Athletes pay attention to nutrition

Shivangi Singh

At the cross country nationals meet last December, sophomore Madison May thought she had made sure to load up on the necessary carbohydrates and sugars. The gun was shot, and May surged ahead, ready to see the effects of months of training and hard work.

In the middle of the race, however, she passed out.

That morning “I had pancakes with syrup, which are two things I can’t have now,” May said, “and juice, which is all stuff that I can’t have now. Too much sugar” for her body.

May discovered she had hypoglycemia, a condition where the body consistently has low blood sugar, when just a year ago doctors had diagnosed May with iron deficiency anemia. Although health conditions took a toll on her running that morning, and during numerous other races where she fell short of achieving her goals, the illnesses have helped May understand the value of nutrition in sports.

“I know I can only work so hard running-wise, and if I am going to eat bad, it’s only going to take me so far,” May said. “Drinking a lot and eating healthy just adds to the training. To me it’s kind of like the easiest part of training because … eating healthy is going to help you so much.”

This understanding, though, is minimal among athletes as the United States Sports Academy reported in a study. Although they displayed impressive knowledge about the role of many nutrients in their performance, the subject athletes lacked the ability to translate their knowledge into food choices, something that arises from inaccurate media portrayals, sports nutrition consultant Tyler King said in an email interview.

“Sometimes the impact of nutrition in sports can be underestimated in the fact that someone who is having a healthier lifestyle by eating better, exercising better and taking supplements can most likely out preform someone who is not doing anything at all,” King said. “Giving yourself the best ability to succeed in life, in my opinion, by living a healthier lifestyle outweighs not doing anything at all and making your body unhealthy.”

A healthy daily portion for athletes, according to Sports Nutrition by American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, consists of 60 to 70 percent carbohydrates, 12 to 15 percent proteins and less than 20 to 30 percent fat.

Maintaining a consistent pre-competition routine is also important, an aspect of performance senior Trent Johnson has recognized since his first days of wrestling his freshman year. Three day before this year’s Missouri State High School Activities Association wrestling championships, Johnson, who wrestled in the 140-weight class, began thinking about his meal preparations.

This was “to make sure everything I needed I would have,” said Johnson, who placed fourth at state. “I didn’t try to eat too much because I didn’t want to feel too full. I knew the time I would wrestle approximately, and I tried to eat [a] certain amount of time before to make sure I was eating. … I made sure I was eating well enough.”

Nutrition’s value didn’t diminish even after Johnson walked out of the tunnel at the Mizzou Arena, where the championships were held, to be awarded his medal.

In fact, King said post-competition nutrition is as important as that of before.

“After the game you want to be in recovery mode and allow your body to get back into the same shape it was before the game,” King said. “I would also recommend doing some kind of electrolytes right after the game, whether it be Gatorade or something else to help your body, especially if you sweat a lot.”

According to Sports Nutrition by American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, replenishing the amount of fluid lost in exercise is integral to avoiding injuries and promoting success during future events.

Hydration is also cited as the most important factor in sports nutrition. Recognizing the impact of water on her athletic performance, senior Alyssa Fancher drinks 128 ounces of water each day.

Things were different her sophomore year, however. Fancher then rarely made an effort to incorporate either the extra protein and carbs or the additional water emphasized in soccer, coming to practices sluggish and falling short of reaching her goals. Cookies and a bagel became a habit.

“Nutrition is very important during soccer season,” Fancher said. “You can tell when your body is ready to go and fueled properly. When you aren’t eating healthy, you have no energy and can’t make it through practice or games.”

When May wasn’t eating well, her races, practices and attitudes were all worse. But now that she avoids complex sugars, running serves as the motivation to keep up with her recommended daily diet.

“Before, in races it was all I had to get to the finish line. The last mile I was just holding on,” May said. ‘And now … I can actually focus on the race and not getting through it. I feel a lot stronger.”
By Shivangi Singh