Even though athletes spend a lot of time practicing their sports, what they eat affects their performance as much as anything else.
The GC athletes eat a variety of foods to stay healthy and physically prepared for their sport.
Athletes who struggle with not eating enough try to eat as many good carbs and proteins as possible.
“I think the biggest thing we try to do is focus on nutrition education, so we don’t necessarily tell [the athletes] exactly what to eat as more as us trying to educate them,” said Mike Martino, exercise science program coordinator. “We will give [the athletes] handouts that give them sample ideas of what they could possibly make as wise food choices.”
In general, Martino tells the athletes to stay away from processed foods, fried foods and fatty meats. He tells them to try to eat lean sources of protein, vegetables and fruits whenever possible. Everyone can pretty much eat as many vegetables and fruits as they want, and by eating this way, more micronutrients, vitamins and minerals are consumed.
“[For my diet] I try to eat clean, so I stay away from processed foods and saturated fats,” said Matt Sutton, who runs cross-country. “I try to eat foods that are natural, that have all the vitamins and minerals that I need.”
Paul Higgs, the head athletic trainer, and Martino also emphasize the importance of hydration for the athletes. A lot of GC athletes carry around a gallon jug of water or a refillable water bottle. Usually a general goal for the athletes is drink over 100 ounces of water a day.
“I hydrate all the time,” said Amanda Bartholomew, a soccer player. “That’s [a] number one priority because I’m prone to cramps.”
A trick athletes use to improve their performance is to consume caffeine before their event takes place. Research proves that caffeine can be used as an ergogenic aid to improve anything associated with endurance performance.
“So would this help a soccer player? Absolutely,” Martino said. “But if they drink a lot of caffeine every day, it’s not really going to have an effect. We encourage [athletes] not to use caffeine as part of their regular routine.”
Another trick athletes do before a race is carb-loading.
“I try to eat a lot of carbohydrates the night before a race because it refills my glycogen storage and gives me a lot of energy going into the race,” Sutton said.
There are 185 to 200 athletes at any given time here at GC, and the diet of all these athletes vary. People sometimes assume weight loss is important to athletes. However, while there are some athletes who want to lose body fat, intake of calories, vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, minerals and nutrients are more important to a lot of athletes.
“I have a big problem of losing weight throughout my season, so I’m trying to prevent that because if I do lose weight, I see a decrease in my performance,” said Bradley Cammack, a baseball player. “I am just trying to maintain my weight, if not gain.”
Cammack tries to eat a lot food throughout his day. When he goes to The Max, he said he likes to eat at the 441 Diner, Sinclair’s Sandwich and Milla D’villa.
“When I go to The Max, I always start off with a salad,” Cammack said. “[My salads consist of] romaine leaves, turkey, ham, black olives, carrots and caesar dressing.”
Since Sutton is an endurance athlete as a member of the cross-country team, he tries to stick to a 2-to-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio after he works out. He does this within an hour after working out to refill the carbohydrates but also rebuild with some protein.
“Eating the right stuff and putting the right stuff in your body is so important,” Bartholomew said. “For me, hydration and eating affects me, and I can tell the difference when I’ve eaten something bad and when I’ve eaten something good.”
Since diet is extremely important to athletes, a lot of thought and planning goes into what an athlete eats.
“Our strength coaches tell us a lot that your body is kind of like a car, and you have to fill it up with the right kind of gas, not just anything,” Sutton said. “So, I don’t want to throw bad foods in because it will make me feel bad.”
Athletes are aware of what is going in their bodies and how much of it. When an athlete eats unhealthy or doesn’t eat enough, it will show in their performance at practices and at games.
“Eating bad can make me really lethargic, tired and just not have energy when I am running,” Sutton said.
For Cammack, there’s a careful balance to be achieved, especially before a game. “If I eat too much before a game, I’ll feel sluggish and the whole game I’ll feel drowsy,” Cammack explained. “If I eat too little, I’ll feel antsy and weak, so usually before a game, I’ll stick to a sandwich and salad."
When Martino is working with athletes that come to him specifically concerning their diet, he will give them a portion control container or show them where to get them on Amazon. He suggests getting the three or four compartment ones. This allows the athlete to learn what the proper food portion sizes are.
“Personally, I try to stick to a high protein and low carb [diet], and when I do eat my carbs, it’s good carbs,” Bartholomew said.
In the mornings, Bartholomew makes a cup of coffee and also drinks water. She makes three eggs and two organic, lean sausage patties with a whole avocado. Then she mixes all that together with Cholula hot sauce, not ketchup because of the sugar content.
“I have little to zero sugar in my diet,” said Bartholomew.
Then for a snack she has a Lärabar, which consists of three ingredients: dates, peanuts and salt. “So I don’t really have a lunch, I just eat a big breakfast and snacks,” Bartholomew explained. “I snack every hour on the hour from breakfast until practice.”
Bartholomew’s other snacks include bananas, mixed nuts and almonds. Sometimes, she makes a smoothie made up of almond milk, flax seeds, mix fruits, kale and water.
By the time soccer practice is over, she is starving, so she goes home and makes grilled chicken, a salad with an olive and avocado-based dressing, a sweet potato and vegetables.
“I think diet is important,” Cammack said. “Just like anything else that goes into sports, you want to have a routine, and your diet should be a part of your routine. You should keep it the same from a week to week standpoint.”