Inside LSU's nutrition program, a key part of Brian Kelly's plan for player development

Inside LSU’s nutrition program, a key part of Brian Kelly’s plan for player development

In his office, Matt Frakes turned to his computer screens. One had a spreadsheet filled with body weight reports highlighted in green and red. The numbers, collected by members of the strength and conditioning team, told him whether LSU players were within their predetermined weight ranges.

Another screen displayed hydration information, providing a guide to how many electrolytes players should be consuming based on their weigh-ins. Frakes checks the data daily. If a player falls below 5% of their target weight range, they receive an alert on their phone. He can then determine a plan.

“Everyone’s weight has fluctuated in one form or another,” Frakes said. “We have to guide them to make sure they stay consistent for weeks.”

The system helps Frakes, LSU’s assistant athletic director of sports nutrition, track the entire football team. He has to make sure everyone eats and drinks the right things to perform at their best, especially as LSU heads further into the second half of the season on Saturday afternoon against No. 7 Ole Miss.

As some teams fade later in the year, the Tigers want to soar. It will take a lot to finish strong. LSU needs to make defensive adjustments and become more consistent.

But players won’t be able to do that if their bodies can’t perform, a year-round responsibility that falls on themselves, the strength and conditioning department, athletic trainers and nutrition.

“We’re caught up now,” senior linebacker Micah Baskerville said, “but it’s about holding on through the season.”

Brian Kelly values ​​all three areas in his approach to player development, a key to this season and the future of LSU’s rebuilding program. LSU already had director of sports medicine Beau Lowery on staff when Kelly arrived, and he quickly hired strength and conditioning coordinator Jake Flint. Another of his first calls went to Frakes.

Kelly admired the nutrition center attached to the football operations building when he rated LSU, something he asked for but didn’t get at Notre Dame. In addition to executive chef Michael Johnson, Kelly wanted a dedicated nutritionist on staff to maximize available resources.

He worked with Frakes, a former Bowling Green outside linebacker who earned a doctorate in nutrition and hospitality management, last season.

“He’s a unicorn on the pitch in a way,” Kelly said. “I felt his reliability, his knowledge and the need for player development in this area were so important to the success I had that he was a must-have rookie.”

Frakes learned that Kelly was leaving Notre Dame the same day his wife was due to give birth. He attended a team meeting and went to the hospital for the birth of his daughter. Kelly called the next day. He congratulated Frakes and his wife, then offered him a job.

As Frakes considered the position, he weighed the proximity to home with the opportunity. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, he loved living in the same area of ​​the country as his family after his father died of cancer a few years ago. His wife also had family in Cleveland, and his son attended a good school.

But Frakes thought he could make a difference. Moreover, LSU already had the infrastructure it needed.

“It’s all here,” Frakes said. “I just had to organize it.”

Frakes began by observing the players. He wanted to learn about their past pitfalls and food preferences to shape his program around team culture. He gathered an injury history to examine whether there were any ailments related to nutrition or body composition. At one point, he sent out a questionnaire to find out what food they liked.

“I have to guide them with the habits that I want them to develop,” Frakes said. “That means I also have to be patient with their palate. You are trying to change a lifetime of habits and selections.

Once he had enough information, Frakes set individual weekly goals for target weight and body composition. He worked with director of performance innovation Jack Marucci to base the lineups on the results of players occupying the same position in the NFL overall. Marucci, a longtime member of LSU’s athletic coaching staff, has been collecting data for years.

Players have signed on to the program by seeing results on the field and by reviewing periodic tests performed by LSU on their lean muscle mass, body fat percentage and bone marrow density. They learned how certain foods affected them and realized that they couldn’t necessarily eat what they used to eat before training to meet Kelly’s expectations.

“I’ve seen that when you do it right, your body looks bigger,” Baskerville said. “When you don’t do it right, your body doesn’t look good. Doing it your way will get you good results.

Cornerback Colby Richardson has undergone one of the team’s biggest transformations. After arriving as a transfer this summer from McNeese State at 167 pounds, Frakes helped hatch a plan for Richardson to hit 190 pounds at the start of preseason camp.

During his training, Richardson had to increase his protein intake by five grams per week, starting with his body weight until it reached 190 grams. He ate four meals a day. A starter at cornerback, he now weighs around 200 pounds.

“I tried to apply the blueprint they gave me to my life,” Richardson said. “It worked.”

Outside of his office, Frakes keeps the supplements players use daily. They take a base of 5,000 milligrams of vitamin D, 150 milligrams of magnesium, a probiotic to maintain gut bacteria, vitamin K, and a standard multivitamin. Frakes then adds supplements like collagen if someone has a particular injury or iron to address a nutrient deficiency until he can teach the player what to eat instead.

To make this work, Frakes works closely with strength and conditioning staff, athletic trainers, and Johnson. The whole operation can go astray if they don’t communicate. Frakes needs to know if injury rehabilitation can be aided by nutrition and what workouts are coming up so players have enough energy to lift themselves.

From there, Frakes and Johnson tailor the menu to the team’s needs. Halfway through the week, Frakes calls for more foods with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants to help speed recovery from the last game. They try to incorporate the flavors of Louisiana.

Frakes can’t monitor all players at once, so he uploads what they need to choose inside the nutrition hub based on their body composition goals to an app on their phone. Players are supposed to log seven meals per week on the platform. They also have a map to guide them to local restaurants like Frutta Bowls and Torchy’s Tacos.

“They can start to visually see what fueling means for performance,” Frakes said. “They can choose the articles because sometimes there is a lot of information. You need to tell them exactly what they need to eat.

He also tells them when to eat. Typically, Frakes asks the team for breakfast by 9:30 a.m., a big lunch by noon, and dinner by 7:30 p.m. Timing matters, so he coordinates with academic staff to learn class schedules. He wants players’ energy to peak at the right time, and when someone’s weight drops, a change in schedule often provides the answer.

Midway through the season recently, LSU conducted another round of testing to gauge players’ body composition. Frakes said the results will allow staff to reassess them when next week’s opening date to ensure the players haven’t lost lean muscle mass between games, which will help them prepare. for the stretch run.

“If they are,” Frakes said, “we know they need to address it and tell them, ‘You’re not eating enough and you’re not eating enough quality protein sources. So we have to start over right away. You have to get back to it to stay healthy throughout this half of the season. ‘”

The longer his nutrition program exists, the more he will fit into LSU’s routine. Frakes sees a space with machines, more staff members and an undergraduate degree in sports nutrition. He has big plans.

For now, Frakes wants players to understand their nutritional choices and the importance of consistency in what they consume. LSU is trying to change the way it operates in Kelly’s first season, and what they eat makes a difference.

Not only for the present, but for the future.

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