When Trey Dean discovered Billy Napier would take over as head coach of Florida in late November, he was immediately excited about the program’s potential.
Senior safety already knew his head coach’s background. A Nick Saban A disciple, Napier revived 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 Napier would be able to breathe similar life into a Florida program that had just had one of its worst seasons in recent history, winning less than three SEC games for the first time since 1986. And a few months later, Dean said he’s already seen a shift in the program from organized player parking to a revamped coaching structure. Another important area for improvement? The food.
“110%,” Dean said when asked if meals and attention to nutrition had improved under Napier compared to 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 sports nutrition department in North Carolina since 2015, has helped reinvent this aspect of player routines.
Some of the highlights: Each player has a spring weight goal posted on their locker with a detailed, regularly updated meal plan to help them reach it. Players are encouraged – and rewarded – for adhering to Gomes’ hydration guidelines, which include drinking around a gallon of water a day. The team receives a full meal and two take-out snacks on weekdays, including what the players call “French Toast Fridays,” a locker room favorite.
“She gives us meal plans,” running back Nay’Quan Wright said. “If you want to gain weight, maintain it, you want to lose it, they’re doing just fine.”
A former Division I swimmer at UNC-Wilmington, Gomes has worked in the sports nutrition industry for over a decade. After earning a master’s degree from Florida State, Gomes spent two years as a consultant nutritionist in the traumatic brain injury and rehabilitation unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Hoping to work in sports, Gomes said she reached out to Ricki Keen, director of performance nutrition for Orlando City Soccer, whom she worked for until she made her first big break into the sports nutrition industry. in 2011.
“I ended up being hired by Tara Gidus who was doing the Orlando Magic at the time and then she got the contract for UCF which was about 20 hours a week so I started helping her. doing consulting 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 over the sports nutrition department at UNC. There, Gomes participated in five national championships – lacrosse (2015), basketball (2017) and field hockey (2018-20). His work with the Tar Heels was also formative in his overall nutrition philosophy.
“I’m really big on education,” Gomes said. “I think that’s our job. I want [players] to understand why. I could say to you every morning, “Take your vitamins,” and you could say, “Well, what’s that going to do for me? I think that’s always been my thing and I remember a coach saying that to me once. I was like, ‘God, so-and-so doesn’t do that,’ and he said, ‘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 focus on football nutrition after spending the past seven years in charge of 28 sports. With two full-time dietitians on his staff, Gomes hopes to improve player performance by improving their eating habits.
“I really try to emphasize that all foods are suitable for our athletes or if there is something, depending on their goals, if there is something we need to change, something we need to modify,” said Gomes, “There are things we’ll talk about.
Gomes also aims to improve the game day experience for players on the road. She said she has already visited the various hotels where the team will be staying in the fall to ensure they are fully equipped to meet Florida’s dietary demands.
And why go so far? Gomes said the reason was twofold. First, she wants to make sure the players are eating the best they can. Second, she thinks there’s a psychological benefit to having good food ready for the players. She appreciates their contribution to this process.
“The memories of the food, the things of the food that their mother used to make, you know,” Gomes said. “And so I think it’s really important that before spring break too, we did a player satisfaction survey with the guys just to get feedback… They hear about things they might want see on the menus.”
Nutrition is one of many aspects players have said improved under Napier’s guidance, a process Gomes said she was “grateful” to be a part of.
Now, the seasoned nutrition specialist is working hard to continue implementing her plan. This is what excites her most about her work.
“I love it because that’s the part where I can educate guys,” she said, “to see them come out of high school and grow as men and then even go to the next level, I think it’s such a cool thing and then when they come back they still do some of the things they used to do, I think it’s just awesome.