As a high school student, Jessica Pastuf ’18 dreamed of one day working as an NFL dietician.
That dream led her to UNC Greensboro to pursue a bachelor of science in nutrition, and then to the University of Utah, where she completed her master’s in sports nutrition.
Now, less than three years after her UNCG graduation, she plays an integral role in promoting the high performance fueling habits of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they prepare to compete in the Super Bowl.
For Pastuf, dreaming big has paid off.
Pastuf joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in July as part of the performance nutrition staff. She helps plan and execute 15-18 team meals per week, in addition to working with athletes on their individual nutritional needs, such as maintaining weight, hydration, and avoiding cramping on game days.
“What I love most about this position is that I have the ability to influence a large group of people’s nutrition over a long period of time. It’s a pretty special setting.”
Pastuf works closely with the team’s culinary staff and kitchen manager to plan menus and source the best quality ingredients.
“We plan meals in conjunction with the progression of their practices throughout the week. So later in the week, when they have harder practices, we have more energy-dense meals. But we’re also making sure that they have a good variety of vegetables, different sources of protein, whole grains, etc. throughout the week.”
Prior to her role with the Buccaneers, Pastuf worked as part of the performance nutrition team for the Utah Jazz. She completed her dietetics internship with University of Utah Athletics, working specifically with the ski and snowboard teams, and completed her master’s degree capstone project with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the national governing body for Olympic ski and snowboarding.
Pastuf credits her time at UNCG – both inside and outside of the classroom – for helping set the stage for her professional success.
Her undergraduate thesis project with Dr. Lenka Shriver, and taking NTR 309: Quantity Food Production with Professor Amy Moyer, were pivotal experiences. She also worked as a resident advisor for three years, a position that taught her teamwork and leadership skills that she continues to draw on today.
More than anything, Pastuf is thankful for the support she received from both faculty and staff. She remembers talking to a couple professors about her decision to go to Utah for her master’s. Dr. Ron Morrison was confident that she would flourish there, but he also told her that if it wasn’t the best fit, she would be welcomed back to UNCG with open arms.
“That conversation was so reassuring, and I feel like that moment exemplifies all of my interactions at UNCG.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, Pastuf will be focused on supporting the team in their fueling habits leading up to the game.
What does it feel like to be a part of the biggest day in U.S. sports?
“It’s pretty surreal. It’s been really special, and I’m just trying to cherish and enjoy every moment.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Jessica Pastuf