April 02, 2024

UAB Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports & Exercise Medicine support nutrition program for local student athletes

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nutrition group 2024In Birmingham, Alabama, the commitment to fostering the potential of young athletes extends far beyond the playing field. Thanks to the initiative spearheaded by James Jones, head athletic trainer for the UAB Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Birmingham City Schools, and Bama Wellness Advocacy, and from the financial support provided by the UAB Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and UAB Sports & Exercise Medicine, a revolutionary nutrition program has been launched. This program not only emphasizes the significance of proper nutrition but also highlights the importance of self-wellness factors such as sleep, ultimately aiming to enhance the overall performance and well-being of student-athletes.

Jones has a unique position as the direct medical liaison between UAB Sports & Exercise Medicine and Birmingham City Schools, scholar-athletes, and their parents. Recognizing a critical need among these students, Jones joined forces with Jacquie Fazekas, board president of Bama Wellness Advocacy, to conceptualize a comprehensive 12-week nutrition program. The initiative was significantly boosted through UAB’s Give as One campaign, which provided additional financial support to kickstart the program.

“Being in this position for the last 24 years, I have observed the necessity to help with nutrition education to assist in not only athletic but academic performance as well,” said Jones. “The opportunity to gain additional funds through UAB's Give as One campaign provided the financial resources to pilot a program on nutrition education, and it is our hope and work at this time to make sure this program can be scaled to other sports and as a result into the entire Birmingham City Schools’ community.”

Jones noticed that many athletes lacked awareness of their nutrition when it came to what they ate, and it was affecting their performance both on and off the court.

“We saw issues arising due to nutritional deficits, including hydration problems and frequent cramping during sports seasons,” said Jones.

Partnering with certified health coach Jacquie Fazekas, they both embarked on a mission to educate students about the transformative power of healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices.

Fazekas emphasized the holistic approach of the program, stating, "Our aim is not just to enhance athletic performance but to foster overall well-being."

The program included weekly sessions covering various health topics, interactive food demonstrations, taste-testing sessions, and the distribution of nutritious food items to students and their families. Fazekas said they wanted to “help students think differently about some of the foods they didn’t like” through cooking presentations and easy-to-make recipes that families could prepare at home.

The pilot program initially targeted basketball teams at Huffman and Ramsay High Schools, two institutions renowned for their athletic achievements. The overwhelmingly positive response from students, families, and coaches highlighted the program's potential for broader implementation.

“Nutrition, rest, recovery, and the words you speak to yourself – the ways you feed yourself matters, and we tried to teach the students that,” said Fazekas.

Looking ahead, Jones and Bama Wellness Advocacy, with the support of UAB Orthopaedic Surgery and UAB Sports & Exercise Medicine, aim to expand the program to encompass other sports, including football, and collaborate with additional community partners to amplify its reach.

james jones 2024According to Jones, athletics is just the beginning of this program, with the ultimate vision extending to students across the entire school system. Calvin Spellmon, Jr., M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Family and Community Medicine and medical director for Birmingham City Schools, commended Jones and the program.

“I am excited about the work that James has done in designing and implementing this project,” said Spellmon. “It is a great program to introduce as nutrition for these children is of utmost importance. As they say, we are what we eat, or lack thereof.”

The program's initial success underscores the pivotal role played by community collaboration and philanthropic support. Fred Horton, the executive administrator for the UAB Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, emphasized the importance of UAB's involvement in initiatives that promote nutritional education and overall well-being among student-athletes.

"Our participation in initiatives like the Give as One campaign solidifies UAB's commitment to supporting the local community and nurturing the potential of our youth," said Horton. “Our involvement further supports our department’s mission to be seen as a leading provider in all aspects of our athletes' health.”

As the program continues to evolve, the UAB Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and UAB Sports & Exercise Medicine remain steadfast in their dedication to empowering student-athletes with the knowledge and resources needed to thrive both on and off the field. Through initiatives like this, Birmingham's young athletes are not only equipped with the tools for success but also inspired to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.