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HomeNFLStephanie Kolloff O'Neill, Director of Performance Nutrition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stephanie Kolloff O’Neill, Director of Performance Nutrition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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How did you get your start in a career in sports nutrition?

I got my start in the field back in 2011 when I was an undergrad student at Arizona State University. My professors were probably annoyed with me because no matter what kind of patient I was given a case study, I added that he or she was an athlete. I remember doing a strength plan for a pregnant woman, and I added that she was an athlete. I had a 30-year-old male who I had to write a nutrition plan for, and I said he played in the NFL. So each project I had to do was always related to sports nutrition, and my professors knew I was very much into it and wanted to do that in my career.

Thankfully, I was able to take the sports nutrition class as a junior, and my professor introduced me to the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association. From there, I was able to join as a student member, join their conferences, and through networking, I learned about a dietitian who was hired at Arizona State. Bless her because it was like her second day on the job, and I introduced myself and told her I was very interested in being an intern. I ended up getting the job and that’s how I got my start.

Through CPSDA, I was able to be part of a sports immersion program sponsored by Gatorade, so I was an intern at Auburn. I always tell my interns to be so valuable that you leave a gaping hole when your time is up, essentially show that you are irreplaceable. That is how I was able to get my start because that internship was extended into a spring internship, which turned into a new graduate assistant position for me, which turned into the first full-time assistant dietitian position at Auburn. Each one led into a new role.

I then went to Texas A&M as their football performance dietician, and when this position opened with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, my husband, Casey, and I made the decision that I would chase down my NFL dream. He was so supportive and willing to do whatever we needed to do to make it happen. Luckily, his company is great and allows him to work from home, so we’ve been able to do three or four cross-country moves.

Can you take me through what your schedule looks like?

I oversee all the nutritional needs for our players, whether that’s at the facility or in their own home in the offseason, preseason or regular season. In preseason, we roll out about five meals a day between standard meals and snacks. The players are in the building from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

During the regular season, the players are in the building between 6 a.m. to about 4 p.m. depending on the position group. We’re helping them figure out what their evening routine looks like, whether they have a family or are a solo dude trying to figure out life in Tampa. We want to make sure we are helping them make successful choices when it comes to nutrition. On the road, we cover everything from when we arrive at the airplane, in-flight meals, hotel meals, stadium catering, post-game meals, in-flight food on the way home and what the very next morning looks like.

There is a lot of prepping that goes into all of it. During the 2020 NFL season when we went to the Super Bowl, we worked 27 straight weeks. We are at the facility every day players are, and that’s literally every day from the start of our rookies showing up to camp.

Wow, that is a lot of time. I want to break down the year a little bit. How do you approach the training camp phase when there are almost twice as many players in the facility as there are in the regular season?

Besides working individually with 90 players during training camp, there are still all of the operational aspects that exist. So, we are trying to get individualized fueling and hydration plans set up to make sure the players are getting everything they need to be able to perform in practice and on game days.

At the same time, we are in constant communication with the hotels we’ll be staying at during the regular season, whether that’s our home hotel or in away cities, including Munich, Germany. It’s a constant moving target because while you’re meeting with one specific player for a specific need, you also need to be thinking about the big picture of a game week and future weeks.

A great example of that is when you’re approaching the postseason, you’re trying to look at four or five different cities that we could end up playing in. Then you have to have numerous items gathered ahead of time to send off to those road games. Hopefully, you get the first seed because it makes life a lot easier. But a lot of the time, we’re in communication with multiple hotels in multiple cities before it’s set in stone.

With the Bucs playing the NFL’s first game in Germany, what goes into planning a trip of that magnitude?

My first international game was London in 2019, when the Bucs played the Panthers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It was a wild experience. I knew that game was coming up when I took the position earlier that year. What I didn’t know was that our advanced items were getting shipped at the start of training camp, so the things I was trying to plan and prep for a game in October, I hadn’t seen the game needs of our team yet. That was a lot of trusting my own knowledge and instincts and talking to our players.

I’m very glad to have that experience under my belt to now be the first designated home team for a game in Germany. It’s very exciting to be part of that game, and I was able to be part of our scouting trip to get in on the planning and logistics of where we’re staying, practicing, playing the game and how all of that will break down for the team. We started communicating in the summer with the hotel staff about our stay and culinary needs. Again, it’s a constant moving target but things were in motion for that several months in advance.

Image & Story Credit: nfl.com

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