You Are What You Eat
Lancer athletes devote hours of their time and energy improving their skills and honing their bodies for their sport. But that devotion on the court or in the weight room might not be enough to create the ideal physicality and healthiness that those athletes desire.[media-credit name=”Allison Long/Kansas City Star/MCT” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]An article published in September by the New York Times revealed that one in four high school athletes is overweight. The article’s findings were based on the BMI (Body Mass Index) of the athletes studied, which defines “healthiness” using a formula for height versus weight. The article showed that the nutrition of high school athletes is often not ideal, lacking the proper amounts of fruits, vegetables and proteins while being too high in carbs and fats.
Sports nutritionist and dietician Sally Berry says that the attention that athletes give- or don’t give- to their diets can have a large impact on the energy and strength of their performances.
“It’s difficult in high school because of how busy athletes are,” Berry says. “You see a whole range in diets, from good to bad, but regardless… It’s something that athletes need to focus on.”
To investigate the effectiveness of diets of Lancer athletes, The Harbinger looked at how athletes in four different sports fuel their bodies on a daily basis.
Football: Getting Big
Whether they are defending Jordan Darling from a linebacker or attempting to sack an opponent’s quarterback, East linemen want to be the biggest and strongest on the field. Hours of practice on the turf behind the junior lot and weight training have helped them gain strength, but their nutrition has also allowed them to out-size opponents.
Senior Max Kurlbaum has seen a major increase in how much he eats since last year. Kurlbaum gained around 35 pounds of mostly muscle over the summer as a side effect of transitioning from being a wide receiver to being an offensive lineman.
“I probably eat around 9000 calories a day,” Kurlbaum says. “But I don’t have a specific diet. The coaches aren’t too strict about what we eat; they just want us to be fueling our bodies and feeling good.”
Kurlbaum’s daily eating schedule consists of breakfast, two lunches and dinner, along with “grazing” his kitchen for food after practices.
Sometimes he eats entire jars of pickles or family sized bags of chips in one sitting and sees his fellow linemen eating similarly. Kurlbaum knows that this is more than other high school athletes and even more than some of his smaller teammates, but he feels it is necessary for athletes of his position.
“We don’t pack it down, it’s not like Reed can eat 16 pounds of food in one sitting or something ridiculous like that,” Kurlbaum says. “We just eat what we need, because we’re burning a lot of energy in practice, so if we’re eating a lot, it’s because we’re working a lot.”
While this pattern of eating is common for athletes like Kurlbaum and his teammates, it causes concern for dieticians like Berry. She believes that while athletes shouldn’t go hungry, they should be more purposeful with their diet.
“[Athletes] will come home from school and practice, and it’s natural that they’ll be hungry,” Berry says. “The problem is when they go for whatever’s easy, like chips or sugars, when what their bodies really need is protein.”
Although he knows that his food intake is necessary now while he is practicing every day, Kurlbaum worries about what will happen once he doesn’t have football training. He hopes that his metabolism stays high, but knows that he will be forced to change his diet to adjust to less activity.
“We might all get fat,” Kurlbaum says. “I’m probably going to have to diet and keep working out, just to stay in shape… But right now, we’re not too worried about that.”
For athletes who don’t continue their sport into college, Berry has found that the transition from high school often requires a distinct change in diet. Although the athletes will stop exercising as much, Berry says that many will continue to eat the same amount of calories per day. This is where the infamous “Freshman 15” is often gained.
“They have to realize that they’re going to have to eat less,” Berry says. “The problem is that they’ll get into habits of eating a lot to make up [for exercising], and then they won’t break those when they stop doing sports [every day].”
Drill Team: Keeping Light
Rigorous dieting. Worrying about every calorie. Eating disorders. It’s a stereotype of dancers that has persisted through the years and yet, for competitive dancers like sophomore Audrey Phillips, it’s the opposite of reality.
“As dancers, we eat so much. It’s not even funny,” Phillips says. “I just focus on what’s going to make me feel good and what’s going to let me perform to my fullest.”
Phillips trains for 16 hours each week at her studio, along with Varsity Lancer Dancer practices before and during school every day. She knows that other dancers will follow stricter diets, but Phillips has never had dance instructors restrict her diet or felt the need to count calories.
“It’s most important to focus on what makes you, personally, feel good,” Phillips says. “I don’t eat bananas. I never, ever feel good after eating one, so I just don’t eat them. That’s the kind of thing I worry about with eating.”
Although she skips breakfast, Phillips eats a full lunch and two dinners between dance practices. Since most of her day consists of dance or schoolwork, Phillips mainly focuses on eating foods that allow her to feel healthy, avoiding fast food, bananas, chocolates and sugary foods that can make her feel sick or weighed down.
“I mostly eat a lot of fruits and a lot of carbs,” Phillips says. “Just foods that make me feel full without feeling gross, so that I can dance my best.”
This idea of eating “whatever feels good” can be a common fallacy in high school athletes, Berry says. Phillips is unique, because her feel-good diet doesn’t include foods high in fat and sugars. However, Berry believes that many teens will forego fruits and vegetables for junk food.
“Lots of kids when they’re hungry will just go for chips or cookies or even just a lot of carbs,” Berry says. “They think that, since they feel fine, they’re doing what’s best for their body, but they might be missing out on necessities like protein or vegetables.”
Berry explains that a lack of proper nutrients can cause an athlete’s body to fail to meet its full potential. Without protein, muscles can’t continue to grow. Fruits and vegetables are also vital in the growth and maintenance of muscles, especially since high school athletes are often still growing.
“Working out and practicing is important for athletes,” Berry says. “But eating right is just as important.”
Since she has goals of becoming a professional dancer in the future, Phillips sees a healthy diet as another part of her daily routine and recipe for success.
“If you want to get where you want to be, you need to be pushed and you need to be constantly training,” Phillips says. “So I don’t have a problem with it.”
Cross Country: Carbing Up
The counter top is overflowing with food and the kitchen is overflowing with East cross country runners. Styrofoam plates are loaded with salad, lasagna, fettuccine, homemade cookies and brownies. Runners make trips back for seconds, honoring the name of the cross country weekly gatherings: carbo loads.
Every Friday night, a senior hosts the carbo-load, a potluck for the team where runners can fill up on pasta and other carbs in an effort to get energy for the next day’s race.
“The carbo loads are a great way to bond as a team and they give you a lot of energy,” senior Anna Colby, a varsity runner, says. “I never eat a lot at them, but a lot of people will go pretty crazy.”
These pre-meet rituals are one of the areas of nutrition that the New York Times study criticized the most, saying that huge meals such as carbo loads can reverse days worth of team practices. Berry believes that the meals are valuable for team bonding but require discretion from the athletes.
For Colby, the Friday night dinners are the opposite of the diet she normally tries to maintain. During cross country season, Colby is conscious of her diet and makes sure to stick to foods that won’t make her feel sick when she’s running with her teammates after school.
“I try to eat less carbs, and I try to just eat healthier,” Colby says. “I just do what feels best for my body, because I want to have energy and not feel sick while I’m running.”
Having practices directly after school has caused Colby to struggle with what she was eating in past years. She feels lucky this year, since she has an earlier lunch period and can eat more without feeling sick at practice. It’s mainly foods at school that make maintaining her ideal diet difficult for Colby.
“It’s hard sometimes, because you’ll want to eat cookies or chips at lunch, but you know you’ll feel bad at practice in a few hours,” Colby says. “There’s never really junk food in my house. My mom will make me eggs and bacon in the morning and healthy dinners, so it’s never that hard when I’m at home.”
Finding healthy sources of nutrition is one of the biggest challenges that high school athletes face, Berry says. When they are constantly tempted by pizza and Otis Spunkmeier cookies at school, Five Guys outings with friends and homemade goodies at home, Berry says it is easy for athletes to make unhealthy choices on a daily basis.
“It’s understandable, because there is so much unhealthy food around them,” Berry says. “But it’s important for every athlete to find a way to eat healthy, because they’re making habits for life.”