TU Sports Nutritionist Christine Turpin and the Tiger Fuel Zone are helping student-athletes perform better through nutrition education
With more than 460,000 collegiate student-athletes looking to compete at the highest level in the NCAA, nutrition and diet have become key to both athletic performance and recovery.
That’s no different at Towson University. With nutrition education becoming more of a need in athletics, the Tigers Athletic Department has invested more in nutrition than any other school in the Colonial Athletic Association, according to TU Athletics Director Tim Leonard.
“What you put in your body is the fuel to performance,” says Leonard. “We provide top quality nutrition so our athletes perform at their highest level.”
Leading Towson University Athletics’ nutrition efforts are Christine Turpin, a Maryland-licensed registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. She is the owner of Nourish 2 Perform, a nutrition consulting company in the Annapolis-Baltimore region.
For the past six years, Turpin has worked as a sports nutrition consultant for Towson University. Through her position she works with Towson University’s student-athletes by providing nutritional and dietary information.
Turpin is also a former college athlete at Bloomsburg University, where she was an All-American and part of a National Championship Team. She’s also a triathlete who has helped runners, cyclists and football players with their dietary needs.
Through her position, Turpin provides a lot of different opportunities for student-athletes to learn more about eating healthy. This includes providing cooking demonstrations, grocery store tours and even getting photos from athletes just to make sure their diets are up to par.
She even works with Towson University’s dining halls to help prepare special meal plans for student-athletes who stay on campus during the summer.
“We’ve come a long way in the last five years,” Turpin says. “And we’ve helped our student-athletes with performance, recovery and injury. But we’ve also helped with their academic performance. And the Towson University staff have been incredibly supportive of what we do.”
One of the most innovative things Turpin has done at her time at TU is the creation of the Tiger Fuel Zone. Located in an old Towson Center concession stand, the Tiger Fuel Zone serves healthy snacks such fruit, oatmeal, smoothies, jerky, Gatorade and much more healthy options for student-athletes.
The irony of this small room that formerly served hot dogs and nachos is now a one-stop shop for healthy snacks to promote athletic recovery is not lost on Turpin. But instead of building something new, they were able to just repurpose the old concession space.
It also gives Turpin and her team a space where athletes can stop by after practice, workouts or their athletic training sessions. One of Turpin’s main piece of advice to student-athletes is to eat frequently throughout the day, and not going more than four hours without food.
With the Tiger Fuel Zone, student-athletes can get a healthy snack after their workouts to help tide them over. It’s especially helpful when they have to go right from a practice straight to class.
“We don’t want them running on empty all the time because they’re running from one obligation to the next,” Turpin says. “Their schedules are so jampacked, so this is great because this kind of assistance helps them fill that hole.”
And the Tiger Fuel Zone isn’t just for a quick snack. Student-athletes can learn more about their dietary needs, nutrition information and get cooking demonstrations.
Turpin also has implemented something called “Friday Try-Day.” One Friday a month, she brings in a new snack for student-athletes to try. Some have been successful (rice cakes with different toppings), while some have been a little less well-received (cottage cheese).
“It’s all about getting them fuel, helping them to rebuild and helping them make smart food choices,” Turpin says.
Along with helping TU’s student-athletes, Turpin also helps students from Towson University’s College of Health Professions learn more about becoming a dietitian, and helping people with their nutrition.
Each year, Towson University Athletics’ Sports Nutrition office has student volunteers, with this year being the largest group that Turpin has had in six years at TU.
With her “small army,” Turpin can staff the Tiger Fuel Zone for five days a week for the first time since the program first started. It also allows Turpin to mentor students who may be interested in becoming a dietitian and offer students internships on campus.
“It’s very exciting because I always said once I got to be a registered dietitian that I would always try and help people who wanted to go into the field,” Turpin says. “Anytime a student reaches out I want to be there to help them.”
She admits getting to actually talk to the students, getting to know them and helping them become healthier is her favorite part of the job.
In fact, she admits a lot of the time when she talks with the student-athletes, it’s not about food. Its just about life in general.
“It’s exciting because it’s just me learning from them and them learning to trust me,” Turpin says. “And they’ll come back to the fuel station, or just see me around and be like ‘Hey Christine, I tried that snack you offered at the Fuel Station, and I called my mom and they sent me a bunch of these snacks through Amazon.’
“It’s one of the most gratifying things about this job.”