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Ithaca College puts emphasis on diet with new sports nutrition consultant

Shira+Evans+06+joined+the+Ithaca+College+athletic+department+as+a+sports+nutrition+consultant.+Evans+specializes+in+relative+energy+deficiency%2C+disordered+eating%2C+eating+disorder+care+and+is+the+only+sports+nutrition+consultant+in+the+Liberty+League.
Courtesy of Shira Evans
Shira Evans ’06 joined the Ithaca College athletic department as a sports nutrition consultant. Evans specializes in relative energy deficiency, disordered eating, eating disorder care and is the only sports nutrition consultant in the Liberty League.

Although training and competition experience appear to be the most important role in becoming an elite athlete, it is the elements below the surface that truly allow athletes to excel.

In December 2023, the Ithaca College athletics department announced that it hired Shira Evans ’06 as a sports nutrition consultant. Since her introduction to the program, Evans has worked with nearly all varsity teams on campus in cooking workshops and sport-specific nutrition programming.

Susan Bassett ’79, associate vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, said sports nutrition is a performance area she has been looking to expand upon since her own return to the athletics department. Similar to the Leadership Academy curriculum that is offered to student-athletes at the college, Bassett said Evans will be a readily available resource.

“It’s similar to Greg Shelley being a consultant for leadership,” Bassett said. “Now, Shira Evans is a consultant for nutrition and sports performance. A few things aligned and I think it was an area that I felt like we needed to improve, so we decided to give Shira a try and so far the feedback has been so positive.”

Evans’ hiring is a relatively rare occurrence in collegiate sports. Evans is the first officially listed nutrition consultant on any Liberty League staff. What makes this standout even more is that the hiring of a nutrition specialist is not even universal in Division l. Out of the 65 Power Five schools in Division l, 61 have a sports dietician, while only 31 schools outside of the Power Five have one on staff.

Evans is an expert in the fields of relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S), disordered eating and eating disorder care. She said that outside of the workshops she has conducted with teams, she is also a resource available for individual athletes.

“I’ll be able to support student-athletes for any type of nutrition related concern,” Evans said. “Say an athlete is going through ACL reconstructive surgery, nutrition makes a big impact. Or maybe they’re an athlete who is struggling with a lot of nutrient deficiencies or RED-S and is needing support with that. Any sort of nutrition related concern, they can meet with me one-on-one confidentially.”

Prior to Evans’ hiring, the athletics department hosted a nutrition webinar for athletes at the beginning of each semester. Bassett said that although many of the meetings were beneficial, the material was becoming dated and that Evans’ practice will keep the programming more current.

A former collegiate athlete herself, having competed for the Bombers’ cross country and track and field teams, Evans said that being able to give back to the athletics community is what she loves most about her job.

“I’ve also experienced my trials and tribulations of learning how to figure out what works best for me in terms of fueling for performance, and I think it’s so fun getting to support athletes of all diverse backgrounds and sports,” Evans said. “Being able to educate and empower them, whether it’s about a performance related goal or to help improve their own relationship with  food or their body as an athlete. It’s just super rewarding getting to work with student-athletes.”

Jennifer Potter ’92, head coach of the women’s track and field team, coached Evans during her tenure as an athlete. The two reconnected in June 2023 when Potter and Erin Dinan, head coach of the women’s cross country team, attended a women in sports conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

There, Potter said she and Dinan began to pick Evans’ brain about how she might interact with the student-athletes at the college and the particular issues they have been noticing.

“We went to lunch with her and got more into like, ‘Hey, how would you do this for us?’ And that’s how the conversation started,” Potter said. “We were at one point thinking maybe we could bring her in, maybe bring somebody else in, but the more we met with Shira, the more we were like, ‘Wow, if we could get her on board with our department she would be a huge asset.’”

From there, Potter said the men’s and women’s cross country teams, track and field teams and swimming and diving teams joined together in fundraising efforts to have Evans visit campus late in the fall semester. Upon her arrival, she met with those six teams, the athletic training staff, the medical staff, the head coaches and the strength and conditioning team.

Potter said Evans’ programming was both sport and event specific, which is extra important in a sport like track and field.

“I think that’s what makes her very unique,” Potter said. “We did a session with our endurance athletes and then we did a session with our strength athletes separately. There’s so many great topics that she can cover.”

Beginning in January, Evans began to have those sport-specific workshops with more varsity teams on campus. First-year student Ainsley Grant, a member of the college’s field hockey team, said her team joined Evans for a cooking workshop and a nutrition presentation. She said the workshops allowed her team to get more comfortable talking about and working with food.

“We were given a couple of breakfast recipes to choose from and we chose pancakes and smoothies,” Grant said. “Shira was there to guide us, but it was very much student-led. The intention was for it to be a recipe we could bring back into our lives and cook for ourselves.”

Transitioning from high school to collegiate athletics can be a big jump in workload for many athletes. As a first-year student, Grant said the workshops with Evans have helped her to navigate the fuel she needs for the amount of training she endures.

“I find myself in the dining hall thinking, ‘What will this meal do for my body and what can I add to it to fuel my body better?’” Grant said. “We’ve been in the dining hall picking out meals and thinking, ‘This has good proteins, this has good fats,’ so I think we’re all just more mindful because of her.”

As disordered eating becomes increasingly more common among female athletes, Grant said Evans’ professionalism surrounding the topics helped her teammates to feel more comfortable asking questions about how to adequately fuel for practice and competition.

“I know with women athletes, it can be a tricky topic,” Grant said. “There’s a lot of body image issues and there’s a standard of what a female student athlete should look like, and [Evans] was really emphasizing that you can eat what you want. She placed emphasis on really snacking and fueling before practice, and my team has really taken to that. We’re all pretty thankful for her.”

Returning to her alma mater, Evans said she feels a personal connection to the college’s athletics program and is most looking forward to giving back to athletes like herself.

“When I was a student athlete, I think these types of resources were so needed for the general student-athlete population for so many reasons,” Evans said. “It feels super exciting to be able to give back in that capacity, getting to work with current student-athletes and giving them this type of resource. I think this is something that’s needed at any sort of school.”

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Tess Ferguson
Tess Ferguson, Former Sports Editor
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