The pandemic put many school sports on pause. But now students athletes are back in the game - and they're getting the fuel that they need through SAGE Dining's Performance Spotlight program.
Designed to be integrated into a school or college's existing SAGE dining program, Performance Spotlight is a nutritional guidance program that helps active students learn how to incorporate the necessary nutrients for proper fueling before, during, and after physical activities to help optimize their performance. The program's offerings are geared towards high school athletes and other physical performers such as dancers, cheerleaders, outdoor enthusiasts, or musicians. "Anyone demanding physical performance from their muscles can benefit," says Lesley Vogel, RDN, LDN, Vice President of Food and Nutrition.
The program, which runs in nearly 100 schools nationwide, guides students towards food choices that may be nutritionally appropriate at various points of the athlete's day. Pre-game or pre-workout lunches are offered in the cafeteria or dining hall to fuel athletes who may be practicing or competing after school. Post-game or post-workout options are made available on-site where athletes are playing or practicing, including at away games. Made-from-scratch snacks such as rehydration and electrolyte drinks, nutrition bars, and high-protein smoothies can also be utilized during or after physical activity.
Performance Spotlight's meals and snacks have been carefully calibrated to provide active bodies with balanced nutrition. The program's nutritional guidelines, developed by in-house registered dietitians, utilize recommendations and best practices from the United States Olympic & Paralympic sports nutrition team and the NCAA, along with peer-reviewed research studies. "We did a lot of homework. We wanted to make sure to get it right," Vogel says.
All offerings are based on foundational foods such as proteins, starches, and vegetables. Pre-game meals are higher in carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and vegetables, while training-day meals serve up an equal mix of all three. Recovery meals and snacks focus on a more precise ratio of carbs to protein to support recovery and muscle healing.
Even though nutritional components are carefully calibrated, Performance Spotlight's menu items feel familiar to students. "The options aren't too different from what their friends are enjoying, outside of no fried foods and fewer cheesy things, since those kinds of foods tend to slow digestion and may impact performance," Vogel says. One popular lunch includes BBQ chicken breast, quinoa and black bean cakes, roasted sweet potato wedges, grilled vegetables, and steamed peas and corn.
Performance Spotlight took a break during the pandemic when school sports went on hold. SAGE Dining used the time to develop new recipes and expand their snack offerings. "We now have nine flavors of electrolyte replacement drinks and 12 flavors of recovery bars," Vogel says. They also developed high-protein smoothies, available in 36 flavors, that are available as dairy or non-dairy options.
Meals are often served at a standalone Performance Spotlight station, but if there's no room, dedicated dishes can also be integrated into the cafeteria's existing serving line. While the meals are geared towards athletes, "We do community inclusive dining, so anyone can eat them. It's included in SAGE's meal plan," Vogel explains.
That said, it's often up to coaches and athletic directors to spread the word about Performance Spotlight meals to their athletes. SAGE shares promotional content about the program with coaches, who are then encouraged to talk about proper nutrition and optimal fueling with students. "We know athletes will listen to coaches more than they'll listen to dining service dietitians, so we funnel the message through them," Vogel says.
From an operational perspective, Performance Spotlight is designed to integrate seamlessly with a school's existing SAGE Dining program. "It's specifically designed not to affect meal service, procurement, or training," Vogel says. Managers running the program on-site get input from a registered dietitian while putting together the menu for their school. "Once the menu is designed, our team is on-site, and they just make the food. It's produced just like anything else on the menu," Vogel explains.
In addition to keeping athletes fed and fueled, Vogel hopes that Performance Spotlight gives active students the tools that they need to make healthy choices as they advance in their athletic careers. "They're starting to get exposure to the kinds of foods they'd see at a training table at a larger college, the kinds of considerations they'd want to make to fuel their body for performance," Vogel says. "It gives them a leg up.