Men's Basketball

Post-Final Four, Men’s Basketball Focusing on Nutrition

Hanako Maki | The PhoenixThe Loyola men's basketball team celebrates its first Final Four appearance since 1963.

The Loyola men’s basketball team can look to a key factor to find success in 2018-19: proper nutrition.

Dave Vitel, Loyola’s associate athletics director for sports performance, has over 15 years of experience in sports training and performance, including a stint with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves from 2006-11. Vitel has returned for a second stint at Loyola in the athletics department  — with a goal to create an individualized approach to proper nutrition.

“In the NBA, you’ve got 12 guys on your roster,” Vitel said. “It’s like 12 different teams you’re training because each guy is so different and you have to be individualized at that level. What I wanted to do when I got back to this [college] level was take that style of training and try to make that happen at this level.”

This effort comes after a season which saw the Loyola men’s basketball team break the program record for wins in a season and make the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. Despite the success, Vitel said he believes Loyola basketball players have more work to do to reach their full potential; and, many of the players have little to no knowledge about what they should be eating.

“A lot of times, these guys have come from the AAU club circuit [The Amateur Athletic Union is an amateur sports organization based in the United States] where they play a lot of games over a weekend and they’re not really hydrating or eating well,” Vitel said. “They may grab a hot dog between games. So a lot of the time these guys just don’t have an idea of how to eat properly because they really haven’t been taught anything when they were younger.”

Redshirt senior guard Clayton Custer said the educational process is always on-going, especially with new recruits joining the team each year. He also said he’s seen real results from improving his food choices off the court.

“Nutrition has been an extremely important part of my performance at Loyola,” Custer, the 2018 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year, said. “Last year was the first time I took my diet seriously and it paid huge dividends on the court.”  

A major pitfall many student athletes at Loyola run into is the availability of junk food in the dining halls, including foods high in salts, sugars and fats, according to Vitel. He said he’s working to educate the men’s basketball team on what’s right to eat so these mistakes are avoided.

“A big part is trying to substitute out the major carbohydrates that a lot of college students eat that do nothing for you nutritionally, like Goldfish or ice cream, and try and put some better things in, whether it’s increasing vegetables or better carbs like sweet potatoes,” Vitel said.

He said this education process has found serious results, sophomore center and 2018 MVC Freshman of the Year Cameron Krutwig is a prime example, as he’s lost over 20 pounds since the end of the 2017-18 season.

Along with day-to-day meals, Vitel said what the players eat before taking the court is extremely important, because they can’t reach their full potential without proper calories and hydration.

“In a pregame meal, we look for a lean protein and a good carbohydrate in the form of a starch as well as some vegetables as well as plenty of hydration,” Vitel said. “But the most important part about it is that it’s gonna taste good and they’re gonna eat it.”

Eating properly after games is important for recovery, which Vitel said was examplified by the high number of games the Ramblers played last March, many of which occurred only 48 hours apart.

“Postgame will usually be a more fatty meat and something that takes longer to digest just to ensure that it tastes good and it’s something they’re gonna want to eat,” Vitel said.

Looking forward to the 2018-19 season, Vitel said the goal will be to try to repeat the success the team found last year on the court, as Loyola racked up a 32-6 record and picked up national publicity. However, he said on his end, he wants to bring a comprehensive approach to training and nutrition to help the Ramblers continue to succeed.

“Our goal is to create a holistic approach here at Loyola where it’s not just about strength training, but we’re talking nutrition as well as recovery and conditioning and finally mental health,” Vitel said. “So take all of these sports performance kind of disciplines and put it into a bubble to create that package for these kids to see the best results.”

The Ramblers are scheduled to begin the regular season Nov. 6 at Gentile Arena against University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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