when Trey Dean discovered Billy Napier assuming the role of Florida head coach in late November, he was immediately thrilled with the program’s potential.
Senior security already knew his coach’s background. A Nick Saban disciple, Napier breathed new life into a Louisiana program that had never won more than nine games in a single season. Under Napier, however, the Ragin Cajuns have scored double-digit wins in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Dean immediately hoped that Napier would be able to give a similar life to a Florida show out of one of its worst seasons in recent history, winning less than three SEC games for the first time since 1986. And just a few months later, he has said Dean has already seen a change in the schedule from an organized parking lot for players to a redesigned training facility. Another important area for improvement? The food.
“110 percent,” Dean said when asked if meals and attention to nutrition had improved under Napier over the past few years.
While Napier orchestrated such a change, Dean and his teammates also have director of sports nutrition Kelsee Gomes to thank.
Gomes, who was hired as Florida’s new chief nutritionist in December after overseeing the North Carolina sports nutrition department since 2015, helped reimagine that aspect of players’ routine.
Some of the highlights: Each player has a spring weight goal posted on their locker with a detailed and regularly updated meal plan to help them achieve it. Players are encouraged – and rewarded – for adhering to Gomes’ hydration guidelines which include consuming approximately one gallon of water per day. The team is served a full meal and two take-away snacks on weekdays, including what players refer to as “French Toast Fridays”, a locker room favorite.
“He’s giving us meal plans,” running back Nay’Quan Wright said. “If you want to gain weight, keep, you want to lose, they’re doing great with that.”
A former Division I swimmer at UNC-Wilmington, Gomes has worked in the sports nutrition industry for more than a decade. After graduating with a master’s degree from the state of Florida, Gomes spent two years as a nutrition consultant in head injury and rehabilitation unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Hoping to work in sports, Gomes said he reached out to Ricki Keen, the director of sports nutrition at Orlando City Soccer, who he worked for until he caught his first big break in the sports nutrition industry in 2011.
“I ended up getting hired by Tara Gidus, who was doing Orlando Magic at the time, and then she got the contract for UCF which was like 20 hours a week and so I started helping her do counseling over there and I knew that was what I wanted to do, ”Gomes said.
In 2012, Gomes was hired as a sports nutrition coordinator at the University of Florida, where she spent three years before taking on the sports nutrition department at UNC. There, Gomes took part in five national championships: lacrosse (2015), basketball (2017) and field hockey (2018-20). Her work with the Tar Heels was also informative in her overall nutritional philosophy.
“I’m really big on education,” Gomes said. “I think it’s our job. I want [players] to understand why. I could say to you every morning like ‘Take your vitamins’ and you could say, ‘Well, what will this do to me?’ I think it has always been my thing and I remember a coach telling me once. I was like, ‘Damn, so and so he’s not doing this’, and he was like, ‘Well, if he doesn’t see the importance of it, then he never will.’ “
Now in his second stint with the Gators, Gomes has the opportunity to narrow his focus on football nutrition after spending the past seven years heading 28 sports. With two full-time dieticians on his staff, Gomes hopes to improve player performance by improving their eating habits.
“I really try to emphasize that all foods fit our athletes or if there is something, depending on what their goals are, if there is something we need to change, something we need to change,” Gomes said, ” there are things we will talk about.
Gomes also aims to improve the day’s gaming experience for gamers on the go. He said he has already traveled to several hotels the team will be staying at this fall to make sure they are fully equipped to handle Florida’s food demand.
And why go so far? Gomes said the reason was twofold. One, he wants to make sure that players eat as well as possible. Second, he believes there is a psychological advantage in having good food ready for the players. He appreciates their input on that process.
“The food memories, the food stuff their mom used to do, you know,” Gomes said. “And so I think it’s really important that even before spring break, we did a player satisfaction survey with the guys just to get feedback … They hear about things they might want to see on the menus.”
Nutrition is one of many aspects that players have claimed to have improved under Napier’s direction, a process that Gomes said she was “grateful” to be a part of.
Now, the veteran nutritionist is working hard to continue implementing her plan. That’s what excites her the most about her job.
“I love it because it’s the part where I can educate the kids,” she said, “seeing them come out of high school and develop as men and then even move on to the next level, I think that’s just such an interesting thing and then when they come back, they’re still doing some of the things they were doing, I think it’s just amazing.