Denise Knapp

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Eat to Win Denise Knapp helping Owl athletes reach their potential one meal at a time KENNESAW, Ga…

Georgia (Jul 28, 2015)Eat to Win

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Denise Knapp helping Owl athletes reach their potential one meal at a time

KENNESAW, Ga. (July 29, 2015) —Denise Knapp, a registered dietitian, came to Kennesaw State University to work with student-athletes. Beyond the changes in their bodies and their eating habits, one of the most visible indicators that what she’s been preaching is sinking in is the multitude of chocolate milk mustaches across campus.

“Chocolate milk is a quick, inexpensive way for the athletes to recover after a hard workout,” said Knapp. “It’s a high-carb snack with some protein that helps them restore the glycogen in their muscles, which allows them to recover faster and help prevent soreness.”

Knapp joined the university in 2013 as the sports dietitian for the Department of Athletics and now also teaches nutrition in the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality.

As sports dietitian, Knapp works with students through the Department of Athletics’ OWLS Champions Initiative presented by Henssler Financial. This program helps develop athletes who are champions in the classroom, the community and in competition.

“A big part of the OWLS Champion Initiative is nutrition, and we are lucky to have Denise,” said Vaughn Williams, Kennesaw State’s director of athletics. “Proper nutrition is critical to an athlete’s success. You can’t say you want to perform at your highest level, athletically or academically, and only get two hours of sleep. You can’t say you want to perform at your highest level and go to Burger King.”

Over the past year and a half, Knapp has met with each of Kennesaw State’s 18 men’s and women’s athletic teams. She teaches them how to shop on a budget and make meals that help them perform at optimum levels.

And Knapp speaks from experience. As a hurdler at Kansas State, she lived the athlete’s lifestyle and had to balance preparing nutritious meals with grab-and-go options.

”I didn’t have a dietician and didn’t always make the best choices,” Knapp said. “But I was lucky to have the support of a good coach who encouraged me to eat better.”

According to Knapp, learning how to eat healthier is not something that comes naturally for most students, including student-athletes.  

“It starts with teaching them how to build not only muscle but a healthy plate,” she said.

Knapp teaches them how to eat and how to focus on eating throughout the day.

“It’s essential given the rigors of the life of student athletes who go from lifting in the morning, to classes, to practices, to study hall,” she said.  

And some even have part-time jobs. So it isn’t uncommon for Knapp to find out some athletes don’t eat throughout the day.

“Many of the student athletes skip breakfast, and then it’s 1 p.m. and they haven’t eaten anything,” she said.

In addition to meeting with the team in a group, Knapp works individually with student-athletes.

“I’ll have them keep a food journal so that we can see what they are eating and when they are eating it,” Knapp said.

She also gives them pictures of plates and what they should look for based on the level of their training that day.

To help them make better food choices, Knapp takes teams on field trips to the grocery store. And unlike many, Knapp doesn’t avoid those dreaded middle aisles.

 “Some people will say to stay away from the middle aisles. But these kids are in college and I know that that’s just not practical. They have very little time, so they’re shopping for quick, cheap meals,” Knapp said.

Knapp knows that one or two trips to the grocery store aren’t going to change the way students eat, but she’s hopeful that over time, the work she is doing will help them understand the importance of making the right food choices and ensuring they have enough fuel to be successful on and off the field. 


— by Tim Turner


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit