Florida football nutritionist getting rave reviews: What's she got cooking for the Gators?

David Whitley
Gator Sports

If you are what you eat, Gervon Dexter would have been a Twinkie. A 313-pound one, at that.

He liked to snack away, comforted by the knowledge that the calories likely would melt away at football practice. And when you’re 6-foot-6, you can carry a few more Twinkies than the average guy.

But after two seasons, Dexter knew he needed more than bulk to play defensive tackle at an NFL-prospect level. He needed to get quicker.

Enter Kelsee Gomes, the new queen of Florida’s Kitchen.

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Gators raving about new nutritionist

Her title is actually “director of sports nutrition — football.” When Billy Napier was introduced as head coach, he said he’d bring in an army to help revive the Gators’ program. And you know what they say about that?

An army marches on its stomach.

Napoleon supposedly coined the phrase 200 years ago, long before Nick Saban started hiring individual chefs for offense, defense and special teams. Whether it’s the French Imperial Army trying to take over Europe or Napier’s army trying to capture the SEC, it all begins with happy bellies.

Based on early reviews, the Gators' bellies are very happy with Gomes.

“She’s a rock star,” strength coach Mark Hocke said.

“She like oil for a car,” Demarkcus Bowman tweeted, “so without that oil that car ain’t gonna crank.”

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Gomes was hired from North Carolina, where she was in charge of 28 sports. She’d worked as an assistant nutritionist here during Will Muschamp’s days, but what really attracted her back was the singularity of her mission.

It’s all football, though Florida has five nutritionists for other sports. Gomes could also hire two full-time assistants just for football.

The whole “sports nutrition” business has exploded in the past decade. Part of it is advances in science and technology, and better understanding of how a good diet leads to better performance.

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And part of it is the insatiable SEC desire to seek even the slightest advantage over the next guy. That’s why Georgia has a director of nutrition, a performance chef for football and a culinary services manager for football.

For all we know, Saban really might have 14 quality-control nutritionists. Whatever the case, we’ve certainly come a long way from the days when a guy in an apron slung mashed potatoes onto trays at the mess hall.

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Kelsee Gomes

Gomes conducted a body-mass scan on each player to find their fat vs. lean mass ratios, consulted with the strength coaches, position coaches and training staffs and came up with individual “meal plans.”

She prefers that term instead of “diet,” which conjures visions of Jenny Craig and pretending your stomach isn’t grumbling at 110 decibels for a slice of pizza.

“I’ve always had this approach that all foods fit,” Gomes said.

She told players she’s not here to send them into Twinkie detox. It’s all about eating a well-balanced meal plan with the right combination of fiber, proteins, antioxidants and all that other stuff you can read on the labels of vitamin bottles.

“I don’t want them to feel guilt or shame about eating a certain type of food,” Gomes said.

She does emphasize the benefits of eating certain types of food. That way, a player understands how eating a bowl of blueberries will help alleviate aching muscles after a three-hour practice.

“She came in and she got it instantly,” Dexter said. “She didn’t waste any time.”

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Players get a plan, not a diet

He told Gomes what his goals were. She had a meal plan ready the next day. Dexter said he’s leaner and meaner this spring than he’s been since arriving in Gainesville.

“It’s all Miss Kelsee,” he said. “I can’t give no credit to myself.”

Gomes doesn’t do the actual cooking. She designs the menus for the football chefs to whip up, then she makes sure everybody follows their orders.

“Our team really likes vegetables,” Gomes said. “And we have a lot of fruit guys, too.”       

Napier has made breakfast mandatory, so two of Gomes’ assistants check attendance every morning. Napier’s also into visual reminders, so Gomes has put individualized signs in every locker.

They say things like, “More Muscle Mass” or “Maintain Muscle Mass.”

It’s all just another component in Napier’s grand plan. Every school has stepped up its nutrition game, so Florida really had no choice.

But if an army marches only as well as their stomachs feel, the Gators should eventually go pretty far.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley