Big Green adapts to '53 Commons

| 10/6/11 10:00pm
When the Class of 1953 Commons dining hall opened at the start of Fall term, many students wondered how it would affect their eating habits. This issue was particularly pertinent to Big Green athletes, many of whom rely on a well-thought-out nutritional intake to play their sport at the highest level.

For some of Dartmouth's largest calorie-craving athletes, food-filled heaven is now only a swipe away. The food options at '53 Commons differ from other campus dining options, serving buffet-style dining with a relatively diverse menu. For carbohydrate-loading athletes, the combination can be a perfect match.

Sanders Davis '14, a 285 lb. lineman on the football team, said one problem with the old a la carte system was that it made it difficult for some athletes to get the necessary amount of food and nutrients needed to succeed on game day.

"[Now] you can get more food and you get the right food," he said. "[Class of 1953 Commons] provides more variety of what we should eat."

Dartmouth nutritionist Claudette Peck said administrators took into account that students especially student-athletes would want more food options in the new dining hall.

"The success of multiple stations is really key," she said. "Dartmouth culture is used to having a lot of choices."

For endurance athletes such as lightweight rower Phil Grisdela '12, however, more food less often does not necessarily spell athletic success. As a rower who prefers to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, he generally eats at Collis Cafe, favoring its a la carte and declining balance account system.

"The fuel you put in your body dictates how you're going to perform," he said.

Shortstop Joe Sclafani '12 said that, as a player on the baseball team, he does not see much of an advantage to the new dining system.

"For sports where weight gain is important, it is nice," Sclafani said.

Daily meetings and lengthy workouts contribute to the busy schedule of many Dartmouth athletes, forcing them to look for vital calories early in the morning or late at night, when '53 Commons is closed.

"[The] hours aren't that great," Sclafani said. "Guys get out of practice and it is already too late to go."

Scientific research is also divided on the issue of which meal system is better. A 2010 report published by Colorado State University, "Nutrition For The Athlete," suggests that athletes perform best when consuming a variety of 30 different beneficial food types. This week, Class of 1953 Commons served every item listed in the report.

The study also explains that athletes should eat smaller, more frequent meals every three to four hours, an option that Collis and the Courtyard Cafe but not '53 Commons offer.

The new dining system at '53 Commons is the latest in a series of moves by the College designed to help emphasize sports nutrition. Calorie-count labels, a nutritional component of Dartmouth's Peak Performance program and multiple College-employed nutritionists all aim to improve the eating habits of Dartmouth students and athletes.

Peck has already taken some varsity teams on tours of the new dining facilities.

"[Class of 1953 Commons] lends itself to a good athletic diet," she said. "It really does provide numerous [nutritional] opportunities."

Individual athletic programs have also begun to take nutritional consideration into their own hands. The football team, for example, gives its players examples of what to eat in several athlete-specific situations. This week, '53 Commons will offer over 95 percent of the items listed on the menus.

"We're lucky we have such great strength and conditioning coaches," Sclafani said. "I came in here and didn't know anything. Now I know what, as an athlete, I need to eat in order to perform."

Davis added that part of a team leadership role includes the responsibility to educate less experienced players on the importance of eating well.

Although he is a proponent of '53 Commons, Peck acknowledged that the new dining hall is not perfect for every athlete.

"For the vast majority of athletes who need a high calorie level to sustain their performance, '53 Commons gives them a lot of flexibility," she said. "But I'm also aware that there are elite athletes who can't make it to '53 Commons, and you certainly can have a very balanced meal at other locations as well."