New Sports Nutritionist position fosters relationship between UNT Dining and Athletic Department

temp-post-imageA bowl game victory, competing in March Madness, winning a Conference USA championship — these are just some of the goals for University of North Texas Mean Green athletic teams. But achieving those goals requires time and dedication long before UNT athletes take the field or hit the court. Training and nutrition during the athletic season as well as throughout the year are just as important. And to aid in the success of the Mean Green, Dining Services hired Charles Ashford to become the university’s first full-time sports nutritionist.

Ashford was brought to UNT to provide nutrition education to Mean Green student-athletes as well as chefs, coaches, athletic trainers, and strength coaches. He also assists with the daily functions of Champs dining hall, making sure the menu is suitable for the demands of student-athletes. Ashford is also in attendance during meal times to help student-athletes with their nutrition choices as well as to answer questions.

The new position has proven beneficial for both Dining Services and Athletics, and has helped bridge the gap between the two departments. Thanks to the partnership, a meal plan designed specifically for college athletes as well as a nutritious snacking and refueling program were developed. Sports performance has been enhanced through improved nutrition, which has helped foster a more nutritious mindset among the athletes. It has also created a nutritional halo effect for all students on campus.

Zack Womack, Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Mean Green, works closely with Ashford and understands the benefits of having a sports nutritionist to implement a food plan.

“Attaining a position of a full-time sports nutritionist has been vital in order to continue to take steps forward as an athletic department,” said Womack. “To stay competitive, it’s important to surround our athletes with resources that can help them succeed. Charles has been a great addition for our student-athlete experience, and a positive investment into our overall success as an athletic department.”

Executive Director of UNT Dining Services Bill McNeace as well as Operations Director Shohreh Sparks were instrumental in adding the sport nutritionist position on campus after first approaching the athletic department with the idea a few years prior.

“We created this position to establish a human link between dining and athletics,” said McNeace. “We’ve always had sports nutrition, but now we have a dedicated sports nutritionist who works closely with the athletes and helps them take advantage of the nutritious foods we offer.”

Enter Ashford. When he saw the job opening, he knew it was the perfect spot for him to continue his career.

“I heard nothing but great things about the university and the city of Denton,” said Ashford. “The fact that the athletes are able to eat on-site at true dining facilities is a major plus. Everyone here just wants what’s best for the athletic program. Bill (McNeace) and Shohreh (Sparks) are really passionate about food.”

Leaving his position as assistant sports nutritionist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock was a difficult decision to make — the opportunity for an internship at Texas Tech four years ago is what originally brought him to the United States from England. But Ashford knew the chance to begin a sports nutrition program from the ground up was too good to pass up.

Although his position officially falls under Dining Services, Ashford spends a majority of his time with the Mean Green football team. His day typically begins at 6 a.m. as he gets breakfast ready for his athletes and conducts morning weigh ins. During football season, he can be seen on the sidelines at the practice fields where he tries to spend quality face time with his athletes. Following workouts, he’s making post-practice recovery shakes and getting his plan ready for the next day.

“It’s all about making yourself available to the student-athletes and just being around to gain their trust,” said Ashford. “They’re more likely to come to you with questions if they know you are a part of the team.”

Even during the football offseason, Ashford spends a lot of time with the team, helping the players achieve their body composition and weight goals. According to Ashford, he also committed a good amount of time to UNT track and field athletes during their 2018 season.

Although Ashford has only been on campus since last summer, his presence has already made an impact on the success of the athletic programs. The Mean Green football team won nine games for the first time since 2003 and earned a bowl game bid. Behind the play of all-conference quarterback Mason Fine, the squad set school records for most points scored, total offensive yards, passing touchdowns, and first downs.

The North Texas women’s soccer team, who Ashford worked with extensively this past fall, also had an impressive season after capturing a Conference USA championship. The women advanced to the NCAA Tournament and closed the year with a 14-4-4 overall record.

Womack has definitely noticed the positive impact that Ashford and the nutrition program has had on the athletic department.

“Our athletes have been able to gain and maintain weight more effectively than in the past,” Womack added. “I believe implementing the meal program is one of the bigger reasons this is possible. With that being said, our players have been more consistent in training and practicing at a high level and much of that is because their bodies are properly fueled.”

Ashford won’t take credit for the teams’ excellent play, but realizes his job is to make sure all student-athletes are at their best whether it’s during a game, at practice, or in the classroom.

“The athletes look to the coaches to take care of everything for them on the field,” said Ashford. “The athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and myself do our best to take care of everything off of it.”

About UNT Dining Services
UNT Dining is the largest self-supported food service department in North Texas. With our 22 retail food shops, five cafeterias, a full-service restaurant, and a catering department, we serve nearly five million meals annually. Our food service program is award-winning and has been recognized nationally by organizations like Food Service Director Magazine, Physician’s Council for Responsible Medicine, and PETA. We are also the recipient of the prestigious Loyal E. Horton Award from the National Association of College and University Food Services. In 2011, Mean Greens Café opened as the first all-vegan university dining hall in the country. For more information, visit http://www.dining.unt.edu.