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Preseason Practice Update - August 11

Aug. 12, 2016

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By Michael Bertsch and Leigh Torbin

The first two-a-day session for Notre Dame saw the team bathed in temperatures in the 90s and a heat index of over 100 degrees due to the humidity.

How did the Irish beat the fatigue on Thursday? Beets.

Notre Dame’s extensive recent investments in areas of sports performance, including an additional (third) full-time sports nutritionist position, helped the football team pay noticeable benefits on a steamy day in South Bend.

“The priority for nutrition has been in the preparation for practice and trying to find that one percent edge over our competition,” second-year sports nutrition program director Dwight Allison said. “We spent a lot of time last year perfecting our recovery strategies whereas this year we want to have the guys primed and fueled for practice. Not just with the meals, we had all of those solid fundamental habits, but we’re trying to find a little bit of an edge.

“We dug into the research and newer products that were available and we came up with some strategies using beetroot juice. It helps increase our athletes’ stamina and endurance. It helps them with their fatigue and that translates tremendously to improved performance over many practices if they can better perform a few reps at every practice.”

Allison admits that the beetroot juice consumed by the team is not merely straight juice but also has other ingredients designed to properly ready the Irish for a grueling preseason workout. While those secret ingredients are protected not unlike the formula for Coca-Cola or Colonel Sanders’ secret 11 herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken, rest assured that Allison’s blend is healthier than those.

“Something else that we implemented this year was getting gelatin and vitamin C into our athletes before practice to help with tendon and ligament stiffness and elasticity,” Allison said perhaps tipping his cards some towards the full beetroot juice formula consumed by the Irish. “We’ve started to see some of the benefits of that this year.”

Still, these are beets. Beets, frankly, are not the most popular food on Earth although their poor reputation belies their nutritional benefits. Notre Dame sports nutrition associate Kari Oliver readied cups of beetroot juice for the first day at Culver Academies but the line didn’t exactly form quickly. She waited for players to trust that the murky plum-colored drink would help their performance.

The Notre Dame’s beet generation had to start somewhere and, in the corridors of Culver’s gymnasium, senior running back Tarean Folston, coming off of a major knee injury, downed a cup of beet root juice before practice. Fellow running back Dexter Williams followed suit. Soon all of the running backs gave the thick purplish tart concoction a shot. From the running backs, the courage to try it spread to other position groups and finally to the coaching staff.

The sports nutrition staff put reminders on the tables in Culver’s Lay Dining Center espousing the benefits of the juice with a fun reminder of “don’t let the beet drop!” It all worked. Now six days into fall camp, Oliver has had to start making larger batches of beetroot juice to properly match the team’s pre-practice consumption.

In “The Office” Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute debate the merits of beets in one memorable scene. Scott tells Schrute that “beets are the worst” and “nobody likes beets.” Angered, Scott goes on to tell his lieutenant that he should grow stuff on his farm that everybody likes — he should grow candy.

Allison has contemplated this as well. The Notre Dame football team is not fed candy before practice. While refined sugar is not something high on the team nutritional radar, blood sugar is. The sports performance team has thought long and hard about that too.

“The other product we introduced to the team this year is a product called UCAN which is a slow digesting carbohydrate that doesn’t cause high blood sugar spikes or over insulin response — what you would call a `crash’ afterwards,” Allison said. “We’re seeing a tremendous benefit of stabilizing our athlete’s blood sugars to sustain their energy levels through two-hour practices.”

The Irish got through their first two-a-day on Thursday in high heat but without any significant injuries and wilting bodies. If this vigor helps lead Notre Dame to beat Texas three weeks from Sunday, a small dose of credit can go to the humble beetroot.

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Michael Bertsch, director of football media relations at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2006. An Akron, Ohio, native, he graduated from Walsh University (Ohio) in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and also received his master’s degree in health and physical education with an emphasis in sports administration from Marshall University in 2001.

Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013. He serves as the football publicity team’s top lieutenant and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame’s lacrosse teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.