As a former collegiate and professional athlete, Yimy Queipo Rodriguez, knows what the body goes through when it’s pushed to its limits on a regular basis. As South Carolina’s Director of Football Nutrition, he knows how to help student-athletes fuel their bodies so they can perform at the highest level.
“I try to make an impact on the student-athlete’s performance and recovery through nutrition interventions,” said Rodriguez, who came to South Carolina after holding a similar position in the Chicago Cubs organization. “That’s the ultimate goal: to make a difference for these athletes.”
Rodriguez is no stranger to challenges. A native of Cuba, Rodriguez came to the United States with his family when he was six years old. He played college baseball at Peru State College in Nebraska and later played professionally in the L.A. Dodgers organization. He holds the distinction of being the first Peru State alumnus to play professional baseball. Now he is challenged with properly fueling a football team consisting of young men of all shapes and sizes with different nutritional needs and backgrounds.
“The biggest challenge is building a culture that athletes believe in when it comes to getting the nutrition message and recommendations across,” Rodriguez said. “It’s much more than eat more, eat less, and calories in and calories out. You have to look at what you’re eating and when you’re eating it. There’s a lot of science behind it, so you have to sit with the athletes and talk about their eating patterns.
“We talk a lot about hydration and how hydration assessments can help your game, your performance, and your focus. We talk about how body composition can help you move faster, and how to get there with nutrition plans. The challenge is with the buy-in from the athletes. It starts with increasing their knowledge about nutrition so they can understand where we’re coming from. It’s a culture.”
“It’s the gratification I get when I feel like I’ve made a difference or an impact. That’s what drives me.”
Changing the eating habits of nearly 100 young men isn’t easy, and proper nutrition is not a one size fits all approach.
“It’s a never-ending challenge because they all come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different resources, and different upbringings,” Rodriguez said. “Exposing them to these high nutrient index foods, educating them around that, placing meals around certain times based on high intensity workouts, and changing and modifying that is all part of it.
“We’re trying to get them away from as much processed foods as possible. We’re focusing on wholesome foods: rice, pasta, potato, and lean protein. We minimize saturated fats because they tend to increase inflammation in the body.
“We group it by positions. O-line and D-line guys have higher sweat rates, higher energy needs, and higher energy expenditure. We have different plate models for them to follow.”
Keeping 18-22-year-olds away from fast food is a challenge, but not all the comfort foods have gone away.
“We made some changes in week one, and some guys gave me a hard time,” Rodriguez said with a laugh. “We still have bacon for breakfast!
“The first thing we do is give them ‘the why.’ We want them to eat a certain way to optimize their energy out there. As long as we explain it and give them the reason why, I think they’ve been open to trying and being receptive.
“I love the gratification that I get when an athlete comes to me after a big workout and says, hey I didn’t cramp, or I was able to finish my workout. We can look at different biomarkers. It’s the gratification I get when I feel like I’ve made a difference or an impact. That’s what drives me.”