In case you missed it yesterday, we are celebrating the Panthers playoff weekend with not one but THREE local Smarty Moms who are connected to the Panthers! We are so excited to celebrate these hardworking moms, and we couldn’t be prouder that they’re a part of OUR team :-)!
Yesterday we highlighted uber Smarty Mom, Maria Berger, and up today is the beautiful Jennifer Brunelli! She’s a licensed and registered dietitian, mother of two li’l ones, 7-time All American swimmer, and founder of her own sports nutrition, weight management, and corporate wellness practice called RDpro (you can read more about her background here). She and I met a few years back at a mutual friend’s birthday party, and I’ve absolutely loved watching her career take off – she is truly remarkable.
As owner of RDpro one of Jenn’s roles is to work with the Carolina Panthers as their sports dietitian. I’ll let her explain more of what she does, but just know this: when you’re worried about feeding your family a healthy dinner, imagine feeding an entire FOOTBALL TEAM whose career rests on performance. We all bow down to you and your team, Jenn!
It’s hard to believe she is just getting started. Mark my words: this girl is going places. I can’t WAIT to see what else is in store for her (and Jenn, can I please put you on speed dial??)! Thanks so much to Jenn for taking the time out of her busy mom/wife/dietitian life to talk to me, and let’s hope her homemade protein balls are our magic weapon! 🙂 Tune in tomorrow before the big game to meet our last Smarty PANTHERS Mom in the series – promise you’ll love her! And, click here to meet Maria if you missed it yesterday! #KeepPounding #GoPanthers
Smarties, meet Jennifer Brunelli!
Smarty PANTHERS Mom # 2 Jennifer Brunelli
Smarty Mom Stats:
Married to: Nicholas Brunelli for six years
Children: Sloane Leighton (Girl, 2.5 years), Nathaniel James (boy, 7 months old)
Hometown: South River, NJ
Years in Charlotte: 6 years
Alma Mater: University of South Carolina
Occupation: Sports Dietitian/Nutritionist
Tell us about your job with the Carolina Panthers.
For the last two years I have been the sports dietitian for the players. In year 1 we made a lot of changes to the menus, alongside our foodservice staff, to create a more current menu with greater variety to keep the guys engaged in the food we were providing. We are very lucky to have a group of athletes that want to be healthy while eating for performance so most are pretty open to trying new things and making substitutions when needed. I was thankful to team up with BlendTec to create a smoothie bar area where we have tons of fruit and veg out all day long (strawberries, blueberries, cherries, bananas, mango, spinach, kale, carrots, etc) along with ground flaxseed, peanut butter, oats, yogurt, cows milk, almond milk, etc. It really is a nice way for them to fit in extra calories, get a snack on the go between meetings, and use for pre and post workout recovery needs.
The opportunity to also make adjustments to pre and post workout, along with pregame and halftime fueling has been great for players to see changes in on field performance energy levels. As a contractor I feel extremely grateful to have the Carolina Panthers staff be open to change and supporting putting some of it into action until I hopefully get the chance to support in a more full-time capacity. This year I was thankful to get the opportunity to be involved in re-building the players fueling area. We now have a state of the art kitchen that serves the athletes in a bistro style manner. We have set menus daily, but food is continuously being made so everything is extremely fresh, and for players that have special needs due to health or performance reasons, we can make whatever will support them the most.
Finally, supplements are always going to be a huge part of performance when dealing with this level athlete. The amount of impact that goes on weekly at games, the inflammation created from training, injuries, the struggle to keep weight stable, and the need to be as safe as possible are just a few factors in choosing and recommending supplements.
Give us some numbers here – just how much food do those guys consume??
It’s pretty typical to have the diets range from 3000 calories for some of the smaller players up to 7000+ calories in a larger athlete who might struggle to keep weight on later in the season. Its difficult to get up in that 7000 calorie range!
What’s a typical game-day meal like for the players?
Every player is going to be different. They need to eat quantities appropriate for themselves but foods that don’t upset their stomach in any way. We try to keep things consistent with what goes on during the week. What they would eat on practice days is what they should eat on game days. Depending on the time of the game they might eat 2-4 times prior to a game. Game time will determine food items on the menu but it will be carbohydrate heavy and have foods that are easy to digest so they don’t feel the food when they get out there.
Is there one meal that’s a complete winner with all of the guys on the team?
The breakfast favorite is definitely the egg station where they can get any number of toppings added into their omelet. At breakfast this year we also started having salmon cakes with a house made red pepper sauce, along with shrimp and grits. Those have been a hit! Salmon is rich in omega 3s so I get to help reduce inflammation while they enjoy something that tastes great! For lunch I would say they always enjoy the smoked salmon, meatballs/meatloaf, homemade pizzas, and they love soups after practice like chili or chicken noodle.
Has there been one meal that’s a complete fail?
We had some pre-made meals the first year that didn’t go over but more because food was slightly dry after sitting for too long. Honestly, I am so happy to say that with the new kitchen we have really have only had positive responses to our food service staff’s amazing cooking!
What are some of the players’ favorite local restaurants that are dietitian-approved?
There are so many great restaurants in Charlotte. Some of the most popular are Fahrenheit, Baku, Nikkos, and Sullivans. I definitely take the approach that most restaurants you can choose to eat well or poorly. These guys can handle a ton of calories so if they order a steak, mashed potatoes and double the veg I am thrilled. It’s less about avoiding things and more about them including anti-inflammatory, nutrient rich items as well.
Do you get to watch the games from the stands or are you behind the scenes during the game?
At this point in my position things like halftime fueling are developed ahead of time and some of our amazing strength staff put that out during the game. I do however look forward to a time when I can be more involved in that capacity. Most games I am lucky enough to sit with our foodservice company, Delaware North, in their box and spend some time on the field for warmups, or I do enjoy watching it at home with our babies. With my private practice and NFL commitments it is always great to just be home with a clear view of the game with our family watching the guys crush it!
Do you have any game-day superstitions? Any wacky “routines” to ensure a Panthers’ victory?
Just one. And I didn’t know it until towards the end of this season. We have some players with various food intolerances so I make protein balls by hand that are dairy/egg free for practice and games. One week some of our food service staff made them and that was our only week we lost! (I know that doesn’t mean anything but anyone in sports is superstitious, ha! Needless to say, I made them this week going into this playoff game 🙂 )
You’re also the director of sports nutrition at the United States Performance Center and the owner of RDpro, a nutrition consulting business, so you’re well-versed in nutrition for all ages. What foods do you recommend on game day and the day before to enhance a kid’s or teen’s performance on the field, pool, court, or stage?
One of the most important things I work on with high school and younger athletes is you are not going to change performance for the positive by doing something different the day before or the day of the game. The fueling needs to be better every day through training phases. If every day you recover a little bit more, get better sleep, have the ability to stay focused on technical instruction from coaches, you will be a better athlete. If every day performance is improved in a practice setting it makes sense that the end of season outcome with be improved.
To be specific about pregame fuel though, we would ideally get that athlete a full meal 3-4 hours prior to game time, something like pancakes with scrambled eggs and fruit with OJ, or pasta with chicken breast and grilled veg and a pineapple juice. Then about 60 minutes prior to a game we would have a very carbohydrate rich snack to top off energy stores. Something like an English muffin with peanut butter and jelly, granola bar, dried fruit, bananas, bagels, crackers, gus, chews, and gels.
You were a crazy successful collegiate swimmer at USC, and your hubby is an American record holder and Olympic caliber swimmer – your kids obviously have some good genes. Do you have aspirations for your kids to become collegiate athletes?
This is a regular conversation in our house! Nick and I were lucky to have amazing experiences through the course of our careers. And we both particularly loved our college years, me at USC and him at Arizona State. So it is very difficult to not want them to compete at that level in some sport. But the bottom line is the level of commitment required is tremendous. You have to love it to be successful, be a good teammate, and enjoy it despite the sacrifices you make. So no matter what they choose to do, sport or not, as long as they get to learn how to work within a team, commit to working hard at something every day to achieve a goal, and love what they do, that’s all that really matters to us.
What’s your position on year-round sports and/or specializing in one sport at a young age?
It’s a pretty important thing to me that our kids play various sports until at least high school. I have no issue with a sport being played year round but you learn so many different functional movements from various sports that can only help you be a better athlete in the long run. I played soccer as a second sport almost all the way through high school while swimming year round. We were busy of course running between them, but I loved both sports! It gave me balance mentally, cross training, an additional group of athletes to be friends with, and a team environment in soccer as opposed to the more individual sport aspect of swimming.
Now for some fun Smarty Mom questions:
Family’s favorite homecooked meal? Butternut squash risotto or eggplant parm
Best piece of baby gear? Right now with my 7-month-old it is the Ergobaby Carrier! I can go do anything with him and he loves to cuddle 🙂
Best way to connect with other young moms in Charlotte? Charlotte Smarty Pants! 🙂
Favorite place to take the kids on a rainy day? SkyZone
Best park in Charlotte? Freedom Park
Favorite workout? SmartCore
Best date night spot? New Zealand Café or Thai Basil
Favorite spot to shop for kids’ clothes? Baby Gap
Favorite spot to shop for your clothes? Bevello and Banana Republic
Finish this sentence: When I look back on the “toddler years”, I want to remember….how in awe of my babies I am. They learn so fast and it just amazes me how they can develop so quickly. We’ve just started exposing our 2 year old to another language and she understands it better than me already! I also never want to forget how much fun it is to experience things for the first time through their eyes. Its like getting to start from the beginning all over again and appreciate the details in life.