Athletes, students flock to supplement shop in Como

Popular with students, the drinks can’t replace meals, nutritionists say.

Athletes, students flock to supplement shop in Como

Meghan Holden

After a long workout, University of Minnesota athletes head to Gopher Nutrition to fuel up and hang out.

The Herbalife shop on Como Avenue has become more popular with students as it caters more to University athletes, but the meal replacement shakes it offers can be unhealthy if used improperly, nutritionists say.

Gopher Nutrition opened in the University Technology Enterprise Center in 2011 but didn’t gain attention from students until it moved                                                                          to the Southeast Como neighborhood in February.

With the new location, owner Curt Wright is hoping to expand his store next door to offer a non-profit “study zone” for students who want to hang out after getting a Herbalife shake, which he said is a daily habit of most customers.

“I try to give customers whatever they want,” he said.

Katie Kasner, dietician at Boynton Health Service, said meal replacement shakes are effective for weight loss because they’re low in calories, but they shouldn’t replace eating a balanced diet.

“You’re definitely going to lose weight, but you’re not really learning how to eat,” she said.

Herbalife is an international company that sells nutrition, weight management and skin-care products through independent distributors. The company made $4.1 billion in 2012, according to its website.

Although Herbalife has been around since 1980, the company has grown in popularity recently. In July, Herbalife’s second-quarter profits jumped 18 percent from the same time period last year, according to a press release.

College towns have been a hub for Herbalife distributors because of a spike in young people’s interest in health, Wright said.

Gophers basketball forward Jackie Johnson said she comes in every day to hang out and get extra protein.

“It’s a good way to get a healthy meal in,” she said. “It’s a healthy version of Dairy Queen.”

While lounging on the couches after workouts, athletes get the three-step meal deal, which includes an aloe shot, tea and a protein shake.

While athletes use the shakes for extra protein, other customers usually use the shakes as a meal replacement to cut back on calories.

The convenience of a quick, low-calorie meal is attractive to people trying to lose weight, Wright said, adding that most of the shakes contain fewer than 300 calories.

Alyssa Melco, kinesiology junior and personal trainer at the University Recreation and Wellness Center, said she uses the shakes for “post-workout” protein and as an alternative to fast food.

“It’s a great option for people to have,” she said. “But you don’t want to just be using the shakes.”

Along with selling shakes, Wright provides wellness evaluations and fitness classes to introduce customers to a healthy lifestyle, he said.

Some customers say just having a shake makes them feel healthy.

Tori Dixon, Gophers volleyball middle blocker, said the shakes might have a placebo effect, but she likes how they make her feel.

“I feel better after having it,” she said. “It’s better than eating a bag of chips.”

Elizabeth Orke, a recent University graduate, said she goes to Gopher Nutrition because it motivates her to work out.

“I feel like I have a lot more energy,” she said. “You just feel good about yourself when you leave.”