By Christin Senior | July 22, 2016 10:30 am

UCF Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin says recent improvements to his diet have helped him cut 5 percent of his body fat. Fellow linebacker Mark Rucker saw similar results after cutting out fried foods. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin no longer feels lethargic after practice as he learned the importance of replacing electrolytes after a rigorous workout.

UCF Football players are being coached to make such healthy diet changes from a group of fellow Knights – second- and third-year College of Medicine students.  For the last eight weeks, 17 medical students met with football players for an hour each Monday to provide nutrition workshops at the Bright House Networks Stadium recruiting lounge. The idea of the sessions came from UCF football coaches, who saw a need to improve the dietary habits of their players and wanted advice from the medical school on healthy ways for athletes to lose – and in some cases gain – weight.

The sessions are an integral part of the team’s summer conditioning in an effort to help football players make healthy lifestyle choices that will help them succeed on and off the field.

The initiative was led by the College of Medicine’s Dr. Magdalena Pasarica, a family medicine specialist who also has a Ph.D. in nutrition. She says her team was honored to help student athletes reach their nutrition and lifestyle goals which were crucial to boosting athletic performance.

“This is a “win–win” situation – our medical students apply their nutrition knowledge and motivational skills to help their UCF colleagues,” she said. “The athletes receive support for achieving nutrition and lifestyle goals for athletic performance from their peers. So, this is a perfect relationship and we are all proud to be part of this.”

The workshops used advanced learning techniques, including active, collaborative and personalized learning. Med students worked with athletes in small groups covering topics such as weight loss and gain, sleeping patterns and more.

Second-year medical student Lauren Fragapane said the players have been great learning partners.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that I was given the opportunity to work with a team that was so open to better understanding how good nutrition in addition to other positive lifestyle changes could help them ultimately perform better,” she said. “The program was great because as peers we really had the ability to learn from one another which helped to create an awesome working dynamic.”

As a sports fan and health enthusiast, second-year medical student James Lee said the collaboration was tailor made for him. Before the summer project, Lee said he really hadn’t developed a “die-hard mentality” for Knights athletics. However, after bonding with the players and coaches, he feels connected to the team and is excited to cheer them on this season.

“I learned a lot from the players and I hope they learned from us as well,” Lee said. “It just feels good to feel like you’re a part of the team and contributing toward improving their performance.”

UCF’s Director of Football Operations, Gerrod Lambrecht, said the team has been lucky to have medical students as a resource and has seen almost immediate results from the dietary changes.

“I think we started to see some immediate changes not only in the way they were fueling themselves, the way we were fueling them, and that translated into some pretty quick and better responses in the weight room,” he said. “It was pretty self-evident very quickly that minor changes in nutrition were translating into bigger gains.”

At the final workshop the med students were presented with certificates of appreciation for their efforts, signed by College of Medicine Dean Dr. Deborah German and Knights head football coach, Scott Frost.

Though the workshops have ended, Lambrecht says he is hoping for a continued collaboration with the medical school.

“Dr. Pasarica and I will sit down at the end of the summer and talk about how we think it went and what the goals are for the future,” he said, “and I hope that it’s a collaboration that is long lasting and not just a summer trial program.”

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