Major League Soccer
US Soccer

PRO officials receive nutritional fine-tuning

August 29, 2014

Gena Wollenburg

Any athlete in world sport, whether professional or not, knows that to achieve the best results in competition, hours of work and preparation must be undertaken behind the scenes. 

The dedication gets increasingly important the higher up the sporting ladder you climb – eating the right foods at the right time, resisting your body’s cravings when appropriate; committing to intense training regimes, to run faster and further; routinely analyzing your performances, both good and bad. 

To cope with these demands, the support staff at the Professional Referee Organization all contribute to officials’ development with Matt Hawkey leading the sports science program. 

Amongst the network of PRO backroom staff is Sports Nutritionist Gena Wollenberg, the brains behind the nutritional analysis and guidance offered to officials.

She told “I joined PRO in 2013 to work alongside Matt, and each month the officials seem to build upon their previous knowledge. I’m always giving the team more and more nutritional guidance.

“They are in very good shape so I’m just trying to fine-tune their diet to get the maximum benefit. I’ve come in and started to tailor people’s diets and nutritional guidance on an individual basis.

“You can’t offer group advice, everything must be personal, because the team of officials have different schedules, commitments, heights and weights, so it’s going to make their calorie intake needs all very, very different.

“We have seen good progress already, which is testament to the hard work the team are putting in, because this really is complex stuff.”

Having studied at Oklahoma State University, Wollenberg obtained a PhD in Nutritional Sciences as well as becoming a registered dietician. 

However, she is also certified in sports nutrition, a process that took 5,000 hours of work through an internship, further school studies and more exams. As a result, she is one of only a few dieticians who posses the dual qualification. 

“It was when I was doing my internship with Collegian athletes at OSU that I became interested in sports nutrition.

“I currently work as a post-doctorate where I’m trying to build a sports nutrition program, alongside my job with PRO. Working with College students compared to professional referees is an interesting but exciting challenge, because at PRO everyone is adult and they have large family schedules and demanding travel arrangements. 

“I’m able to attend the camps that PRO run and I’m always available on email and phone to offer dietary advice between those times as well. 

“Working with Matt is hugely beneficial because whenever you are closely assisting a sports scientist you actually get to see the energy expenditure of the guys first-hand.

“I have seen them work out, I have seen them be pushed. I then have all that information about how hard they work, their sweat rates and how they burn calories. 

“This a group of highly-motivated individuals and they are all taking the information on board and utilizing it effectively.

“We’re continuously adapting and improving, but I don’t believe in overnight results. I’m more interested in long-term nutrition and giving advice that will serve them well for the rest of their lives."

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