Inside his office, Matt Frakes turned to his computer screen. One of them had a spreadsheet filled with body weight reports highlighted in green and red. The numbers, collected by LSU’s strength and conditioning staff, were told if players were within their predetermined weight ranges.
Another screen displayed hydration information, which provided guidance on how much electrolytes players should consume based on their weight. Frakes checks the data every day. If a player falls below 5% of their target weight range, they get an alert on their phone. He can then decide on a plan.
“Everybody’s weight has changed in some shape or form,” Frakes said. “We have to guide them back to make sure they stay consistent for weeks at a time.”
The system helps Frakes, LSU’s assistant director of sports nutrition, keep track of the entire football team. He needs to make sure everyone is eating and drinking the right things to perform at their best, especially as LSU leads further into the second half of the season with a game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against No. 7 Ole Miss.
Although some teams are phased later in the year, the Tigers want to rise. A lot will go into finishing strong. LSU must do defensive adjustments and become more consistent.
But the players won’t be able to if their bodies can’t execute. It’s a year-round responsibility that falls on themselves, the strength and conditioning department, athletic trainers and nutrition.
“We’re caught up on it now,” senior linebacker Micah Baskerville said, “but it’s about staying through the season.”
First-year LSU coach Brian Kelly values all three areas in his approach to player development, which is vital for this season and the future of LSU’s rebuilding program. LSU sports medicine director Beau Lowery was already on staff when Kelly arrived, and he quickly hired strength and conditioning coordinator Jake Flint. Another of his earliest calls went to Frakes.
Kelly admired the nutrition center attached to the football operations building when he considered taking the job at LSU, which he asked for but didn’t get at Notre Dame. Along with executive chef Michael Johnson, Kelly wanted a dedicated nutritionist on staff to maximize the resources available.
He worked with Frakes, a former Bowling Green outside linebacker who earned a doctorate in nutrition and hospitality management last season.
“He’s a unicorn in the (nutrition) field, in a sense,” Kelly said. “I felt that his reliability, his knowledge and the need to develop players in that area were so important to my success that he was a necessary hire.”
Frakes learned that Kelly was leaving Notre Dame the same day his wife was for induced labor. He attended a staff meeting and went to the hospital for the birth of his daughter. Kelly called the next day. He congratulated Frakes and his wife, then offered him a job.
As Frakes considered the position, he weighed its proximity to home with opportunity. A native of Columbus, Ohio, he loved living in the same area as his family after his father passed away from cancer a few years ago. His wife also had family in Cleveland, and his son attended a good school.
But Frakes thought he could make a difference. Plus, LSU already had the infrastructure he wanted in place.
“It’s all here,” Frakes said. “I just had to organize it.”
Frakes began watching the players. He wanted to know what the pitfalls and dietary choices of the past were in order to shape his program on the team culture. He collected an injury history to examine whether any ailments were related to nutrition or body composition. At one point, he sent out a questionnaire to find out what food they liked.
“I have to lead them with the habits I want them to develop,” Frakes said. “That means I have to be patient with their palates too. You are trying to change lifelong habits and choices.”
Once he had enough information, Frakes set individual weekly weight and body composition goals. He worked with director of performance innovation Jack Marucci to establish the ranges from results from players at the same position in the NFL combine. Marucci, a longtime member of LSU’s athletic training staff, has collected data for years.
Players bought into the program as they saw results on the field and watched periodic tests done by LSU on their lean muscle mass, body fat percentage and bone marrow density. They learned how certain foods affected them and realized that they didn’t have to eat what they used to before the workout to meet Kelly’s expectations.
“I’ve seen when you do it right, your body is bigger,” said Baskerville. “When you don’t do it right, your body doesn’t look good. Doing it his way, you will get good results.”
Cornerback Colby Richardson underwent one of the most significant changes to the team. After arriving as a transfer this summer from McNeese State at 167 pounds, Frakes helped develop a plan for Richardson to reach 190 pounds by the start of preseason camp.
While training, Richardson had to increase his protein intake by five grams per week, starting with his body weight until he reached 190 grams. He ate four meals a day. A cornerback, he now weighs about 200 pounds.
“I tried to implement the blueprint they gave me in my life,” Richardson said. “It worked.”
Outside his office, Frakes keeps supplements that the players use every day. They take a baseline of 5,000 milligrams of Vitamin D, 150 milligrams of magnesium, a probiotic to maintain gut bacteria, Vitamin K and a standard multivitamin. Frakes then adds supplements like collagen if someone has a particular injury, or ironto address a nutritional deficiency, until he can teach the player what to eat instead.
To do it, Frakes works closely with the strength and conditioning team, athletic trainers and Johnson. The whole operation can go wrong if they don’t communicate. Frakes needs to know if injury recovery can be aided by nutrition and what exercises to come so the players have enough energy to build.
From there, Frakes and Johnson tailor the menu to the team’s needs. In the middle of the week, Frakes asks for more foods with Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants to help recover from the last game. They try to incorporate the flavors of Louisiana.
Frakes can’t monitor every player at once, so he uploads what they should choose within the nutrition center based on their body composition goals to an app on his phone. Players are supposed to record seven meals a week on the platform. They also have a card to guide them to local restaurants such as Frutta Bowls and Torchy’s Tacos.
“They can start looking at what it means to fuel for performance,” Frakes said. “They can pick the items because sometimes there is a lot of information. You have to tell them exactly what they have to eat.”
It also tells them when to eat. In general, Frakes asks staff to eat breakfast before 9:30 a.m., a large lunch at noon and dinner before 7:30 p.m. Timing is important, so he coordinates with the academic staff to learn class schedules. He wants the players’ energy to peak at the right times, and when someone’s weight drops, a change in their schedule is often the answer.
At the midway point of the recent season, LSU administered another round of tests to assess players’ body composition. Frakes said the results will allow the team to re-evaluate them during the opener next week to make sure the players haven’t lost lean muscle mass between games, helping them prepare for the stretch run.
“If it is,” Frakes said, “we know they need to address it and tell them, ‘You’re not eating enough and you’re not eating enough quality protein sources. So we have to start back up right now. You have to get back on it so you can stay healthy for the rest of this half of the season.’ ”
The longer his nutrition program is there, the more embedded it will be in LSU’s routine. Frakes sees room for machinery, more staff and an undergraduate degree for sports nutrition. He has big plans.
For now, Frakes wants the players to understand their nutritional choices and the importance of consistency in what they eat. LSU is looking to change the way it operates in Kelly’s first season, and what they eat makes a difference.
Not just for the present, but for the future.
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