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Missouri Staff Spotlight: Jana Heitmeyer
September 17, 2010
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

For the players in the Missouri football program, it's not about the weight, it's about what makes up the weight. Tipping the scales at 300 pounds is OK as long as it's a lean 300 pounds.

That's where Jana Heitmeyer comes in. She has been Missouri's director of sports nutrition since 2007 and she's known as "coach Heitmeyer" to the school's football players. She's the calorie cop, roaming the athletic dining facility and asking players - and all Mizzou student-athletes - "Hey, where are your vegetables? Eat your vegetables. Get some 'colors' on your plate."

Sounds like a job any mom could do. But it's far more complicated than that. For all of Missouri's student-athletes, Heitmeyer does individual assessments and monitoring of injury history, nutrition history, body fat percentage, how does the body respond to sleep, nutrition, training, etc.

Recently, Heitmayer's impact on the football team has been evident. The Tigers have won 30 games over the past three seasons and that success has equated into more players in the NFL. When those players have returned to Columbia, coach Gary Pinkel noticed a difference.

"They were coming back leaner than what we had them," he said. "We decided to look at our players and learn from that. Losing that five pounds is going to make you quicker more than that five pounds is going to make you a better player. … Our players have really gotten into nutrition and eating properly."

Along with the coaching staff and Pat Ivey, Missouri assistant athletics director for athletic performance, Heitmeyer helps develop a diet plan that fits each player. She also tries to monitor food intake as much as possible.

"I'm the food Nazi," she said with a laugh. "I'm the enemy of fast food. I tell the players they keep Taco Bell and McDonald's in business. Lucky for them, I'm everywhere. And if I don't see 'em carrying a big bag of fast food, they rat on each other.

"I see them eat two meals. I walk around and smack 'em upside the head and ask, 'Hey, where's your vegetables?'"

About the time that Heitmeyer assumed her post Missouri bought a DXA machine that measures muscle, bone and fat down to the gram. Pinkel jokes he'll never get tested by it. Each member of the football team gets a DXA exam five times a year. If a player's stomach fat increases over the summer, Heitmeyer knows about it.

When Missouri opened the season against Illinois, the Tigers were dominant in the second half. Heitmeyer believes that improved nutrition contributed to the team's late-game energy level.

Heitmeyer works with the dining hall staff to oversee the daily menu. She'll cross out "Taco Tuesday" and chicken cordon bleu while agreeing to more fish, more red beans/black beans and rice, more asparagus. A new chef has increased the amount of food prepared in the kitchen and reduced processed food.

With the training table being an all-players-can-eat buffet, Heitmeyer has a stop-light system designed to prevent pig outs. Green means eat all you want (salads, vegetables, fruit, chicken and fish); yellow (pastas and breads); red (stuff that will fatten you up like desserts and starchy foods).

Heitmeyer, though, isn't a dictator. If a player has a weakness for chocolate or pizza, she lets him indulge moderately. She has a weakness: Cheez-Its.

Heitmeyer's job is made easier when the team's key players are leaders in the dining room as they're leaders on the field. Junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert is 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds but his body fat has dropped from 16 percent to 12.

"I see it in everybody's face, all leaned up," Gabbert told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "What you put in your body is what you get out. So the more healthy foods, the better quality food you put in your body, the better your body is going to perform. And the better it will respond to the stress you put on it on the football field or in the weight room."
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