Nicole Jontony used to compete alongside Ohio State athletes, now she helps make sure they have the nutrition they need.
Jontony, a registered dietitian for Ohio State Sports Medicine, was a four-year member of the OSU women’s gymnastics team and two-time team captain. Now, she’s a registered dietitian who works with OSU athletes to help them pick nutritious pre- and post-workout snacks and meals in one of the two new “fuel zones” at St. John Arena and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“I know when the athletes come in and what they have before they’re practicing,” Jontony said. “I can relate to the feeling of being too full at practice or being hungry in the middle of practice.”
The fuel zones, rooms just big enough for a refrigerator, cabinet and small table, were built earlier this semester. They followed an NCAA rule change from last year that allowed all athletes to have unlimited meals and snacks. Previously, only scholarship athletes could receive three meals a day or food stipends from the university, according to the NCAA website.
Janine Oman, OSU associate athletic director for sport performance, said the athletics department budgeted for $850,000 for meals this year.
Don Patko, associate athletics director for facilities operations, said the two fuel zones cost about $257,000 to build.
Jontony, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in medical dietetics, said her experience as an OSU athlete has helped her understand why athletes need the fuel. She’s been through the experience of needing calories and nutrition with a low grocery budget and a lack of time between class and practice to eat.
“With myself being here, being able to answer their questions, I can guide them to what’s going to be the best option before or after their practice,” Jontony said. “It provides them with an opportunity to make sure they’re getting the best fuel before practice and that they’re getting the best option after practice.”
OSU women’s volleyball junior outside hitter Katie Mitchell said she likes the new system and added that it helps athletes receive the nutrition they need to be compete at a high level.
“We have a lot of healthy choices and it lets me get something before and after practice, so it helps with recovery,” Mitchell said. “I don’t feel like I have to run home and grab something right after practice.”
Sophomore outside hitter Kylie Randall said she finds the fuel zones convenient, helping athletes make sure they get exactly what they need.
“It’s really convenient before practice. You know, just getting some breakfast food like cereal, milk bars,” Randall said. “Then after practice, it’s convenient when you’re going to class and you just want to get a sandwich and a drink.”
Jontony said she never packed a lunchbox when she was an athlete at OSU, so she would rely on granola bars and fruit, or whatever she could pack into her backpack, to keep her going.
She said she would have liked to have the fuel zone because it would have provided her with better nutrition.
“I think it would have provided healthy foods on the go,” Jontony said. “I relied on granola bars. It would have provided a quality meal.”
Khalid Moalim contributed to this story.