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‘Small Town Kim’ Has Big Job as the Team Dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers

KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Kim Schwabenbauer stood on the sideline at Acrisure Stadium.

A grin crossed her face. She wondered for a second just how she had gotten there.

It was a place she never thought she’d be, even just a few months ago.

Yet, here the Keystone High School graduate was during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first preseason game of 2022, making sure the players in black and gold were staying hydrated and fueled as the team’s new dietitian.

“How did I get the job? That’s a great question?” Schwabenbauer said, chuckling. “I knew the previous (Steelers’ dietitian); his name is Matt Darnell and he is a friend of mine in the world of research and academia. We saw each other at conferences, and when he knew he was moving on to a different position, he actually said (to the Steelers), ‘This is who I really think you should get.’ That was a high compliment.”

When Steelers’ head athletic trainer John Norwig called her to see if she was interested, Schwabenbauer thought it was a gag at first.

“I thought someone might be putting me on,” Schwabenbauer said, laughing. “But I looked him up. He was the real deal.”

The Steelers were impressed enough to offer her the job. Schwabenbauer gladly accepted this new challenge.

It’s not as if Schwabenbauer’s life was mundane before her new gig.

She’s an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at PennWest Clarion. She’s the CEO and founder of Fuel Your Passion, her own sports nutrition counseling and coaching business. She was a professional triathlete from 2010 to 2017. She also has a family, Kyle, her husband, and two children — Emma, 6, and Elaina, 2, who also keep her busy.

When she told her colleagues at Clarion about her job with the Steelers, they worried Schwabenbauer was leaving the university.

But the Steelers are one of just four NFL teams that do not have a full-time team dietitian. Schwabenbauer’s work with Pittsburgh is as a consultant.

The workload certainly keeps Schwabenbauer busy with the Steelers.

There are meals for about 160 players and staff to plan and cater. There’s getting to know each individual player well, their eating habits, their nutritional needs — and even how much they sweat.

“You have to give them what they like because it is important that they like the food or they won’t eat it,” she added. “It’s getting to understand what the preferences of the team are, and also tying that into actual evidence-based research for what works with athletes like football players.”

Schwabenbauer is accustomed to working with endurance athletes. As a professional endurance athlete herself up until a few years ago, she became an expert on the dietary needs of that group of competitors.

Football players have vastly different requirements.

“I understand the differences in their very anaerobic, power-based sport,” she said. “They’re going all-out for 15 seconds and then there’s a rest, and then all-out effort again.”

She also has to cater to the needs of different position groups.

“What a 300-pound lineman needs is different than what a 180-pound wide receiver needs,” she said.

Running backs have their own unique challenge.

Backs in the NFL tend to lose weight during the course of a season because of the extreme physical demands of their position.

“That’s actually the No. 1 thing I’m hearing,” Schwabenbauer said. “The running backs are so lean and mean they tell me they can’t maintain their weight. There are different needs throughout the team.”

Each player is also different. Some sweat more profusely than others.

The “salty sweaters,” as Schwabenbauer calls them, need more hydration with higher sodium content.

Of course, Schwabenbauer knows all about pushing a body to its limits.

She completed her first Ironman Triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon) in 2008 and turned pro in 2010.

Schwabenbauer competed in the world championships in Hawaii four times. In 2014, she was ranked as one of the top 20 female professional triathletes in the world.

She finished in the top three in Ironman competitions four times, placing second in Lake Placid, N.Y., in 2015, second in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 2017, and second again that year in an event in Mont Tremblant, Canada, where she had the fastest marathon time of three hours and six minutes.

In 2015 in Melbourne, Australia, she was third overall, but finished the marathon in 3:01.

Her career as a triathlete certainly impressed some of the Steeler players.

“I mentioned that during my introductory speech, my little two minutes of fame,” she said, chuckling. “Some of them still say, ‘Triathlon!’ when they see me.”

Schwabenbauer was a runner on the cross country and track and field teams at Keystone. She graduated in 1997 and went to Penn State University, where she eventually walked on to and made the cross country and track teams for the Nittany Lions.

Schwabenbauer is certainly enjoying this new foray in pro football.

“It’s exciting,” Schwabenbauer said. “I’m kind of surprised small town Kim ended up doing this. It wasn’t something I realized was going to be in the cards. So, it’s a really neat opportunity.”