It’s time for breakfast and more than 50 NFL football players show up. For Joey Blake ’12, this is not an anxiety dream; it’s a great reason to get up in the morning. Blake has two years under his belt as the head dietitian for the Los Angeles Rams and revels in his work. Responsible for planning all team meals throughout the season, the 30-year-old “food guy” has gotten to know the players well, not just by name and position, but also weight, body composition, daily caloric needs and fitness goals.

So what’s for breakfast? “Avocado toast. It’s whole-grain bread, topped with avocado spread, tomatoes and eggs. Our guys like that a lot,” Blake said. He makes sure the toast is on the menu at least twice a week.

Growing up in Canton, Blake, a 2007 graduate of Pisgah High School, always has been interested in food. “My mom did a great job keeping us involved in the kitchen. Then, as I got older, I started reading about nutrition, made some dietary changes and liked how I felt,” he said.

Blake explored the link between physical well-being and diet while majoring in nutrition and dietetics at WCU. His interest deepened during a four-month student internship at IMG Academy, a sports training facility in Bradenton, Florida. He also had internships at the University of Virginia, where he worked with Randy Bird, director of sports nutrition, and at the University of Tennessee, under the tutelage of Allison Maurer, former sports dietitian now with the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I was always fortunate with the internships and the great mentors I had the opportunity to work with,” he said.

The career field for sports nutritionists, rarely heard of 15 years ago, has seen fast growth as both college and professional sports teams learn more about the link between diet and athletic performance. In 2013, only one year after graduating from WCU, Blake was named director of football nutrition at the University of South Carolina. At the time, he was the only sports dietitian in the country assigned to football only. In 2017, the Rams’ Sean McVay, one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history, hired an even younger man, Blake, to be the team’s dietitian. Blake works with about 30 catering companies in the Los Angeles area to provide the team’s meals.

His primary goal is to “help our guys get in tune with their bodies and understand that diet affects how they feel,” he said. “I’m not the food police. I’m not a guy who hovers over their shoulders telling them not to eat something. I’m here to help them create an edge to their performance and see how nutrition can give the team a competitive advantage.”

Not surprisingly, the Rams’ menus emphasize whole, non-processed foods, including most fruits and vegetables, and high-quality protein. Fish and chicken are preferred over beef or pork. A popular salad includes baby greens, romaine lettuce, sliced strawberries, glazed walnuts and feta cheese, with a topping of raspberry vinaigrette dressing. One of the players’ favorite snacks is the “Berry Bash Shake,” a blender concoction of Greek yogurt; milk, almond milk or orange juice; and sliced kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.