In his office, Matt Frakes turned to his computer screens. One of them had a table of body weight reports highlighted in green and red. The numbers, collected by members of the strength and conditioning staff, told him if LSU’s players were within their predetermined weight ranges.
Another screen showed hydration information, providing a guide to how many electrolytes players needed to consume based on their cradles. Frakes checks the data daily. When a player falls below 5% of their target weight range, they will receive a notification on their phone. He can then set a plan.
“Everybody’s weight has fluctuated in some shape or form,” Frakes said. “We need to feed them back to make sure they stay consistent for weeks.”
The system helps Frakes, LSU’s assistant athletic director for sports nutrition, keep track of the entire football team. He needs to make sure everyone is eating and drinking the right things to perform at their best, especially as LSU moves further into the second half of the season against No. 7 Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon.
While some teams are fading later in the year, the Tigers are looking to step up. A lot will go into a strong finish. LSU needs to make defensive adjustments and become more consistent.
But players won’t be able to if their bodies can’t perform, a year-round responsibility that rests on themselves, the strength and conditioning department, athletic trainers and nutrition.
“We’re getting caught up now,” said senior linebacker Micah Baskerville, “but it’s about holding out all season.”
Brian Kelly values all three areas in his approach to player development, a key to this season and the future of LSU’s recovery program. LSU already had sports medicine physician Beau Lowery on the team when Kelly arrived, and he quickly hired strength and conditioning coordinator Jake Flint. Another of his earliest calls was to Frakes.
Kelly admired the nutrition center attached to the football operations building as he evaluated LSU, something he asked for but didn’t get at Notre Dame. Alongside chef Michael Johnson, Kelly wanted to have a dedicated nutritionist on the team to make the most of the available resources.
He worked last season with Frakes, a former Bowling Green full-back who has a PhD in nutrition and hospitality management.
“He’s kind of a unicorn in the field,” Kelly said. “I felt his reliability, knowledge and need for player development in this area were so great for the success I’ve had that he was a must hire.”
Frakes learned that Kelly left Notre Dame the same day his wife was scheduled for an induced labor. He attended a team meeting and went to the hospital for the birth of his daughter. Kelly called the next day. He congratulated Frakes and his wife and then offered him a job.
As Frakes considered the position, he weighed the proximity to home against the possibility. A native of Columbus, Ohio, he happily lived in the same area of the country as his family after his father died of cancer a few years ago. His wife also had family in Cleveland, and his son went to a good school.
But Frakes thought he could make a difference. Also, LSU already had the infrastructure he needed.
“It’s all there,” Frakes said. “I just had to organize it.”
Frakes started watching the players. He wanted to know their past nutritional traps and preferences in order to shape his program around team culture. He collected injury histories to investigate if any ailments were related to diet or body composition. At one point, he sent out a questionnaire to ask what food they liked.
“I have to guide them with the habits I want them to develop,” Frakes said. “That means I have to be patient with their palates too. You try to change habits and choices throughout your life.”
Once he had enough information, Frakes set individual weekly target weight and body composition goals. He worked with Jack Marucci, director of performance innovation, to base the ranges on the results of players in the same position in the NFL combine. Marucci, a longtime member of LSU’s athletic training staff, has been collecting data for years.
Players participated in the program as they watched the results on the field and looked at the regular tests that LSU conducted for their lean muscle mass, body fat percentage and bone marrow density. They learned how certain foods affected them and found that they couldn’t necessarily eat what they were used to pre-workout to meet Kelly’s expectations.
“I see if you do it right, your body looks bigger,” Baskerville said. “If you don’t do it right, your body doesn’t look good. If you do it his way, you will get good results.”
Cornerback Colby Richardson went through one of the most significant changes on the team. After arriving at 167 pounds as a transfer from McNeese State this summer, Frakes helped develop a plan for Richardson to reach 190 pounds by the start of preseason camp.
While training, Richardson had to increase his protein intake by five grams per week, starting with his bodyweight until he reached 190 grams. He ate four meals a day. As a starter at cornerback, he now weighs about 200 pounds.
“I tried to apply the blueprint they gave me to my life,” Richardson said. “It worked.”
Outside of his office, Frakes keeps supplements that players use every day. You take a baseline of 5,000 milligrams of vitamin D, 150 milligrams of magnesium, a probiotic to help maintain gut bacteria, vitamin K, and a standard multivitamin. Frakes then adds supplements like collagen if someone has a specific injury, or iron to fix a nutrient deficiency until he can teach the player what to eat instead.
To make it work, Frakes works closely with strength and conditioning staff, athletic trainers and Johnson. The whole operation can go haywire if they don’t communicate. Frakes needs to know if injury rehab can be aided with nutrition and what the upcoming workouts are like so players have enough energy to lift.
From there, Frakes and Johnson adapt the menu to the needs of the team. Midweek, Frakes asks for more foods with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants to help speed up recovery from the last game. They try to incorporate Louisiana flavors.
Frakes can’t monitor every player at the same time, so he uploads to an app on his phone what they should choose at the nutrition center based on their body composition goals. Players should record seven meals a week on the platform. They also have a map directing them to local restaurants like Frutta Bowls and Torchy’s Tacos.
“You can visually see what it means to fuel up for performance,” Frakes said. “You can choose the articles because sometimes there is a lot of information. You have to tell them exactly what to eat.”
He also tells them when to eat. In general, Frakes asks the team to have breakfast before 9:30 a.m., a big lunch at noon, and dinner before 7:30 p.m. Timing is important, so he coordinates with the academic staff to learn the class schedules. He wants players’ energy to peak at the right time, and when someone loses weight, changing their schedule often offers an answer.
Recently, at mid-season, LSU conducted another round of testing to assess player body composition. Frakes said the results will allow staff to reassess them during the open date next week to ensure players haven’t lost muscle mass between games, which will help them prepare for the stretch run.
“If so,” Frakes said, “we know they need to address that and tell them, ‘You’re not eating enough and you’re not eating enough quality protein sources. So we have to start again immediately. You need to get back into it so you can stay healthy for the rest of this half of the season.'”
The longer his nutrition program lasts, the more embedded it becomes into LSU’s routine. Frakes sees a room with machines, more employees, and a bachelor’s degree in sports nutrition. He has big plans.
For now, Frakes wants players to understand their diet choices and the importance of consistency in what they consume. LSU is trying to change the way Kelly works in season one, and what they eat makes a difference.
Not just for the present, but for the future.