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  • COLLEGE FOOTBALL

    Beavers hope new diet plans give them bite

  • CORVALLIS — Blair Cavanaugh stared wide-eyed at an index card outlining his new diet.
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  • CORVALLIS — Blair Cavanaugh stared wide-eyed at an index card outlining his new diet.
    The item that stood out most to the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Oregon State Beavers receiver? Six servings of vegetables.
    Per meal.
    "What if I can't do it?" Cavanaugh asked Stasi Kasianchuk, who had given him the card.
    "You have to," Kasianchuk replied.
    Kasianchuk, a sports dietitian, is one of the OSU athletic department's newest full-time staff members, working with every sport to ensure its athletes are fueling their bodies with the right nutrients to maximize training sessions, recovery and, ultimately, performance.
    Defensive end Obum Gwacham already sees — and feels — a difference.
    "When she first gave (the nutrition cards) to us, I have to admit, they were intimidating," he said. "I don't think I've ever eaten that much — ever.
    "I started to do that, and I started to see my weight go up. I had more energy in the weight room. I wasn't as tired anymore. So it's definitely paid off for me. I've seen the results. I feel a lot better. I feel healthier than I've ever felt, so it's definitely helped.
    "I'm sure a lot of other guys can say the same thing. We all look different now. Coach (Mike) Riley notices it."
    Sports dietitians are becoming a staple across college athletics. According to the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association, more than 40 Power 5 athletic departments, including nine in the Pac-12, have at least one full-timer on staff.
    And with the NCAA recently approving a rule that allows for unlimited meals and snacks for student-athletes, consultation on proper eating habits is perhaps more important than ever.
    Kasianchuk transitioned to the athletic department from the academic side of campus. After getting her master's in exercise and sports science at OSU and completing a dietetic internship, Kasianchuk served as the co-director of OSU's lifetime fitness for health program.
    Then, she started volunteering with athletics, offering nutrition group presentations to teams and tips to individuals.
    When Dr. Doug Aukerman joined OSU as senior associate athletic director for sports medicine in 2012, he pushed to carve out a bigger role for Kasianchuk, after Aukerman saw the benefits of a sports dietitian at his previous stop, Penn State.
    This past year, Kasianchuk held a part-time position in the athletic department while keeping her academic post. But as of July 1, she's now on the athletic staff in a full-time capacity.
    "That was the goal, and I think I just kept my eyes on that," Kasianchuk said. "You can't deny the need that we have, with over 500 athletes and the challenges that they have as student-athletes to balance training and school and their lives in general.
    "It only makes sense that we give them the support that they have in other areas."
    These days, Kasianchuk views the athletes' training table as their "nutrition classroom," where she can glance at what the Beavers are putting on their plates and offer 1-on-1 consultation.
    After all, each athlete is on an individualized plan, based on goal weight, body composition, sport and position.
    Kasianchuk calculates the needed servings of starch, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy using a formula and massive Excel spreadsheet — then will tinker with the plan when necessary, based on how the body responds.
    She works closely with the strength and conditioning staff and culinary director Raul Vera to keep the athletes accountable. And she's gotten support from the Beavers coaches, as Riley has mandated that his players must attend their daily training table meals.
    But Kasianchuk stresses instilling the right habits for meals off campus is perhaps even more critical. She offers advice on healthy options to buy on a budget, and then on how to cook those ingredients.
    "Before, if I ate maybe one vegetable, I thought that was enough for the day," cornerback Malcolm Marable said. " ... I never bought any type of vegetable for my house. Now I'll get a big bag of spinach."
    Added Kasianchuk: "If they're thinking about it, if it's on the front of their minds, then that's one step closer to making that improvement ... I think a lot of athletes thought it was impossible when they first saw this plan, but step-by-step, it's been really cool to see them kind of implement these things."
    How this new focus on nutrition impacts the Beavers during the 2014-15 athletic year remains to be seen.
    But Kasianchuk has already gotten reports from athletes that they have been less sore during summer workout programs. Marable said he's upped his weight from 168 pounds to 172 since starting his diet, and now knows how to maintain it.
    Next weekend, Kasianchuk will take the incoming freshman athletes on a tour of the campus dining halls to show them the healthiest ways to use their meal plan.
    And Kasianchuk will keep popping into her nutrition classroom at training table, where guys like running back Damien Haskins are clearly learning.
    When the two first met, Kasianchuk said, the 5-foot-8, 224-pound Haskins gravitated toward unhealthy starches. Now, he always grabs a huge salad to go and lean protein.
    He's one of many creating a more nutritious environment for OSU athletes.
    "(The goal is to) have a culture that has an understanding of nutrition plays a huge role in your success here as an OSU athlete," Kasianchuk said, "and everybody's got to buy in."
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