For the past few years, the Drexel University men’s and women’s crew teams have welcomed the Center for Integrated Nutrition and Performance to the boathouse for the Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta — the largest collegiate regatta in the nation. The CINP has become more involved in Drexel Athletics over the past decade with the support of the university, Director of Athletics Eric Zillmer, alumni of Drexel Athletics and the current Drexel sports teams. For the Dad Vail Regatta, the CINP provided snacks, smoothies and the power-up gels known as Dragon Gels.
Nyree Dardarian, an assistant clinical professor for the Nutrition Sciences Department and the director for the CINP, was one of the pioneers for the Dragon Gels. Dragon gels were formulated in 2014, and were then offered to the players of the Philadelphia Union in 2015.
“We have a bunch of nutrition students that work with our student athletes,” Andrea Irvine, sports dietician and assistant director for the CINP, said.
Much of the CINP is now facilitated by students who bring many great ideas to the table for the staff. They work closely with the faculty of the CINP and make the Dragon Gels.
“They have a ton of ideas on how we can improve things over the years,” Kellsey Frank, sports dietician and assistant director for CINP, said.
“The Center for Nutrition and Performance is about eight years old. Typically when we first started the CINP, we were focused on weight management and the Drexel staff community. Over the past couple years, the CINP has been really driven by the students. Then Kellsey’s group really wanted to focus on athletics. Then each year, nutrition has become more and more involved. We try to top ourselves every year. Like what can we do that’s really fun and beneficial for the athletes every year? It’s evolving, and it’s always evolving. And that’s kind of how it started,” Irvine said.
This year, the students wanted to create a theme for the smoothies provided at the Dad Vail Regatta.
“They wanted to do a “Fire and Ice” theme. We have a red one, which is fire, and we put a blue Dragon Gel on the side, and then we have a blue one which is the ice with a red Dragon Gel. We used tart cherry juice this year. It has a lot of anti-inflammatory aspects to it. It’s really good for muscle recovery and for bouncing back, like for events like this when they raced twice yesterday and then once today.” Frank said.
“We love this atmosphere. This is our favorite event. It’s the perfect day,” Irvine added. “What could be better than hanging out at the boathouse, on the water, in Philadelphia?”
Even the students who volunteered to make the smoothies and keep all of the athletes fed and hydrated loved the event.
“It’s a really nice day for team bonding and Drexel bonding. Just getting everybody together,” Irvine said.
For the Dragons at the Dad Vail Regatta, many of the rowers look forward to having the Dragon Gels before the race, as well as all the smoothies and snacks that are made available to them.
“We prepackaged our Dragon Gels according to the boats. The coxswains are in charge of grabbing the gels to take them to the team,” Irvine said. “We usually have [the rowers] eat the gels on the way down. Use some powerade and some water, so usually by race time they can use the gels.”
Drexel University has 18 Division I athletic teams. The demand for nutrition support has increased over the years as more and more athletes and coaches are realizing just how important it is to their lives and their performances in competitions.
“We do support the other teams. But this is just a unique event. There are other teams that have events, but the Dad Vail is just so unique to crew. We give other teams the gels,” Irvine said. “Every team is supported a little differently depending on the team.”
“We’ve won [Dad Vail] six years in a row, and this could be the seventh. So we want to keep that going as long as we can. Within Division I athletics, collegiate athletics, everyone is almost on level playing fields. So what can you do to get that one little extra edge? Nutrition is one of those things,” Frank said.
“And the gels. Nobody else has Dragon Gels. Anything we can provide to give them the extra edge,” Irvine added. “Gels are a Drexel thing. It’s great. We associate gels with winning.”
The Dad Vail Regatta is not the last race for the Drexel rowing teams. Coming up, the women’s team will travel to the Colonial Athletic Association championships on the Cooper River in New Jersey May 19.
“This year, we’ll be going to CAAs. We will bring them gels and be there to support them,” Irvine said. “I have other student athlete alumni that have reached out to me. The teams that want to utilize us, utilize us. We try to touch every team in a certain way. The crew coaching staff really values nutrition, and they understand how important it is for performance. And the student athletes love it.”
“The more support we can provide for our student athletes, the better. We want them to feel that they are supported from multiple different facets within the university,” Frank added.
“I think that the student athletes are starting to understand how valuable sports performance is. I think everyone is getting on board with that,” Irvine said. “We love it. I mean, it’s fun. We like hanging with all the athletes. We feel lucky that they’ve made us part of their team today.”
For more information about the CINP and how you can get involved, visit https://drexel.edu/cnhp/practices/Center-for-Nutrition-Performance/.