Food for thought — and success

Dana White, clinical assistant professor of athletic training and sports medicine at Quinnipiac University. October 25, 2012.

D

ana Angelo White ’01 leans in like she’s trying to soak up strategy in a huddle.

White, a sports dietitian and certified athletic trainer at Quinnipiac, doesn’t want to miss a word. More than that, she doesn’t want to miss an opportunity.

White recently met with Taylor Sanna ’20, a midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team, to talk about the importance — and the advantages — of proper nutrition in college athletics.

“Our weekly meetings consist of ways to make sure I am getting enough nutrients to perform my best and help my healing process after an [anterior cruciate ligament] recovery,” said Sanna, a biomedical marketing major from Georgia. “I feel that my overall strength and recovery process has increased every [week] since meeting with her.”

White holds similar one-on-one sessions and group discussions with each of Quinnipiac’s 21 Division I athletic programs. She loves it all — the outreach, the interaction, the difference she makes.

White holds a unique place among the 11 schools in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Few mid-major athletic programs — especially those that don’t have football — enjoy a full-time staff member with the training, background and expertise that White brings to the Bobcats.

“The majority of athletes who come here have never really had any sports nutrition education,” said White, who earned her bachelor’s degree in sports medicine from Quinnipiac and her master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia in 2007. “I want to help our athletes gain the tools they need. I tell them, ‘I think it’s important for your sport, but I’m also thinking about your long-term health and your well-being.’”

White’s holistic message of good choices and better results — her curriculum includes a cooking game show and a custom cookbook for student-athletes — gives Quinnipiac another edge on the court, on the field and on the ice.

Last summer, White and assistant athletic trainer Becky Mella created a cooking contest for the women’s basketball team based on the Food Network show “Chopped.” Players made their own dishes by integrating surprise ingredients such as eggs, rice and chicken. 

“I was terrified. We were the judges. We had to eat this stuff — and the athletes blew us away,” White said. “They did an unbelievable job. Everything tasted great. The presentation and the garnishes, they did it all. It worked because you had that competitive mindset of athletes mixed with the educational pieces.”

Last season, women’s rugby won its second straight national championship; women’s basketball won the MAAC regular-season and tournament championships and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament; women’s golf won the MAAC title and competed in the NCAA tournament; women’s tennis won the MAAC regular-season and tournament titles and faced Texas Tech in the NCAA tournament; and acrobatics and tumbling won national individual championships in both synchronized toss and open toss.

In addition to her work with Quinnipiac’s nearly 500 athletes, White is the nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and the founding contributor for the Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog.

As a clinical assistant professor of athletic training and sports medicine, White is on faculty at the School of Health Sciences and the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. This semester, she is teaching Advanced Nutrition and Nutrition in Health and Illness.

Greg Amodio, the director of athletics and recreation at Quinnipiac, described the role of sports dietitians as an evolutionary process, a key function to meeting all of a student-athlete’s needs.    

Professor Dana White talks diet and nutrition with the women's basketball team in the Sports Center on Quinnipiac's York Hill Campus

Huddle up

Professor Dana White talks diet and nutrition with the women's basketball team in the Sports Center on Quinnipiac's York Hill Campus

“We’ve seen it more and more the last five to 10 years,” Amodio said. “We want to engage with our individuals from a sports nutrition standpoint, a sports psychology standpoint, everything we can to nurture the whole student-athlete. Sports nutrition is a big part of that.”

White is plenty comfortable being ahead of the curve and behind the pulpit. She loves to preach about the merits of proper nutrition as a fuel source, a means to prevent injuries and a faster path to recovery for athletes such as Sanna.

Amy Freel, executive director of the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association, is bullish on the growth of nutrition education.

“It’s becoming more common to have a sports dietitian on staff, but it’s certainly not in place [full-time] at every Division I program,” Freel said. “Some schools might have a part-time person. In some of the larger programs, they might have two or three people.”

White’s immersion at Quinnipiac is based on a deeper relationship with the university. Her parents met here as undergraduate students. White met her husband, Zack, on campus before they married and moved to Fairfield to raise their three daughters.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have spent the last [nine] years here working with our athletes and going to school here before that,” White said. “We have this amazing university with amazing people. It’s a very special place.”

White’s peers with the same dual-certification credentials routinely work in professional sports and the Power Five conferences that play major college football. But White wanted a different path for her career. She wanted to move the needle at her hometown university, the school that gave her the chance — and the education — to dream big.

“To see the evolution of Quinnipiac, it’s been amazing,” White said, recalling how the athletic training room on the Mount Carmel Campus used to resemble a closet by the laundry room.

“Now, to see what happens here on a daily basis, it’s really kind of mind-blowing,” she said. “The focus on the sense of community, the student-centric environment, it continues to snowball. I’m so excited to be a part of it.”