Not every resource at Alabama is a piece of expensive, high-tech equipment.
Some products are even available at your local grocery store or, for Crimson Tide football players, inside the refrigerators within the Alabama weight room and dining facility.
Stocked up inside of those refrigerators are two of Alabama’s secret weapons.
One helps with building muscle. The other aids with muscle recovery while also promoting better sleep.
Fairlife milk and tart cherry juice.
Alabama has been buying Fairlife and endorsing it with players ever since it became available in early 2015.
Amy Bragg, the team’s director of performance nutrition, was part of a focus group in 2013 that evaluated Fairlife milk more than a year before it reached the market.
She came away very impressed with the milk and the idea behind it. As she tells Tide players, she believes Fairlife is better for them than regular milk.
Players can grab single-serve bottles from those refrigerators inside the weight room and dining facility. Alabama also uses Fairlife for the players’ protein shakes and with anything else you’d typically use regular milk.
Fairlife is filtered, lactose free and has more protein, more calcium and less sugar than regular milk.
A glass of regular skim milk contains eight grams of protein, 13 grams of sugar and 25 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium.
A glass of Fairlife skim milk has almost twice as much protein (13 grams), half the sugar (six grams) and a good amount more calcium (40 percent of the recommended daily amount).
“It having almost double the protein and much higher calcium content is very valuable for athletes, who need more protein than their non-athletic peers and for whom more and more bone health is an issue,” Bragg said.
The protein helps players add quality weight, like one of the team’s starting defensive backs from last year.
With assistance from Bragg and Fairlife milk, Levi Wallace added about 10 pounds of muscle during the 2017 offseason.
“With players that have that goal (of putting on weight), we’d have them use Fairlife in a structured way throughout the day,” Bragg said. “We would use it in addition to meals or as part of meals to add an extra 20 grams of protein.”
Alabama has regular one-percent of the Fairlife milk as well as three other flavors — chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
Chocolate is often the go-to flavor for use with protein shakes.
“We use chocolate the most to make shakes because we can take chocolate and add ice and some fiber and make it a shake for leaning out,” Bragg said, “or we can add peanut butter, Nutella, ice and protein powder and make it into something much more dense. We use it as a base for all kinds of shakes.”
Players like Deionte Thompson drink a lot of those single-serve bottles, though.
Thompson, the Tide’s star redshirt junior safety, typically drinks at least one bottle per day and will regularly go through two bottles after practice.
“The Fairlife milk, it just tastes better,” Thompson said. “I don’t know what it is about it, but it just tastes better. I tried to get my parents on it, but they stuck to regular milk. I got my mom on it, but my dad’s caught up in his old ways.”
The tart cherry juice isn’t quite as popular with players.
Some players, like Thompson, aren’t huge fans of that strong tart taste. But they still drink it because of the benefits.
Studies have shown that tart cherry juice has anti-inflammatory-like qualities and that it can reduce muscle soreness as well as symptoms of arthritis and gout.
For a 2010 study, long distance runners consumed either 24 ounces of tart cherry juice or a placebo cherry drink twice daily for the seven days leading up to a race and then on the day of the race.
The post-race pain was three times higher for the placebo group, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
It’s also been shown through studies that tart cherry juice can improve brain health, can strengthen the immune system and promotes better sleep.
“It was something I drank daily and made sure was in my routine to make sure that I was the best player that I could be for that week, especially with lifting a couple times a week and practicing as hard as we do,” Wallace said. “You always want to be back in top shape for the game. And Amy’s the best. If Amy says it’s good for you, I trust her.”
Bragg, who has been at Alabama since 2010 after six years at Texas A&M, has been endorsing tart cherry juice with athletes for the last 10 years, particularly because of the benefits with joint health, reducing muscle soreness and improving sleep quality.
The recommendation is for players to have two glasses per day — one early and one at bedtime — and to use it in conjunction with that other nutritional secret weapon.
“The cherry juice, I’ll drink it, but not as much as the Fairlife,” Thompson said. “That tart taste it has to it, sometimes I don’t like. But when I do drink it and drink it effectively, it eases the soreness out of my body.”
Matt Zenitz is an Alabama and Auburn reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mzenitz.