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Pacers Bring Nutritionist on Board

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

October 31, 2013

In professional sports, teams and players are always looking for that extra edge. Sometimes, it may be as simple as additional work in the gym or a new drill on the court.

At the conclusion of last season, where the Indiana Pacers played their way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, team strength coach Shawn Windle wrote a recommendation list for this year. One of his recommendations was to utilize a nutritionist.

Through their partnership with St. Vincent Sports Performance, the Pacers have added Lindsay Langford to the team to provide players with her expertise in nutrition.

“We’re a provide-every-resource-imaginable type of team,” said head coach Frank Vogel. “Shawn brought to us that it might be helpful to provide a nutritionist to these guys and we’re all for it.”

Langford won’t be with the team everyday by any means, but she’ll consult with the players and assist Windle whenever possible. Windle, by the way, was named Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2012 by the National Basketball Strength & Conditioning Association (NBSCA).

“It’s always a discussion with each player what their nutrition plan is,” Windle said of how much nutrition is addressed amongst the team. “We have a lot of guys that are pretty good, and then we have some guys that don’t really see the benefit. It’s not so much that they haven’t been educated, but a lot of guys would prefer to eat based off their tastes rather than what their body needs.

“As we continue to get better as a team, as we continue to get players that are interested in taking the next step, they’re willing to listen to the message about nutrition, which is why we brought Lindsay Langford in this year from St. Vincent. She has a lot of background with sports nutrition and she offers another level beyond my expertise. Nutrition isn’t my primary hat and this is what she does full time, so she’s a welcomed addition.”

Langford also currently assists the Marian University Cycling program and Butler basketball and soccer teams, as well as the school’s distance runners. St. Vincent previously had a nutrition contract with the Portland Trail Blazers for three years, so she has experience working with NBA players.

“I think one of the things that really adds value to Lindsay is the fact that she was a competing athlete in college herself,” said Ralph Reiff, the Executive Director of St. Vincent Sports Performance. “She was on a cycling team at the University of Alabama so she’s got the perspective of balancing life and busyness of sports. And she’s real. I’ve consulted with a lot of dietitians in my career and she’s by far the most complete and one that connects the best with the athletes.”

Most of the Pacers, like Roy Hibbert and Orlando Johnson to name a few, have personal chefs to prepare meals and help them make better choices. George Hill, who said he’s one of the unhealthiest eaters on the team, came around and hired his own chef for the first time this year.

“Most all of our guys do have a personal chef,” said Windle. “And we feed them here all the time so it’s not like they are left on their own for many of their meals. [Langford] also helps us with our catering menus on the plane and with postgame meals.

“Right now she’s coming in about once a week. As we progress in the season, it may be every couple of weeks. She’s just trying to meet with every player, get an idea for types of foods they like, the eating patterns and habits that they have right now. She’s trying to give them some low-level education regarding meal time management and why your body needs higher levels of food options than just pizza and chicken tenders.”

At the conclusion of each season, Windle has a thorough meeting with every player. He provides them with guides and materials to help them with their offseason regimens. The Pacers even fly him around the country in the summer to visit players and offer further instruction. Every player is also given a cookbook.

“I made a cookbook a few years ago with different types of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, what the healthiest options are, what the healthiest snack options are, actual recipes for meals,” Windle said. “It’s a pretty comprehensive program. We go over with each player how many calories they need for weight maintenance or if they’re trying to lose weight or if they’re trying to gain weight.

“We have it detailed down to almost the exact calorie based off a formula, which isn’t an exact science but it’s a close approximation. And when we’re wearing our monitors during practice – it gives us heart-rate load, mechanical load – and that gives us an even better idea of how many calories they’re burning so our nutrition plan can also go hand-and-hand with the information that we’re getting from our (monitor) pucks that we wear.”

In order to be successful, Vogel believes it’s important to not only have a connection between the players, but the staff as well.

“We speak all the time about organizational-wide togetherness,” he said. “When we talk about togetherness and teamwork, it’s not just the 15 guys in uniform. It’s the coaches working with the players, the players working with the trainers, the trainers working with the equipment manager, the basketball side working with our ticket sales and marketing departments. Everyone is tied together.”

Former associate head coach Brian Shaw left the team over the summer to take his first head coaching job with the Denver Nuggets. Right away, he recognized the culture needed to change, and Vogel said Shaw wanted it to emulate what he saw in his two years with Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

“When he got the job with the Denver Nuggets, he went there and said ‘we need to model and emulate everything they do,’ from the marketing department to how the front office and the coaching staff works together, how the trainers and the coaching staff work together, the video setup that we have with the thoroughness and the technology that we used,” Vogel explained. “He used us as the model of how he wants things to be done in Denver, which I think is high praise for all the people working here.”

“Nutrition is one of the growing areas in sports. First there were just trainers – and the Pacers have two highly respected ones in Josh Corbeil and Carl Eaton. Then, the team added strength coaches, a sport psychologist (Dr. Chris Carr), a massage therapist (Fadi Kazma), and now a nutritionist.

“It’s now easier to get the athletes to accept the support and to credit Shawn, he’s the CEO of human performance for the Indiana Pacers,” Reiff said. “He’s quarterback, he’s the conductor, and he’s got an immense amount of experience himself. But to his credit, he recognizes that Lindsay can help take it one step further.”

Check out a video of Langford giving game day nutrition tips below:

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