Fueling up: Coach emphasizes nutrition to players

“If you drive a Bentley and you put regular gas in it, it won’t perform at an optimum level,” said Henry Briscoe, the University of Central Arkansas strength and conditioning coach. “Teaching an athlete how to fuel their body is the key. Proper nutrition allows you to train harder and longer and helps you recover faster.

“Make no mistake about it: When the redshirts get here, the first thing we talk about is nutrition. My program does include some supplementation, but that only helps with a good foundation of a diet. You put a house on sand, it will collapse. Nutrition is the concrete foundation.”

Briscoe came to UCA after Clint Conque took over the football program in 1999, and he has handled strength and conditioning duties for 10 years. During that stretch, the Bears are 68-36. Briscoe says nutrition has played a key role in UCA’s success during the Conque era.

“If you eat the wrong foods, you’re not going to recover from workouts,” Briscoe said. “You’re already breaking down tissue and raising cortisone levels in your body. You’re fatigued all the time, which keeps you from your optimum level of performance. Anything less than 100 percent is a waste of time. When your performance suffers, ballgames can get lost and people can lose jobs.”

Briscoe collaborates with the coaching staff to determine strength and weight goals for each individual player when they first come to UCA. The players continue to be re-evaluated throughout their time with the Bears.

“Once we determine where we want a player to be, I get a three-day meal chart from each player,” Briscoe said. “I want to see all of their eating habits as truthfully as possible. You can’t make a cookie cutter approach that fits every guy. Some athletes need to lose weight, some need to gain and some need to maintain. I have 95 players to account for each year, so there are 95 ways to get to our goal of winning.

“What works on paper may not work in the real world. Sometimes a person was supposed to gain weight, but they lost five pounds. Do I dump the program? No. They may have lost five pounds of fat. What I try to do is teach good eating habits. Once the players buy into healthy nutrition, the rest is easy. Strength and speed training won’t work if your diet isn’t right first.”

Briscoe doesn’t have unlimited resources to support his program, but he’s not afraid to be resourceful.

“At some schools, the players will go to the cafeteria and have foods with color-coded tags to let them know what they need to eat,” Briscoe said. “We don’t have that kind of budget for a nutrition program. Sometimes I’ll meet the guys at Wal-Mart and help them choose the right foods to buy.

“To properly fuel your body, you need fruits, vegetables, whole wheat breads, lean meats and good fats from things like olive oil, macadamia nuts or natural peanut butter. You’d be surprised how many kids in this program have built muscle on a low income with natural peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”

Briscoe doesn’t just tell his players what to eat and how to train; he backs up his program by practicing what he preaches. He competes nationally as a body builder and is a former Mr. Arkansas. He was named the Football Championship Subdivision Samson Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2008 by American Football Monthly.

“Everything I have my guys do, I do it myself, too,” Briscoe said. “When you combine that with our background of winning, the kids start to buy into our program.

“Consistency is the key in all aspects of training. You have to consistently eat right, get your rest and train day in and day out with as much intensity as you can. Sometimes it’s time consuming, but winning is time consuming.”