Having a poor diet while at college is as easy and common as the cold. “The Freshman Fifteen” was coined for a reason. Low budgets, easy access to hamburgers and fries (long live the dining hall and parent-funded point plans that act as money), and all night study sessions of snacking and coffee can quickly take your body into a tailspin. Throwing alcohol into the mix only intensifies this even further. The Dining Hall is literally within a stone’s throw from most students’ dorm room and is “open season” for pretty much whatever you want to eat, whenever you want to eat it. The actual dorm room is typically filled with Fritos and Pepsi. Check the fridge, and 80% of the time there will be some “hidden” beers tucked away behind the orange juice.
Of course there are healthy options in all these places, and that is the point. Being a student athlete doesn’t change what there is to eat, but it should change how you eat. I am not a nutritionist and my expertise in the field is no more than one semester of college and intensive reading of “Men’s Health Magazine” type articles, so the following is more opinion and observation, trends and patterns, than anything. It is simply what I saw happen over and over again while at college. Being an 18-22 year old typically means that you can push your body a lot further and harder than others and still make a somewhat full recovery. However, in the world of sports any advantage that you can (legally) get makes a difference. Thus, a clash of two opposing philosophies comes together when it comes to diet and playing college sports.
Ask any baseball player about what they take for supplements and shakes before, during, and after working out and you will surely get a twenty minute speech about each specific product, how much he takes, when he takes it, and the benefits each one provides. One scoop of protein, two scoops of NO Xplode, and 2 pills to assist in building additional muscle mass. Ask him what he eats for regular sustenance and you will most likely get an answer filled with French fries, soda, and chips. Almost certainly he will not want to mention beer to you. Of course there are many, many players out there who take their diet seriously and would give a completely different answer. However, in my observation of four years of college, and three years of summer ball, diet got put way down on the list of importance.
Again, I am far from being an expert on nutrition, but I also knew enough to watch what I put into my body. It was not only what to eat but also when I ate, and how much I ate of it. Our workouts were intensive and some days I was so painfully hungry by the time practice or the workout session got out that it had to be affecting my performance and focus. Additionally, even if I did eat a full meal encompassing a salad and veggie burger (with lots of onions and ketchup to mask the flavor), eating five hours before a practice due to my class schedule left my stomach growling by 6 pm. I saw this issue even more so come game day when a bagel and apple were supposed to get us through a doubleheader. If we were fortunate enough to have the parents provide us an in-between game snack, my stomach would be quiet come game two. However, I was not brave enough to simply hope for this and would always bring with me some sunflower seeds, fruit, and granola bars. I knew that at the end of the day, a “full” baseball player is better than a “hungry” one.
We began a joke my senior year called “Senior Bagels” which poked fun at our “Hunger Games”. On morning road trips our coaches would go out and buy us bagels and fruit for the “early commute”. If we were lucky we would also get muffins. It was a hearty breakfast and kept us running for most of the morning and first game of the doubleheader. However, come game two our stomachs would begin to rumble and our hopes of a sufficient lunch would get more desperate. Usually, it was just peanuts and crackers if we were not blessed by the parents with a midday snack. By the time you are a senior you start to take a more relaxed approach to the things that you are more familiar with and know you can also get away with. Understanding how ludicrous a bagel or two at 8 am was for a full day of nourishment, we poked fun at the matter by denouncing the breakfast as “Senior Bagels – the complete part of any game day meal.”
Food will not teach you how to hit curveballs or how to ace an exam, but it can give you a small leg up when your body needs it most. You mom isn’t there to pack carrots and fruit so if you want to eat that Butterfinger, who is really stopping you? If you want to drink that extra can of beer, who will say no? Like everything else at college, one’s diet is all about balance. It is not only what you put in your body, it is what you don’t put in as well. In an association that is so closely monitored when it comes to breaking the rules, any leg up is one to be utilized. Living a healthy lifestyle simply becomes an added-on benefit.