Carolina Cuisine: From prescription smoothies to pescatarians
Jennifer Brunelli only sees the Carolina Panthers’ players a few times a week, but she’s certain her presence is known even when she’s not in the building. As the team’s part time nutritionist, Brunelli splits her schedule with her private practice in Charlotte, but she hasn’t wasted any time revamping the menus and building relationships with the players since she started with the Panthers in June.
“In the past, everything was pre-made and there weren’t many options,” says Brunelli, a registered dietician. “Now they can build their own meals to meet different needs. I’ve tried to educate them and make it as easy as possible for when I’m not there.”
After each player undergoes a body composition analysis from Joe Kenn and the other strength and conditioning coaches, detailed nutritional requirements are determined based on specific on-the-field or weight goals. Brunelli sits down with each player to discuss diets, but she says she’s not the food police. “It’s about helping them understand that everything that goes into the body should serve a purpose,” she says. Luke Kuechly, Brunelli says, is a “shining example to the rookies” when it comes to fueling his body with antioxidants and key nutrients.
The Panthers’ menu also always contains at least one fish offering to meet quarterback Cam Newton’s pescatarian diet needs, but Brunelli says some of his teammates are catching on. “Other players see Cam and they wonder if they can go that way too, and a cold water fatty fish is actually going to be beneficial for them,” she says.
Looking for energy to fuel a workout? Brunelli says to try the blueberry honey smoothie. Struggling to get your greens in? Add in a handful of kale. Want to recover after training? Blend in pineapples and fruits with antioxidants, like blueberries.
After first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin suffered a bone bruise on his left knee during camp, Brunelli recommended pineapple juice to help him recover. For players struggling with hydration or cramping, foods rich in sodium like cheese, soups and olives can help, and for those that need to lose weight, the signs also indicate low calorie options. And when a crew of Panthers' running backs found their way to the nearest Krispy Kreme after practice—and performed a song and dance to go along with it—Brunelli made a joke out of it, registered dietician-style.
“It shocks me how open they are if they truly know there will be a benefit for their performance,” she says. “We’re building the mental concept that food is fuel.”