You are what you eat. Or so the saying goes.

While that isn’t entirely true, Maddie Slagle, who chose the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Online Master of Science in Agricultural and Life Sciences Program for the added flexibility as a student-athlete on the volleyball team, found that other female student-athletes had a knowledge gap when it comes to nutrition and athletic performance.

“A lot of young women don’t understand how important nutrition is,” said Slagle, whose final project looks at collegiate athletes’ knowledge of nutrition and sports performance. “They say they value nutrition but don’t know what it takes to amplify performance.”

When you eat is just as important, Slagle said, such as before, during, and after practice or a game. Tentatively, Slagle found that that is where the knowledge gap exists. As a result, an athlete lacks enough fuel to sustain maximum performance.

One course taken early on in her graduate school career completely changed Slagle’s perspective on food as fuel both on and off the court – Advanced Nutrition and Physical Performance.

“That made me realize I need food or fuel during competition. Specifically, how many grams I need to raise glucose levels and what I need to keep my energy up,” said Slagle, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “In my courses, I always thought of my athletics angle and how I should take things into consideration.”

Slagle came to Virginia Tech having never lived outside of Iowa and wanting to experience something new as she finished her athletic eligibility.

“I fell in love with Virginia Tech and the New River Valley. The mountains are different than back home, and the campus is so pretty,” she said. “I’ve had new academic experiences, too. I had agricultural-focused courses for the first time that gave me a new perspective and mindset on nutrition as a whole.”

Slagle’s concentration in the Online Master of Science in Agricultural and Life Sciences Program – applied nutrition and physical activity concentration – led her to learn from talented faculty who helped her beyond the classroom and manage being a student-athlete. These faculty also helped her complete an action-based research project in addition to regular coursework. Jennifer Zabinsky, a performance nutrition consultant with the Virginia Tech Athletics Department who also serves in multiple roles in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, and Kerry Redican, a professor in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, played a critical role in Slagle’s success in the classroom.

“So many of the faculty have been incredibly approachable and willing to help me on my road to earning my master’s,” Slagle said. “Jennie and Kerry just really went above and beyond for me during my time in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

Part of that help was walking Slagle through her first data collection process for her thesis, including navigating approval from the Institutional Review Board, which protects the rights and welfare of human research subjects that participate in research activities at the university.

Using a qualitative research method, Slagle interviewed 10 Virginia Tech student-athletes about their sports knowledge and nutrition perspective, including the resources they use for gathering nutritional information. In particular, she is studying how this knowledge is gained from social interactions and other, outside influences, including websites and news outlets.

Following commencement, Slagle hopes to work in athletics nutrition, particularly at the collegiate level.

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