Next Woman Up: Stephanie Kolloff O'Neill, Director of Performance Nutrition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Next Woman Up: Stephanie Kolloff O’Neill, Director of Performance Nutrition for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How did you start your career in sports nutrition?

I got my start in the field in 2011 as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University. My teachers were probably annoyed at me because no matter what type 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 added that she was an athlete. I had a 30 year old man I had to write a nutrition plan for and I said he was playing in the NFL. So every project I had to do was always related to sports nutrition, and my teachers knew I was very interested and wanted to do it in my career.

Fortunately, I was able to take the sports nutrition course as a junior and my teacher introduced me to the Association of Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians. From there, I was able to sign up as a student member, attend their conferences, and through networking, I heard 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 that I was very interested in being an intern. I ended up getting the job and that’s how I started.

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

I then went to Texas A&M as a football performance dietitian, and when that position opened up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, my husband, Casey, and I made the decision to pursue my NFL dream. He was so supportive and willing to do whatever we had to do to make this happen. Fortunately, his company is great and allows him to work from home, so we were able to do three or four moves across the country.

Can you describe to me what your schedule looks like?

I oversee all of our players’ nutritional needs, whether at the facility or at home during the offseason, preseason, or regular season. In pre-season, we deploy around five meals a day between standard meals and snacks. Players are in the building from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

During the regular season, players are in the building between 6 a.m. and approximately 4 p.m. depending on the shift group. We help them figure out what their evening routine is like, whether they have a family or are a solo guy trying to figure out life in Tampa. We want to make sure we’re helping them make wise nutrition choices. On the road, we cover everything from getting on the plane, in-flight meals, hotel meals, stadium catering, post-match meals, in-flight food on the way home and what the next morning looks like.

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

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

Besides working one-on-one with 90 players during training camp, there are still all the operational aspects that exist. So we try to put in place individualized fueling and hydration plans to make sure players get everything they need to perform in training and on match days.

At the same time, we are in constant communication with the hotels we will be staying at during the regular season, whether it is our home hotel or in cities far away, including Munich, Germany. It’s a constantly moving target, because while you meet a specific player for a specific need, you also have to think about the big picture of a game week and the weeks ahead.

A good example of this is when you approach the playoffs, you try to look at four or five different cities that we might end up playing in. Then you must have many items collected in advance to send to these road games. Hope you get the first seed, because it makes life so much easier. But most of the time we are in communication with several hotels in several cities before everything is set in stone.

With the Bucs playing the NFL’s first game in Germany, what’s going on in planning a trip of this magnitude?

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

I am very happy to have this experience under my belt to now be the first designated home team for a match in Germany. It’s very exciting to be a part of this game, and I got to be part of our scouting journey to help with the planning and logistics of where we stay, train, play the game and how everything it will break down for the team. We started communicating in the summer with the hotel staff about our stay and our culinary needs. Again, this is a constantly moving target, but things were in motion for this several months in advance.

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