College Sports Meals

Major college athletic programs ramped up their spending for meals, snacks and dietary supplements to feed athletes, from $534,000 to more than $1.3 million, since the NCAA lifted food restrictions one year ago, according to a survey conducted last month by the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA). 

Eleven colleges hired their first full-time sports dietitians in 2014 with another four hires during the first half of 2015. The four sports dietitans who were working part-time for their school a year ago were promoted to a full-time position, according to the survey, which was conducted during the week of August 10.

Thirty-one of the 53 full-time sports dietitians nationwide who head up the nutrition program in their athletic department qualified to participate in the study, most of them from the NCAA Power 5 conferences. The survey showed that the average annual food budget rose from $534,130 in the school year ending in 2014 to $1.308 million this year, a 145 percent year-over-year increase. These food budget comparisons reflect 23 programs or seven percent of the 345 NCAA Division I schools.

The survey findings clearly revealed that many more NCAA Division I programs are feeding all of their athletes now—an average of 569 per school, which accounts for essentially all intercollegiate athletes in a typical athletic program—compared to providing meals and snacks for an average of 368 athletes per school a year earlier.

Limitations were first placed on meals and dietary supplements by the NCAA in 1991 in an attempt to ensure "competitive balance" between schools. Removing them has further increased the accountabilty for sports dietitians working with these programs. In fact, eight out of 10 are working considerably more hours now, according to the survey; 36 percent of them by 15 or more hours per week.

"Much more administrative work, and more interaction with food service," said Ohio State sports dietitian Sarah Wick. "We have more athletes to work with. At the same time, we also know that more full-time jobs will be opening up for students of dietetics who volunteer for us now, which is good for them, and very good for our profession."

Sports dietitians were asked to rank from 1 to 10 how satisfied their athletes appear to be with the greatly expanded food offerings, 10 being "completely satisfied." The cumulative score was 8.

"Only 8?" asked University of Tennessee sports dietitian Allison Maurer. "They simply don't know how much better things are compared to just a few years ago."