The snacks are not designed to be rewards, like the ones players got as kids after their Pop Warner games. And coach Mike McCarthy isn’t channeling his inner Rex Ryan and telling his guys it’s time to go eat an [expletive] snack.
But give the Green Bay Packers this much: For all those passionate fans of theirs who have been screaming to Do something! about the team’s seemingly annual injury epidemic, McCarthy is doing plenty – including feeding his guys during practice.
From altering the in-season practice schedule to tapering down the intensity of each training-camp practice to using GPS monitoring and other technology to track players’ vital signs and exertion levels, McCarthy is delivering on his promise to get to the bottom of why his team has been bitten by the injury bug more than any other team over the past three years.
“It’s the game that this is turning into. It’s turning into a scientific game,” said veteran fullback John Kuhn, who is entering his ninth NFL season, tying him for the second-longest tenure on the roster. “Because, where do you go to get your competitive edge now? You crawl under every rock and look around every corner to find it.”
And around one of those corners is the team dining hall. Last year, as part of the renovation project and football facility expansion at the south end of the stadium, the team built a new cafeteria. And on Sunday, McCarthy officially announced the hiring of Adam Korzun as the team’s director of performance nutrition.
Korzun had already started working with the Packers players before the official announcement came down Sunday, and one of the small alterations he made was having athletic trainers distribute snacks during what the Packers call “regeneration periods” during practice. The periods actually began in training camp last season in another attempt to reduce injuries, meant to emphasize hydration and allow the players to get their heart rates down before returning to intense on-field work.
While McCarthy said the Jell-O like snacks that the players have been eating – Clif Bar Shot Bloks, which are packed with carbohydrates and caffeine – were available to players last year on the sideline, this year trainers are going onto the field with Tupperware containers filled with the gelatin squares and other assorted treats. It was one of the noticeable changes at the team’s first training-camp practice on Saturday morning, and the practice continued Sunday.
“I had one thing, it kind of tasted like a dessert. It was some chocolate-peanut butter thing,” Kuhn said. “And then I had a fig bar.
“I tell you what, morning practices are tough to eat before. So it’s tough to really do your body justice going into a practice when you have to be down there at 8 o’clock. So having that on the field is a huge benefit for me today, because I felt myself at times where I was a tiny bit hungry and they came out with those things and it was great.”
As he has with the GPS systems and other behind-the-scenes changes he’s made, McCarthy tried to downplay the significance of the snacks when asked about them after Sunday’s practice. He did acknowledge, though, that there has been a change.
“It’s really something that we have here in the cafeteria that they’ve added to on the field,” McCarthy said.
And it’s all part of the team’s global approach to help keep players healthy. Another addition this season: Players are wearing what they call “sweat patches,” which measure their perspiration and monitor how much sodium they lose through sweating. That allows them to replenish the right amount to stay hydrated. According to two players, the patches are from sports-drink giant Gatorade.
“Mine fell off. As soon as I put it on I knew mine was going to fall off because we do a lot of hand-to-hand stuff as cornerbacks,” veteran Jarrett Bush said. “And as soon as we started, it came off. So I have a little fault in my science.
“But it’s all to make sure you play at an optimal level.”
And the key to that, according to several players, is putting whatever it is – technology, nutrition, alternative training techniques – to use and making it work for them. If it improves their performance, and in turn the team’s, then it will have worked.
“There’s a strategy behind this, and we won’t know until we have hard evidence on how this plays out – how guys’ bodies feel and how we perform in the games,” Kuhn said. “That’s ultimately what it’s all about.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.