protect, Perform." Good nutrition programs can help prevent injury. The protection element is about protecting eligibility through knowledge of those banned substances. And the performance element is very clear - science has taught us that good nutrition definitely can impact your strength, speed, stamina, endurance, and power in a positive way. Those were the elements we wanted to work with the teams on understanding. We also wanted to build the infrastructure of making those elements support our teams and make the concepts happen. I think we've done a great job of that.
BTH: What is the goal of the nutrition department going forward?
JK: The big goal we have is to create a training table facility for all our student-athletes that we can grow into and where we can have team functions. We do a lot of things surrounding food and meals, so we would like a space that is supportive of all our messages we're promoting and have a great meal. From there, I think we would like to have a better staff-to-team ratio. Right now we have about a 5-6-7 ratio, where each of our staff members works with five to seven teams and we'd like to improve on that. It would be nice to give our teams more individualized attention.
BTH: What else do you want people to know about your program?
JK: We've been able to accomplish a lot in a short time. It's truly a testament to Greg being here and giving us the support we need, and identifying that this is additive to our student-athletes and their success. He's passionate about taking care of them on and off the field and this is an example of that commitment. We are also lucky to have the wonderful sports medicine staff that we do, starting at the top from Ron Courson as our leader. He gives us the creative space and support to do what we do, and that's special.