Eating right while in college can be difficult. Junk food like pizza, burgers, and fried snacks are readily available on or near campus. Since cooking in dorms is generally prohibited, this leaves few healthy alternatives. The only vegetables in the vicinity may be found in the school’s cafeteria.
Failing to supply the body with the necessary nutrition can lead to all sorts of physical- and mental-health problems. Surviving on fast food may result in illness, fatigue, and other symptoms. College life is stressful enough without putting additional strain on the mind and body.
The situation can be worse for college athletes, who may be under even more pressure than other students. All that stress, along with the physical demands of sports, can be challenging. To stay healthy, and maximize their performance, student-athletes must be deliberate about nutrition.
Eat a Balanced Diet
You have heard it since you were a kid: “Eat your vegetables.” This is especially important for athletes. A variety of veggies, including the super-nutritious leafy ones, should be eaten every day. Fruits, whole grains, and protein are also essential. Avoid fried foods and white bread, and opt for fish instead of red meat a few times a week.
Sugar, salt, and saturated fats sap strength and energy. They also add body fat. These consequences are not only unhealthy; they can diminish an athlete’s performance on the field or court. A long-term effect of consuming large amounts of these substances may be increased vulnerability to illness and disease.
Don’t Forget Breakfast
Nutritionists emphasize the value of eating breakfast. They call it the most important meal of the day, because it replenishes the body after many hours of not eating. The hectic lives of college students require this fuel.
Breakfast is especially critical for those who play sports, as they often have morning practices or workouts. Such exertion on an empty stomach places a lot of strain on the body, which does not respond as well without food energy.
The key is to eat something in the morning, even if you oversleep and are in a hurry. At least grab a bagel and piece of fruit. Always having such ready-to-eat, nutritious items in your dorm room can save you from missing breakfast (or going to a fast-food restaurant). Ideally, the morning meal should include protein (from meat, eggs, and beans) and whole grains, as well as fruit.
Get Enough Protein
Many believe that physically active people should eat a lot of meat and other protein-rich foods. While protein is vital, overdoing it can be counterproductive. Too much protein may result in increased body fat, a loss of calcium, and dehydration. These conditions are particularly undesirable for athletes, who require toned muscles, strong bones, and well-hydrated systems.
The richest sources of protein are fish, beef, pork, and poultry. Dairy is another option. Eggs, as well as the whey protein in milk, are highly recommended. Other foods containing protein are beans, soy, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. The best advice is to get protein from a variety of foods.
Those seeking to shed pounds know they need to cut back on carbohydrates, which cause weight gain. However, avoiding carbs can be dangerous because they supply the body with the energy it needs to function properly. Athletes who neglect carbohydrates quickly become tired, and lose strength and endurance.
Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles, in the form of glycogen. The body converts glycogen into glucose (sugar), which boosts energy. Experts say that, for most people, the amount of glycogen the body can hold is enough for a 90-minute workout. Those who play sports, which usually last longer than that, are advised to load up on carbs for several days before the big game. This is really crucial for long-distance runners and bicyclists, swimmers, cross-country skiers, endurance athletes, and others whose activities are not only lengthy but also entail extreme physical exertion.
Candy, soda pop, and other sweets contain a lot of carbohydrates. However, they are considered “bad” carbs because they lack the vitamins and minerals found in “good” (complex) carbs. Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas (as well as vegetables, fruits, and brown rice) are examples of foods with good carbs.
Experts advise most people to ensure that carbohydrates make up a little more than half of their total food consumption. Athletes may want to increase the percentage somewhat, without getting too carried away. Diets consisting of 70 percent carbs are recommended for endurance athletes and others whose sports involve long, strenuous exercise.
Eat foods rich in carbohydrates before, during, and after intense physical activities. A small, high-carb meal an hour before a game or workout is advised. Pack a whole-grain muffin, sports bar, or fruit juice to refuel during a sports activity. Replenish the body afterword with a high-carb snack.
Drink Plenty of Water
Athletes must keep hydrated. They should drink water, sports drinks, or fruit juice before, during, and after exercising. Moisture lost via perspiration needs to be replaced, or the body will overheat and eventually break down.
Two cups of water before an activity, and at least one-half cup every 15-20 minutes while exercising, are recommended. Some authorities suggest starting with water, then switching to sports drinks because they contain electrolytes.
Keep drinking through a game or match, even when you don’t feel particularly thirsty. Keep an eye on your urine. If it is darker than normal, that could indicate dehydration. Fatigue, dizziness, and upset stomach are other possible signs that you need more water.
Supplement Your Diet
Student-athletes put so much stress on their bodies that they might find it difficult to get sufficient nutrition from food. Dietary supplements can help. Start with a multivitamin that contains not only Vitamins A through D, but also thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. The body uses these substances to convert food into the energy that physically active people need. Look for a multivitamin that also features calcium, iron, and potassium. These nutrients are rapidly diminished while playing sports.
Many other kinds of supplements are also available. Omega-3 oils, found naturally in fish, help to regulate inflammation and blood-sugar levels. Athletes need to get enough magnesium, which strengthens muscles and regulates heart rhythm.
For student-athletes, there are multiple reasons to adopt healthy diets. Without the necessary nutrition, their ability to succeed in sports is hampered. More importantly, their overall health suffers. To maintain strength and energy, it is critical that physically active students take nutrition seriously.