The USC football team has a small army of coaches helping more than 100 players, but maybe their most overlooked coach has nothing to do with spread offenses or a cover-2 defense.
The Trojan's success not only depends on how well they're coached, but is also dependent on how well they train and how strong they can become. The players would not perform on the field or in the weight room as well as they do if it were not for the considerable help of the USC football sports dietitian, Andrea Vanderwoude.
Each player on the team has individual goals when it comes to body composition. They have to maintain weight during the season, and have the ability to work toward gaining muscle or becoming leaner during the offseason. Different positions require different weights to play optimally. A dietitian can help players achieve these goals.
A quarterback, a linebacker and a running back all have different body composition goals and therefore have different nutritional goals. Vanderwoude meets with them individually to set goals and explain how they should eat for success.
"We want [quarterbacks] to be above 205. O-line, they're usually about 300. D-line can be anywhere from like 270-300. I think the heaviest we have right now is 340 on our defense," said Vanderwoude, who developed her love of nutrition at an early age and earned a Master's degree in dietetics from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
A quarterback eats a standard 4 meals, a linebacker eats 9,000-10,000 calories to maintain their huge physique, and a running back eats to support their faster metabolism.
Quarterbacks eat the least amount compared to their teammates. Their energy expenditure is not as high since they are not tackling other players or sprinting across the field multiple times.
A quarterback's diet during the season is comprised of four balanced meals. USC quarterbacks will eat a breakfast, lunch and dinner that contains a plate filled with protein, carbohydrates and fats. They may have two-three snacks throughout the day. If they eat too little or too much, their risk of injury can go up.
"They will get tackled, they're going to get hit. Just so they have some cushioning and they're not like super lean. So you want to build them up a little bit, but you never want them to be huge or put excess weight on them," Vanderwoude says.
Junior linebacker, Porter Gustin, consumes about 9,000 to 10,000 calories each day to hover around 255 pounds. He knew the importance of eating healthy, but until he came to USC from a small town in Utah, he didn't know how much nutrition actually affects his performance.
"I kind of knew what was healthy and what wasn't. I haven't eaten sweets in a long time, so that's something I've always stuck to. But the real difference from when I came here is I really have been able to understand the timing of when to eat things and what they actually do for my body," Gustin said.
Since he has to consume so many calories, Vanderwoude helps Gustin stay on track by making him five smoothies a day that are fat-focused with peanut butter, coconut oil and flax seed. Each gram of fat is nine calories, compared to fat and protein, which adds up to just four calories.
"I'll put in 10 eggs, spinach, blueberries, mango, strawberries, milk, flax seeds, chia seeds and yogurt. Blend that up and he'll drink it all out of the pitcher," Vanderwoude says.
Not only does he have those smoothies, but he sits down to eat four big meals. He will also have a snack before practice, and energy chews and a Powerade during practice.
"He's very regimented. First thing in the morning he eats, comes in, has his bottle of water, eats again, stretches, lifts, eats again," Vanderwoude says.
Gustin's days are shaped around nutrition. He eats a mind-boggling 11 times a day to keep up his competitive weight.
USC running backs and wide receivers are considerably smaller than many of their teammates and have faster metabolisms. They need to consume a lot of calories to refrain from being too lean. They eat a lot of carbs, mostly in multiple smaller meals, more frequently and generally with a sweet tooth.
"If I make a smoothie, they want it to be all fruit. Like don't put any protein in there. Just put juice and fruit and fruit and sugar," Vanderwoude said.
They also have a full breakfast with eggs and potatoes. But throughout the day, they "eat more like birds." The running backs and wide receivers snack throughout the day and eat every couple of hours. After practice or a workout, they will have a smoothie and dinner.
"Overall, their calories are going to be less than a tight end, but they're still burning through a lot of calories. They're just so lean. They don't like to eat a lot usually. And if they do, they want to eat multiple meals though they don't necessarily have the time to do that," Vanderwoude said.
During the football season, every football player has the same goal: maintain weight. If they lose weight, they are more prone to injury.
"I'm a little bit more lenient. You know what, if you want chicken fingers, go eat chicken fingers. Then try to have a better dinner or whatever. But at least they're eating and they're not losing weight," Vanderwoude said.
When freshman and recruits arrive at USC, they meet with Vanderwoude to create individual goals of what they need to do nutritionally to gain, maintain or lose weight. She also helps to educate them on the best way to build their plate for each meal.
"In high school, I swore I ate anything I wanted to and it didn't really affect me," left tackle Toa Lobendahn said. "But coming here, I noticed that you have to focus in on protein and carbs, and definitely a lot of vegetables just to keep your body going."
Vanderwoude says he does her own version of a freshman orientation class. "All of them sat down with me for 30 minutes and we went through the options. Now that you know them, how are you going to structure your day? So we went through and built a day of things they enjoy eating," she said.
She also advises each player of what weight they will need to reach by the time they start training for the NFL Draft, which includes creating an optimal body composition. Their muscle-to mass-ratio and body-fat percentage is important.
Ultimately, Vanderwoude works on transitioning player's bodies to be stronger, more productive and more functional from day one.
"Every time I have a question, which is pretty much every day, I'll ask her. And she always has an answer. And if she doesn't, she'll research and she'll give me an answer," Gustin said. "It's an everyday thing. You just continue to learn."