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

How did you start your career in sports nutrition?

I started in this field in 2011 when I was an undergraduate at Arizona State University. Perhaps my teachers were upset with me because no matter what kind of patient I received a case study, I added that he 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 guy I had to write a nutrition plan for, and I said he played in the NFL. So every project I had to do was always related to sports nutrition, and my teachers knew I was very interested in it and wanted to do it in my career.

Fortunately, I was able to take a sports nutrition class as a beginner, and my teacher introduced me to the Association of Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians. From there, I was able to join as a student member, join their conferences, and through networking, I got to know a registered dietitian in Arizona. 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 started.

Through CPSDA, I was able to be part of a Gatorade sponsored sports immersion program, so I was a trainee at Auburn. I always tell my apprentices to be so valuable that you leave a huge gap when your time comes, and I basically show that you are irreplaceable. This is how I was able to start because this internship spanned my spring internship, which turned into a new graduate assistant position for me, which turned into my first full-time assistant dietitian position in Auburn. Each one led to a new role.

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

Can you show me what your schedule looks like?

Oversee all nutritional needs of our players, whether it is in the facility or in their homes in the off-season, pre-season or in the regular season. In pre-season, we throw out about 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 about 4 p.m. depending on the center group. We help them figure out what their evening routine is like, whether they have a family or a solo dude trying to figure out life in Tampa. We want to make sure we help them make successful choices when it comes to nutrition. On the road, we cover everything from our arrival on the plane, on-flight meals, hotel meals, in-stadium catering, post-game meals, on-board food on the way home, and what it’ll look like the next morning.

There is a lot of preparation that goes into all of that. 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 that’s literally every day from our rookie debut to camp.

Wow, that’s a lot of time. I want to split the year a little bit. How do you approach the training camp stage with nearly twice as many players in the facility as the regular season?

Besides working individually with 90 players during bootcamp, there are still all the operational aspects involved. Therefore, we try to have individual refueling and water plans to make sure players have everything they need to be able to perform in practice and on game days.

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

A good example of this is that as you get closer to the post-season, you try to look at four or five different cities that we could end up playing in. Then you have to collect many items early to send them to these road games. We hope you get your first seed because it makes life a lot easier. But often, we communicate with multiple hotels in multiple cities before they are installed.

With the Bucs playing in the NFL The first match in GermanyWhat goes into planning a trip of this magnitude?

My first international was in London in 2019, when the Boss played the Panthers at Tottenham Hotspur. It was a wild experience. I knew the match was about to happen when I took office earlier that year. What I didn’t know is that our advanced items are shipping at the start of bootcamp, so things I’ve been trying to plan and get ready for the game in October, I haven’t seen the game needs of our team yet. That was a lot of trusting my knowledge and instincts and talking to our players.

I am very happy with this experience to be now the first home team to play a match in Germany. It’s very exciting to be a part of that game, and to be able to be a part of our expedition to go into the planning and logistics of where we’re staying, playing, and playing and how it all goes down for the team. In the summer we started communicating with the hotel staff about our stay and culinary needs. Again, it’s a constant moving target but things have been moving for months in advance.

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