For junior soccer player Kate Leachman, walking into the Lewis Training Table was a time for relaxation and to hang out with friends over a meal.
She knew that when she walked in she could confidently go to the different food stations and get a sufficient amount of the food she needed. She knew that the food was carefully made with the best ingredients, and that she could ask the nutrition staff for advice on what to get.
This was the reality for all Nebraska student-athletes until the Lewis Training Table, like many other people and programs within Nebraska athletics, was taken away due to COVID-19.
The Lewis Training Table, the athlete-only dining center, was suspended after the original postponement of the football season in August due to COVID-19 and Athletic Department budget cuts. Last month, the Training Table reopened for the football team as they are set to compete starting on Oct. 24.
The Training Table is an important aspect of the student-athlete experience and was the main source of food and nutrition for most student-athletes. Now, a majority of student-athletes are on their own to keep themselves healthy.
“Having a Training Table while in season was critical for our performance. When we had it, I had breakfast, lunch and dinner there,” Leachman said. “That was how I got more of my meals so that took care of all the food for me, I didn't really use anything else.”
Senior Theresa Pujado, a multi-position player on the soccer team, enjoyed the training table because she knew what she was eating was healthy.
“You don't have to wonder what ingredients were in the food, or whether it was cooked or fried, they knew,” Pujado said. “We got a good amount of each food group too such as carbs, fruit, and vegetables so it was easy to have a balanced diet.”
Another aspect that many athletes felt was lost was the social part of the Training Table. The chance to not only meet up with members of the same team, which already happened in practice and through games, but also with members of different Husker sports teams.
Being able to talk with athletes of different sports also let people understand the similarities and differences between their experiences.
“Most of the time we all showed up at the same time so it was like a team dinner. It was nice because you never really ate alone,” Pujado said. “We would also sit down with gymnastics, wrestlers, and softball players and just talk to them and ask how they're doing. The Training table was when I got to talk to people outside of my sport.”
However, despite the absence of the Training Table for almost all sports, the nutrition staff has still implemented various ways to continue supporting their athletes. This includes the continued supply of nutrition and supplements for all student-athletes during the workouts. These were given out at “satellite nutrition areas” by the Nutrition Department.
Furthermore, student-athletes also continue to receive $10 worth of Husker Bucks for weekend dining, and the nutrition staff continues to work directly with student-athletes in all sports to educate them on eating healthy.
Although, like most athletes, Leachman and Pujado miss the Training Table, both feel the nutrition staff, specifically Lisa Kopecky, the assistant director of nutrition, has been a valuable resource in the absence of the Training Table. In fact, both Pujado and Leachman have found bright spots in the situation, most notably the opportunity to learn how to cook more and become more independent.
“[Kopecky] is absolutely great,” Leachman said. “She has taught us how to cook certain things, how to shop on a budget, how to meal plan, they go through and give us ads for the grocery store and give us recipes based off of that and go through how much you need based on how much you do that day. They have done a lot more with teaching us how to be more self-sufficient because we never have really had to do that before.”
Pujado said that cooking for herself has also taught her to consciously think about where she is getting all her nutrients. This forces her to pay more attention to what she is putting in her body. She said that while she misses the convenience of the Training Table and that she’d never gone grocery shopping before its closure, she’s glad she is learning valuable life skills.
Both Leachman and Pujado have benefited greatly from the Training Table and benefit further from its education surrounding cooking.
“My nutrition has definitely changed,” Leachman said. “I am still conscious of eating healthy foods but it's a lot harder to eat as much as I should sometimes. For me personally, I am not always hungry after practice so if I don't want to make food I won't, whereas with the Training Table it was easier to make myself eat because I knew I needed the food.”
Yet despite these obstacles, both know they have a great staff to lean on.
“Our nutrition staff is the best in the country. They do so much for us and all of them are so amazing. I am very thankful that I have them,” Pujado said. “I truly believe they are doing the best they can to make sure we can perform to the best of our ability now, and will continue to when we get back to playing.”