Campus Life

Dining Options Designed to Help Mason Athletes Reach “Peak Performance”

By Buzz McClain

Mason junior Joyous Tharrington is well aware of how what she eats affects her body. As a forward for Mason’s women’s basketball team, Tharrington needs to stay in top condition to maintain the hectic pace of studies, workouts, and games. What she eats plays a big role in how well she performs.

Which is why she’s thrilled by the new Peak Performance sports-specific dining experience now served during dinner hours at Southside.

Mason student-athlete Joyous Tharrington at the Peak Performance food station in the Southside dining facility. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

“It’s not because the coach says I have to, it’s definitely because I want to,” the sociology major says of her fondness for the new food offerings. “I’ve had injuries in the past and have had to alter the way I eat, including stress fractures from not enough calcium, things like that. I’ve learned the importance of how well I eat. It’s a pretty easy decision for me to make.”

Peak Performance meals are another step in “removing all the barriers our student-athletes need to succeed,” says Debi Corbatto, Mason’s assistant athletic director for the Center for Sports Performance. A study of other sports programs highlighted a need for Mason’s athletes to have better choices available—and for them to be aware of how to eat to best facilitate their training.

“Peak Performance came about looking at other programs and trying to educate our athletes on how to put together a healthy, wholesome ‘clean’ plate,” says Mason sports dietician Theresa C. Logan, who designed the menu with the cooperation of Sodexo, Mason’s food service provider. “The lean protein, the vegetables, the fruits, the breads, and rice and beans, all of the good vitamins, minerals, fiber, the things that they need that are important for an athlete’s energy system–actually, that everyone needs.”

Mason dietician Theresa Logan created the menu for Peak Performance. Photo by Creative Services.

Indeed, the Peak Performance offerings at Southside are available to all students, not just student-athletes. “Someone on the rugby club or a club soccer team would find this a great opportunity for them, too,” says Corbatto. “It’s a great opportunity for any student on this campus.”

And it’s not all just grilled chicken, although there is plenty of that.

“There’s beef, too,” Logan says. “The Peak Performance menu is based on the Sodexo menu’s best selection that day. It’s using all the items Sodexo has on the menu and using the best choices.”

“[Diners] can go to Peak Performance and get a plate of clean and lean food and then graze the dining hall to find other foods marked with ‘Peak Performance’ that would fit in with a high-performance diet,” says Corbatto. “You create some variety for yourself. There really is a lot of choice.”

To deepen the educational aspects of Peak Performance, the serving station is adorned with graphics to visualize the proportions of foods an athlete should have on easy, moderate, and hard training days. “The menu takes the guesswork out of the selection,” says Logan, who issues pithy dietary Tweets at @masonfoodcoach. “It meets all their needs to recover. And it will help them when they’re away from campus and on the road by showing them what a healthy dinner plate looks like.”

The program appears to be working, at least for men’s basketball forward Johnny Williams.

“My mom said when I went home she recognized I wasn’t eating fried food, and for me, that’s pretty different,” the 6-foot-8-inch, 245-pound (down from 266) junior. Peak Performance, he says, “will do just that. It’s going to get us to our peak performance. It’s a big change. We know now there’s a better menu that will help us perform better on the court. That’s the main goal.”

As of now the Peak Performance offerings are limited to dinner hours, from 4 to 9 p.m. at Southside. Would Tharrington like to see the meals available at lunch as well?

“To have that option whenever you go to Southside, yes, that would be pretty special,” she says.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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