When Gridley High School's new football coach, Larenzo Garth, spoke at a Gridley Rotary Club meeting this summer, members went away very impressed, not only with Garth and his devotion to the game, but about the upcoming season.

When Garth talked of the importance of proper nutrition for the players he indicated that he was providing snacks for the team each day out of his own pocket. That prompted members of the Gridley Rotary to step in and take action to help. It was not long before members of Rotary's Community Service Committee met with fellow Rotary member and Gridley Unified School's Superintendent Rick Rubino to plan how Rotary and the community at-large could support the football team with nutritional snacks.

The program dubbed "Friday Night Fuel," prompted the need for professional nutrition advice. A meeting was arranged with the Superintendent and the dietitians from Orchard Hospital's Nutrition Department, Registered Dietician Shauna Huston and Registered Dietician and UR Manager Julie Thompson. In that meeting, arrangements were made for the dietitians to present to the football team on August 10 regarding the do's and don'ts of proper nutrition before, during and after a strenuous practice or game. Football players and coaches learned how to fuel their bodies with the proper nutrition and how to properly hydrate before, during and after a game.

The next step was for the District to purchase a commercial, three door refrigerator that was, ironically, delivered on the same day, and aptly at the same time the meeting with the players was taking place. The refrigerator was placed in the weight room to be filled with the right snacks and only accessible by the coaches.

"We are here to give you the proper information regarding what snacks you should be choosing. This is good nutritional information for any athlete to repair and rebuild muscle. You are all still growing and you need extra nutrition. You will grow until you are about 20 years old,” Thompson stated as she introduced the website www.myplate.gov which shows the five different food groups including fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese.

The Orchard Hospital employees were happy to see that all of the players had bottled water with them rather than unhealthy sodas and soft drinks.

"We get energy from the foods we eat and the Rotary Club is getting involved to make sure you have healthy snacks provided," Thompson stated.

They went on to explain that a player has about two hours before he needs to replace carbohydrates at practice, which means, if they don’t eat a snack in the middle of practice, they will become slow and sluggish.

They stressed the importance of protein for muscle growth and repair - more proteins equals more muscle.

They did state that it is possible to eat too much protein which can turn into fat instead of muscle, and that it can be harmful for the kidneys.

The nutritionists suggested having a full meal three to four hours before a practice with a medium amount of protein and another small snack of carbohydrates 30 minutes before practice. The players were told to have a small snack 30 minutes after practice with carbohydrates, including healthy snacks such as apples and peanut butter, or a mix of carbohydrates and protein together such as unsalted pretzels and string cheese or whole grain crackers and tuna, an English muffin with cream cheese, or a whole wheat tortilla with low fat cheese. The value of low-fat Greek yogurt with trail mix was also discussed along with the benefits of dried fruit and nuts.

The need for hydration was also discussed because it can affect coordination, concentration and endurance.

"If you don't eat after a practice you won't replace energy. You are also breaking down muscles in the weight room. If you don't get protein you are wasting your effort in the weight room by stressing the muscle and then not rebuilding it," Huston stated.

Gridley High Principal Joey Adame told the players, "We are trying to make sure our kids eat after a practice and not waiting for hours. We will have something available for a snack, so your hard work is not for nothing,"

Rubino thanked the Orchard Hospital employees and told the players that they should listen to their advice as they are the experts and that nutrition is what they do for a living.

"They are giving us their expertise because we don't want you losing ground after working out.” He explained that the refrigerator will be opened by the coaches when it is time for a snack.

“It is Rotary's commitment to be the driving force to raise the funds to provide the snacks before and after practice because what we know is when left to your own devices you may not get anything to eat. We know a lot more science now than many years ago and how important the nutritional aspect is,” Thompson stated

Rubino asked for a round of applause for Orchard Hospital nutritionists and the Rotary Club for making the program possible that will begin with football and be available for other sports as well.

Gridley Rotary Club has started the fund with a donation of $500 and asks other service organizations, parents and sports enthusiasts to help the program feed the athletes.

Gridley Rotary is accepting monetary donations for the “Friday Night Fuel” program to ensure that the players get the healthy snacks they need. Checks can be made out to Gridley Unified School District with the memo reading "Friday Night Fuel" and mailed to 429 Magnolia Street, Gridley, CA 95948.