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Training Table: What Clemson Needs to Compete.

Games are won with a combination of athleticism and strategy.  In an effort to maximize one's athletic ability, athletes focus on improving their physical fitness.  A large part of this fitness regime is nutritional intake of the athlete.  Eating properly and maintaining an appropriate diet is a critical aspect of game preparation and really sets the tone for a strength and conditioning program as food intake is the fuel an athlete uses to perform and the correct balance of food intake plays an important role in the make up of a player's body. 

We both worked out with football teams and what you EAT is probably just as important, if not more important, than the actual regimen of training. You cannot put on 20-30lbs of muscle without eating the right amount of protein. You can't put on that 30lbs of muscle-only when you eat the protein along with 12 Hostess cakes every day. 

Neither of us believes that Clemson players are up to their full physical potential. I want you to ask yourself a few questions before you continue to read this article. Think back over the last decade or so.

How many times in the last decade have you looked at at Clemson player and compared him to his counterpart across the field and noticed that he didn't have nearly the same amount of muscle? Did you see that a Tackle outweighed his defensive opponent by 50lbs and yet could not at all move him?


How often do you see an offensive lineman with jelly rolls hanging off his belly (like Chris Hairston) playing for someone like Boston College? How often do you see some of our linemen out-of-shape and playing slow? Jenkins and Thompson both but on weight during the season last year. Do you realize how hard that is to do when you practice daily and play games on Saturdays as a starter on defense?

I won't come out and say every lineman should look like the Pouncey twins, but they shouldn't look like The Refridgerator did when he left the NFL either. Linemen should not be fat, they should be athletes. When they have 20-30lbs per man over a small DL like say, Georgia Tech or Coastal Carolina in 2009, then they should manhandle them. We can't even do that, and even though we have Brad Scott issues up front, simple physics should come into play.



What exactly is a training table?

A training table is essentially an organized effort to optimize an athlete's diet.  This effort focuses on getting the individual athlete the nutrients needed to optimize his/her body type for the both the sport and position he/she plays.  This optimization builds upon an individual's body type and characteristics to prepare a specific diet tailored specifically for the individual.

The concept of training table is not a new one.  This idea originally began to ensure players had food to eat.  Schools such as Yale formed a training table before 1903.  Over the years coaches and schools evolved these cafeterias from basic eateries into designed feeding areas for athletes.  Dining sophistication escalated as advancements in nutrition-related scientific areas increased nutritional knowledge.  Soon coaches and programs specialized their diets and scheduled meals to optimize intake in an effort to build each individual player's body into an athletic machine. 

Before we get going, I'll point out that the term "training table" is used to describe the illegal effort to fully control a player's diet. That is illegal; you cannot force a kid eat 3 meals a day with a nutritionist or with the team. What we are going to talk about here is how we can do it and get the benefits without it being illegal, but we'll be using the term "training table" to talk about that.

What are the NCAA rules and regulations on the training table practice?

There are many regulations associated with the concept of a training table.  These items effect all participants in the program, including coaches, managers, volunteers, and (obviously) the athletes themselves.  We will discuss these the rules here and comment as necessary.  It is extremely important to first understand the rules in order to evaluate how a program can operate.  A complete guide to NCAA Division I rules can be downloaded from or here.

There are some specifics regarding non-paid coaches and managers.  These are spelled out by the NCAA, with the governing body strictly prohibiting outsiders from partaking in meals associated with the training table, as spelled out below in 11.01.5 (article C):

11.01.5(c) regarding Volunteer Coaches

The individual may receive complimentary meals incidental to organized team activities (e.g., pre- or postgame meals, occasional meals, but not training table meals) or meals provided during a prospective studentathlete’s official visit, provided the individual dines with the prospective student-athlete.

effective 8/1/04, Revised: 1/10/05 effective 8/1/05)

The individual may receive complimentary meals incidental to organized team activities (e.g., pre- or postgame(Adopted: 4/29/04

There are some perks associated with being a coach.  Obviously, coaches want to be around their players and see how their players live.  Per Figure 11-1 of the '09-'10 bylaws, the Head Coach and Assistants are permitted to utilize the Training Table. outlines the costs of the meals and how they should be allocated financially.  Such items shall be accounted for with costs counting against the board allowance, assuring that the athelete's benefits are appropriately accounted for and deductions are consistent for all athletes in all areas, including training table dining. Training-Table Meals 

The cost of meals provided on the institution’s training table shall be deducted from a student-athlete’s board allowance, even if the student-athlete is not receiving a full grantin-aid. In determining the cost figure to be deducted, the institution may use the actual meal costs listed in the institution’s catalog or the average meal costs of its student-athletes living on campus.

This is the key item in my opinion, as it places definite limits on the extent that an institution can have on an athlete's dining.  Per rule 16.5.2 (c), the college may only provide one (1) training table meal per participant per day.  Additionally, athletes who are subsidized through financial aid must pay for any meals participated in through the training table at full retail value.  This along with assures that every student athlete who partakes in training table is accounted for and meals are paid for (either out of the athlete's pocket or through financial aid).  See16.5.2(c) below.

16.5.2(c) Training Table Meals.

An institution may provide only one training table meal per day to a student-athlete during the academic year on those days when regular institutional dining facilities are open (see Bylaw A student-athlete who does not receive institutional athletically related financial aid covering the full cost of board, including a walk-on or partial scholarship recipient, may purchase one training table meal per day at the same rate that the institution deducts from the board allowance of student-athletes who receive athletically related financial aid covering board costs pursuant to Bylaw; (Adopted: 1/10/91 effective 8/1/96, Revised: 11/1/01 effective 8/1/02, 5/8/06, 4/26/07)

 Missed practices and meals are covered below:

16.5.2.d.1 Missed Meal Due to Practice Activities.

A student-athlete who is not receiving athletically related financial aid (e.g., walk-on) may receive the benefit of a training-table meal during the permissible playing and practice season in those instances in which the student-athlete’s schedule is affected by involvement in practice activities, provided the student-athlete previously has paid for the same meal (e.g., dinner) at an institutional dining facility. (Revised: 5/9/06)

The main key to the training table is two-fold:  it is limited to the team and immediate coaches and all meals MUST be accounted for at all times.  The accounting process assures that athletes can ONLY receive one meal per day from the training table.  This meal must be financially accounted for in an effort to assure that athletes do not receive anything extra.  It should also be noted that meals are not limited to the dining areas.  The one meal rule applies to take out dining also, as student athletes are only entitled to one meal (regardless of where it is consumed) from the training table.  Similarly, athletes are prohibited from sharing meals from the training table if such actions violate the above rules. 

Since schools are required to document Training Table participation, appropriate forms and agreements are made between the school and the athlete to assure compliance is met.  A sample of such from the University of Utah can be seen here.  In the example shown, the NCAA rules are clearly stated with each participant signing that he first understands the rules and is abiding by such rules (including cash compensation, if necessary).

The NCAA's most prominent case in the last few years involved the University of Colorado.  Colorado was allegedly undercharging and misdocumenting participants and the NCAA was not amused.  This case was well covered by the media, and you can get a quick oversight of what happened by clicking here.

What schools, that we compete directly with, have links and information regarding their S&C program that talk about the nutrition program in particular?

We'll just pick out a few programs for rival schools.

Florida State sticks out in the S&C (or as the 'Noles call it, strength and speed) department.  Following his Saban influences, new coach Jimbo Fisher has insisted on better results for his condidtioning program.  Fisher immediately hired Vic Viloria and demanded that proper nutrition and training occur.  Fisher insists that one strength trainer is present for every two to three players during workouts.  A nutritionist walks through the training table with the players to tell the players what they will eat. 

From the Orlando Sentinel:

"They pretty much tell us exactly [what to eat]," Ponder said. "They have a little diagram, you know – you eat so much meat, so much vegetables, so much fruit. We kind of have some options as to what we want but they pretty much tell us what to eat."

Asked how the whole process is monitored, Ponder said there are "four or five guys" on staff who make sure the Seminoles aren't cheating or sneaking anything they shouldn't be eating. Further, the team has been divided into those who need to gain weight and those who need to lose it – and each group is guided through a process to help meet those weight-gain and weight-loss goals.

This attention to detail is a full staff ordeal, and Fisher is treating it as such.  The Noles have added personnel and track all aspects of the player's diet.  There is no gray area here; the players are on individual programs that are designed to make them into better players, period.  If you don't believe how much of a benefit this has, just check out the improvements seen in Tallahassee after just 8 weeks of the new program (thanks to Tomahawk Nation).

Here is the information for the Nebraska sports nutrition department. The Huskers have two full-time nutritionists on staff, with a total of 14 people administering and running the day-to-day program. Just a few important excerpts:

Following the Rule on Training Tables:  

The Nebraska Training Table is open to the public at lunch, but is reserved exclusively for student-athletes and Athletic Department staff at dinner.

A Registered Dietician located on site is present at most meals to help you make the best decisions to meet your training goals. This hands-on approach to education creates learning opportunities at the point of service.

Nebraska was one of the first Universities to provide a Training Table for the athletes.  The training table first opened in 1985 and currently offers lunch and dinner meals for student-athletes.  The training table prides itself in providing the highest quality foods for athletes to enhance performance.  All the foods served in the training table are labeled with a specialized food labeling system that helps athletes understand what foods they need to consume and the appropriate quantities to meet their individual nutritional needs.

A number of specialized education tools are also provided at Nebraska to ensure that you understand what, why, and how to implement proper fueling in your life.  Cooking Classes and Grocery Store tours assist athletes in knowing what foods to buy and how to prepare them.  Nutrition tips, newsletters, and a number of handouts on various nutrition related topics are also available for student-athletes.  Both nutritionists also provide tailored team talks and workshops for teams.

Programs like this, and being proactive about things as opposed to Clemson's stated "we'll wait til everybody else does it, then we'll do it" reactive philosophy, are why Nebraska is a place where its easy to win despite being in a state where there is rarely any real football talent at skill positions.

Florida has one, which they blatantly advertise as being open only to athletes. They also have 2 full-time dieticians administering the program.

  • Individual meal plans
  • Training table (a dining facility open exclusively to athletes)
  • Pre and post-competition and travel meals
  • Nutrition supplements to improve health and performance
  • See the video on that site about how Florida implements a specific program for every player at each position on the field.

    Notre Dame recently installed their own Table. This accompanying link to an interview with the ND Assoc. AD is also a worthwhile read on the entire problem.

    The pilot program for football initially involves dinner Monday through Friday. Athletic department sports nutritionist Erika Whitman has helped develop menus and will be in attendance to help student-athletes make good choices. Training table options and locations are being studied for other Irish sports programs. This marks the first of a series of initiatives in the area of sports performance, led by Irish associate athletics director Mike Karwoski.

    The training table should be seen as a very welcomed addition to the football program as other top programs around the country have had similar setups for years.  It’s significance shouldn’t be dismissed either.  The weight loss experienced by the team over the course of the season and the late season nose dives the past two years shouldn’t be seen as completely unrelated

    Of course we have problems of guys like Ricky Sapp or Gaines Adams being unable to gain weight at all while in school, and then packing it on once they can hire a nutritionist or taking advantage of the NFL's all-inclusive policies, or guys like DaQuan Bowers, Jarvis Jenkins, and Brandon Thompson being unable to stop eating at Waffle House and packing on significant weight DURING a football season.

    The University of Washington has their own program. Hell, even Vanderbilt has one (subscription req) and here. VANDY HAS ONE.

    What was in the basement of Schilletter?

    What was in the basement of Schilletter was an attempt. When I was a student I went 2 years without even knowing it was there; it wasn't advertised anywhere. Most students never went down there, but you could if you wanted on your regular meal-plan. I did go a few times. I'd say it was a closer approximation to Clemson House food. The food was good but you only got one plate full. To my knowledge this was shut down a few years ago.

    Dabo has stated that other teams have a pseudo-training table like this, and Clemson does not. Because this was a TI-exclusive interview, i'll simply paraphrase what was said for you. Those who can read it can corroborate my accuracy for those who cannot.

    Clemson players who live on campus eat at one of the 3 dining halls, but the best thing I did last year was getting one meal a day together as a team at the WEZ. Some of the players and coaches fought us on the idea initially, because coaches have to pay for the meal, but I wanted the whole team together once per day because I felt that it makes them grow closer as a team. Even the ones who live off campus have to be here.

    I couldn't do it more than once per day because of the rules against Training Tables, but I did want them to grow closer and eat one good meal every day. I think we did grow much closer and now they wouldn't let me end it if I wanted to.

    We can't do an athletes-only facility here comparable to one of the other 3. I'd have to open the WEZ building up to all students if that was the case. I can't designate the WEZ as athletes-only either, even though our competitors do have that. Theirs are open to students, but they don't tell anybody.

    Q: Other schools have found ways to get around this rule?

    DS: "Yes. They dont advertise it to the student body in the pamplets to each student every year when they buy the meal plan.  They CAN come, they just do not. "

    Looks like a lack of CU support to me. Is it any wonder that Clemson hasn't won a Title since 1991?

    What Clemson has to do

    EIther open up the basement of Schiletter again, revamp Clemson House or Harcombe (expansion perhaps), or build a stand-alone dining facility. The first would be the better idea, with its more central locale on campus and with most of the team living to that side of campus (e.g., Lightsey II). It would be the cheapest way as well. Make it open to the full student body, and you have no compliance issue. Building one next to, or as part of, the WEZ means they'd all have to walk over...and as an alum I know thats a long hike to make when you're starved. Football players would only do it 3x per day if they were forced to do so.

    Hire nutritionists, and expand it to a new University Health program. It could meld with Kinesiology or Sports Medicine fields as an elective or graduate program. In this way the University itself benefits from training new nutritionists and studying the effects of diet on the human body. This would be a major that more academically-inclined football players could get into. I see no downside to this, we've already cut several of the easier majors they used to have as part of the Top 20 initiative. Hiring one or two nutritionists to take the food we're already capable of making and producing a balanced diet would be the only expense initially, which would cost less than a million per year (including 401k, insurance for them, etc.), and is easily doable. Let Loreto Jackson handle it and set up something.  Creating a new major and group/dept. head would be considerably more expensive, but could be paid for by CU (i.e., not the CUAD). I'm not certain IPTAY can pay their salaries, but IPTAY can donate money to the University for an academic purpose.

    Clemson has the money, we've proven here that IPTAY has buckets of cash to spend, and with the new ACC TV deal there will be at least $6 million more per year coming into the CUAD budget.

    There is no excuse for not competing with the rest of the NCAA.

    This does not violate the rules because we're not asking for the entire team to be forced to sit down at 8am/noon/6pm for meals, it only provides the option. The nutritionists are there to teach the athletes how to eat properly...and if you eat 3 square meals that are balanced, you don't get the munchies at midnight as often. Your body is also in better shape to handle it when you do. Its ultimately up to each athlete to use the meal option. With enough teaching we believe that most will learn to eat better, and take better advantage of the rest of the S&C program, and it will eventually show results on the field.