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Volume 21 No. 26
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Sooners tab nutritionist as their competitive advantage

Amid the increasing evolution of college football support staffs, SportsBusiness Journal sought out some of the unique people and positions that have been part of that growth.

A former gymnast, Tiffany Byrd now keeps track of what the Sooners eat and drink.

When Oklahoma’s football players enter the weight room for a 6 a.m. lift, Tiffany Byrd is there. When they step onto the practice field, Byrd is there. On game days home and road, Byrd is on the sidelines making sure the Sooners’ players are hydrated and nourished, whether it’s 90 degrees or snowing outside.

Byrd is not a football coach in the traditional sense, but she is in charge of what the athletes eat and drink. As Oklahoma’s director of sports nutrition, Byrd has as much — and often more — day-to-day contact with Oklahoma’s football players than any of the assistant coaches. A story on the official OU website even referred to her as the team’s competitive advantage.

“We’re viewed as part of the team, just like the medical team,” Byrd said. “Our coaches get it. All the coaches and athletes know who we are and what we do.”

In the three years since the NCAA lifted the cap on how often schools can feed their athletes, the role of team nutritionist and dietitian has expanded, as Byrd can attest by the hours she keeps and the staff she manages.

Under her supervision, Byrd has a team that includes one other full-time dietitian, a paid intern and 15 student aides, who prepare food and keep the shelves stocked in the football operations center with performance drinks and snacks.

Byrd, who was a collegiate gymnast, first at Alabama and later at Nebraska, also consults with the school’s caterer, Levy, on daily menus. Think feeding your family at Thanksgiving was a chore? Try 120 football players, multiple times per day.

“Think about feeding that many people who are from different backgrounds and cultures, so all of their palates are different, and you’ve got to come up with one meal everyone will eat,” Byrd said. “You’ve got food allergies, you’re cooking with large quantities, the food has to stay fresh. That’s a huge challenge.”

— Michael Smith