Clint Wattenberg '03: Leader in Performance Nutrition
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
Cornell Athletics Hall of Famer Clint Wattenberg had a strong start to his Big Red career at 165 pounds, going 34-17 in his freshman and sophomore seasons, and placing at the EIWA tournament. But he felt that he was capable of more, and it started with using what he was learning in his Nutritional Sciences and Exercise Physiology classes. “I struggled to make a weight that I grew out of and as a result got injured and ill,” Wattenberg said of his first two years. “I went up two weight classes [All-American Jim Stanec was at 174] and I was able to apply the science I learned in school in a personal way to fuel myself for peak performance rather than focus on weight management and weight cutting. I trained the entire season and was ready to perform my best in March.”
In his final two campaigns in a Cornell singlet, Wattenberg compiled a 79-12 mark, winning an EIWA title (and making the finals the other year), while earning All-American honors twice at the NCAA tournament (sixth in 2002, fifth in 2003) at 184 pounds. He finished his career with 113 victories, which is top 20 in Big Red wrestling history. He’s also in the top 20 for bonus wins, wins by major, and victories by technical fall.
In his current role as Director of Performance Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, Wattenberg is able to pass on the critical information he used to some of the most accomplished combat athletes in the world.
“I lead the nutrition department at the UFC, where we have the ability to support our professional athletes in all areas of performance nutrition: weight making, injury prevention and recovery, performance optimization, and sports science integration. We support a roster of athletes at events worldwide.” Wattenberg was the first hire for this role, in 2017, and it’s not a surprise that he was chosen, given the combination of experiences and qualifications he brought to the table. It began with his career on the mat and in the classroom at Cornell, but continued afterwards while he remained in Ithaca after graduation in 2003. He first earned his Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology and joined the Cornell wrestling staff as an assistant from 2004-06.
Between then and his departure for the UFC in Las Vegas, Wattenberg wore several hats. He was the long-time Director of the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club, he was the President of NYWAY (New York Wrestling Association for Youth) from its inception, he completed his two-year dietetic internship, he authored a book "Performance Nutrition for Wrestlers: A Practical Handbook to Solving the Sport's Complex Nutrition Puzzle", and he built resources on the Cornell campus in areas of passion and expertise, for example in the Cornell Healthy Eating Program.
Wattenberg also was instrumental in bringing the Big Red Fueling station to Cornell Athletics, providing, among other things, the Big Red Refuel (a high protein chocolate milk which he co-invented), to Cornell athletes to facilitate both performance and recovery. Athletically, he finished in the top three multiple times in freestyle at the World Team Trials and made an Olympic run, and he immersed himself in MMA, competing and coaching.
When Wattenberg was on his recruiting trip at Cornell as a high schooler, he sat in on a seminar in the College of Human Ecology that detailed the Nutritional Sciences/Exercise Physiology program. After the myriad of activities he undertook in Ithaca after graduating, he returned to that initial focus.
“All the pieces came together to get me to what I do now,” Wattenberg said. “I re-found my original passion and followed through with what I thought I wanted to do as a 17-year old.” He takes that passion all over the world. He’s been in Abu Dhabi multiple times, Shanghai, Melbourne, London, Paris, Brazil, and all over the United States.
“My team now supports every single event for UFC with nutrition and culinary resources,” he said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to make an impact, especially trying to improve the culture around weight making in combat sports. I had a realization early in my career that there’s a lack of connectivity between athletes/coaches and credentialed, qualified providers who can share valuable nutritional resources. We’re making a concerted effort to bridge that gap. We’re supporting the athlete to perform consistently across an entire career - and elongate that career.”
Wattenberg spreads his messages a number of ways - including through mentorship relationships with a number of Cornell student athletes in their nutrition academic careers, as well as those in an internship program at the UFC. He also has spearheaded the Combat and Weight Class Sports Nutrition Summit.
He looks forward to an annual visit from the Cornell wrestling team during the Cliff Keen Las Vegas tournament.
“I was so happy to be a part of the Cornell wrestling community for the 19 years I was in Ithaca,” he said. “I thought I would retire at Cornell, but my career path led me out to Vegas. I’m so excited to welcome the Cornell wrestling family out here every year. Of course, we welcome other programs as well. To see where Cornell wrestling is now with six guys on World teams - it’s a little surreal. Being a part of it is something I take immense pride in.” What does he remember most about his time with the Big Red? “Without a doubt it’s the brotherhood, the community of alumni that stays with you for life,” he said. "The things about being a student athlete at Cornell that are challenging are the things that make it so valuable. Being part of such a unique program, where you foster elite competitive performance with a truly world class academic experience and add in mentorship and community - it’s unbelievable."
Looking back, he said he feels tremendous gratitude. “While it wasn’t possible for me to achieve every goal I had for my time in my Cornell singlet, the challenges and lessons learned while there set me up to have a more successful career than the career I had on the mats. When I reflect back to my successes and shortcomings in wrestling, I take solace in that my professional career is outperforming my athletic one, and I owe that to the Cornell Big Red.”
----------- Clint Wattenberg also wanted to thank his wife, Sarah, a 2003 Big Red graduate who is currently Director of Sports Performance at UNLV and previously served as Assistant Director of Athletics for Student Services at Cornell.
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