Davis to begin working with high school student-athletes on May 4

As a high school athlete, Ellen Davis constantly raised eyebrows, and that’s not hyperbole. She went by Ellen Ries back then when she put together one of the most decorated running careers in the history of Iowa high school athletics.

How fast could she run the 800 meters? As fast as she needed to in order to reach the finish line first. Seriously. She was that good. Her long stride, her focus, and her talent were equaled only by her competitive drive.

If she was in the race, the odds were good — pretty close to 100 percent, actually — that everyone else was battling for second. And every single one of those other runners knew it too.

Over her four years at North Linn High School, Davis won 13 state track titles and two state cross country crowns. She was a Drake Relays champion as well before embarking on a collegiate career at the University of Missouri.

And that’s where her story took a turn. In the short-term, it was for the worse. But as she looks back now at the big picture, she knows everything happened for a reason.

Those low moments? They made her into the person she is today, someone who dedicates her professional life to helping student-athletes learn the things she didn’t necessarily know as a 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old.

Davis was bitten by the injury bug over and over again during her early years at Missouri. An ankle injury just four weeks into her freshman year was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of three years, she sustained five stress fractures and no one could answer the most important question: Why?

“It was a hamster wheel of pain and sadness and a lot of fatigue,” Davis says now, thinking back to those early days at Missouri.

Davis went in search of her own answers and, thankfully, that led her in the direction of the dietetics program at Missouri. She learned about nutrition, about fueling her body, about how the food you put in your body is not only vital to performance, but also recovery.

It paid substantial dividends. By the time Davis exited Missouri, she had earned all-Big 12 honors and qualified for the 1,500 at the NCAA Championships.

“Part of me was a little frustrated because what could have been had I figured it out in the beginning, but the other end of the rope is that it happened for a reason,” Davis says. “I knew graduating from Mizzu that being a sports dietician would be my future.”

Welcome to Gilbert

Davis’s backstory is paramount to the present, as she gets set to embark on a new journey working with Gilbert High School’s student-athletes, their families, and our coaches over the next eight months. With the support of the Gilbert Athletic Boosters, Davis, who is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, was contracted through the end of the calendar year.

“The Gilbert activities department is so excited to have Ellen Davis on board with us,” Gilbert Activities Director Ian Smith said. “Her experience and knowledge as a sports nutritionist will give our student-athletes another tool to be able to be at their best on the field and in the  classroom.”

Davis has spent the better part of the past 14 years working in the performance nutrition field. In July of 2022, she launched The Performance Collective with the focus on supporting student-athletes in the complexities of nutrition, recovery, and injury prevention. It’s a collaborative effort, as she partners with sports physicians, sports psychologists, mental performance specialists, and other healthcare professionals to treat the athlete as a whole.

“My goals are to enhance performance, recovery and injury prevention using nutrition,” Davis says. “But my primary goal at the end of the day is to support student-athletes as human beings, not just student-athletes. I want to support their physical, mental, and social well being with nutrition.”

This isn’t just a job to Davis. This is a passion. A calling. And she treats all of the individuals she works with as such.

“It’s impossible not to see myself in the eyes of the people I’m talking to,” she says. “What I love most about what I do are the people I meet and the long relationships I develop with the students, their families, and the communities.

“I like to see my athletes win, but it means more to me when they call me or send me a picture of their prom dress, or whatever is meaningful to them at that moment. That’s what I’ll remember forever.”

Davis brings her knowledge to Gilbert where she hopes to cultivate a positive culture that utilizes food as the secret weapon. She will have her initial meeting with student-athletes on May 4, and over the summer months she will meet with respective teams. Student-athletes will also have the opportunity to meet with her on an individual basis.

“I will personally be onsite for the large group meetings on a monthly basis,” Davis says. “We will focus on topics like fueling fundamentals: Why is nutrition important for performance recovery and injury prevention? We’ll talk about how to have a positive relationship with food, and we’ll talk about hydration.”

Davis says student-athletes will learn how the proper nutrition boosts the immunity system, and how it enhances the quality of sleep as well.

Parents will also have the opportunity to interact with Davis through Zoom meetings on a monthly basis. Those will occur the third Wednesday at noon each month, and Davis says all of those meetings will be recorded for those parents that are unable to attend. Davis will have a presentation for parents each month, and there will also be time for parents to ask questions.

Gilbert’s coaches will meet with Davis bi-monthly. She says a big focus with the coaches will center around Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-s), which is a syndrome of poor health and declining athletic performance that happens when athletes do not get enough fuel through food to support the energy demands of their daily lives and training.

“At least 60 percent of high school athletes are affected by RED-s,” Davis says. “It causes a lot of complications … that was what affected me (in college).”

She’ll work with the coaches on cultivating a positive fueling culture and how to promote a positive attitude with food and workouts, among other things.

In her initial meeting with parents on Wednesday, Davis stressed that she’s not the food police. Not now and not ever. But if she can help to give our student-athletes nutrition knowledge, she’s confident it will be one more piece in place to help them succeed.