Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Charles Ashford, UNT

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Faculty & Staff Spotlight: Charles Ashford, UNT

Charles Ashford came to UNT World almost five years ago from Texas Tech via London, England. He's built the Mean Green sports nutrition program from scratch, fueling UNT's student-athletes for optimal performance. And just look at the recent success of the Mean Green. No one chants M-V-P! for the sports nutritionist, but perhaps the proof really is in the pudding. It isn't easy to teach teenagers that to eat to meet their energetic demands their diet will look a lot different from regular students. As might be expected, one of his biggest challenges -- and a big difference between American and European athletes -- is weening these young guns off the golden arches and the like. Once a dreamer of fighting fires and a lifetime James Bond enthusiast, Charles keeps his own plate full, putting in long hours in the office and the classroom on his way to a Ph.D.


What is your favorite aspect about your job?
The opportunity to make a positive impact daily. I have a lot of interactions with student-athletes which provides plenty of chances to educate them on optimal performance nutrition practices. When it all comes together, it gives me a lot of pride in getting to play a small role in their success.

What inspired you to pursue your field of expertise?
I knew I always wanted to be involved and work in sports. During my undergraduate degree, I got exposed to exercise physiology and how nutrition could impact performance which really sparked my interest. Once I knew a career in sports nutrition existed, it was always my goal to make it come to fruition for myself. 

When student-athletes arrive on campus, what is the biggest challenge in adjusting their eating habits? 
I think most student-athletes have typically gotten by on their talent alone. Once they step foot on a college campus, the standard of competition and demands of training increase exponentially. Trying to meet those demands can be difficult to navigate and it is our staff’s responsibility to help teach the student-athletes how they can better align their nutrition to their goals to support health, performance and recovery. Trying to get some of the fundamentals in place early is always a goal of ours to help support those needs.

You work primarily with student-athletes who play football and softball. Do you see a difference in the eating habits and nutritional knowledge between male and female student-athletes?
Not as many as you may think. I think both can be heavily influenced by social media platforms and misinformation which exists online. It is our job to build credibility with the athletes as a trusted source of nutrition information that they can seek for advice. For example, getting athletes to understand eating for optimal performance and meeting their energetic demands means their diet will likely look different from your typical college student. 

You last worked at Texas Tech following a move from London. Are eating/nutritional habits among athletes quite different in the United States compared to the United Kingdom?
Yes. I think cultural differences certainly exist when it comes to dietary choices between European and American athletes. Battling the low cost and convenience of fast food in the U.S. is certainly a challenge!

What employee benefit or activity would you like to see added to UNT World? 
Collegiate athletics is a dynamic environment with large time demands which doesn’t allow for typical working hours, especially for support staff. Additional incentives such as bonuses or overtime pay would be a small step to show those efforts are appreciated. 

What is your proudest work moment?
Anytime I can instill beneficial long-term habits which will impact individuals well beyond their athletics career, I am proud. Regarding sports, seeing athletes I have had the opportunity to work with performing in the professional ranks is cool. Knowing you played a small part in their development and journey is very satisfying. 

What is your proudest non-work moment?
Self-funding my own graduate studies out of pocket and working toward my Ph.D. whilst combining the demands of my job. Although challenging, it reminds me human beings are capable of far more than we probably give ourselves credit for. 

What is a fact about you that may surprise your work colleagues?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a firefighter. 

Movie?: I am a big James Bond fan. I am looking forward to seeing who is going to replace Daniel Craig!
Place to visit?: Home. Although I have been in the U.S. for nearly eight years now, I always enjoy visiting my friends and family. I value those opportunities more and more as I get older. 
Restaurant?: Nando’s is a Portuguese chicken restaurant which is very popular in the UK. It is always my first stop when I make a trip home.