Story updated 6/18/11 at 11:43am.
City on a Hill Press asked UC Santa Cruz athletes from a wide variety of sport backgrounds about their eating habits, both in and out of season. The athletes offered advice and encouragement to aspiring athletes who want to improve their performance and to students who are seeking a healthier lifestyle.
Track and Field
Sandor Callahan, a senior and track and field star, has a passion for fitness. To perform at his peak, Callahan exercises his diet control as seriously as his workouts.
Callahan said he carefully monitors his diet to make sure it conforms to his workout schedule. After a workout, Callahan immediately eats a small but nutrient-rich snack to replenish his body.
“[I’ll have] maybe a peanut butter and apple sandwich with all-natural organic peanut butter and banana on whole wheat bread,” Callahan said. “Or the Clif Bar — the all-natural, 70 percent organic Clif Bar — because that’s got the right amount of calories you need and the right amount of protein. You want 190 to 300 calories and 10 grams of protein within the hour.”
To ease into a more nutritious diet, Callahan advised new athletes to try replacing junk food with healthier options in gradual steps.
“It’s often hard to go cold turkey — start with substitution,” Callahan said. “Maybe start with what you normally have for dinner, but instead of white rice, have brown rice. Have healthy snacks throughout the day instead of chips. Make your own granola, your own trail mix.”
A vigorous, healthy diet must be matched by an equally hearty workout, Callahan said, and athletes should exercise frequently and eat many small meals throughout the day to maintain an active metabolism.
“When you start to cut out all your food, you take away from your muscles because it slows down your metabolism and you get sluggish,” Callahan said. “You need smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Especially after weightlifting, it’s really important to eat within the hour.”
For sophomore Jessica Meyer, running is all about balance: not just in the sport, but in her diet, too.
The most important part of her diet, she said, is the fact that she strives to eat diverse meals that satisfy all of her body’s needs.
“My diet is about balance,” Meyer said. “It’s about getting in the nutrients that the body needs.”
Specifically, she cites protein and vegetables as necessities in every meal, while gluten and dairy products should be avoided. In the days before meets, she defaults to gluten-free pasta with fresh veggies and chicken. It’s a meal that covers all her bases, allowing her to get lean protein, greens and carbohydrates all at once.
On the morning of a meet, she chooses to go with simpler foods. Less heavy foods like fruit don’t weigh her down, instead giving her body the energy it needs to go out and run.
While the cross country team is only in season for less than half of the year, Meyer made the point that runners really cannot take a break. Since off-season training doesn’t differ too much from the type of workout runners use while in-season, the diet of a runner doesn’t get much of a break, either.
Women’s Swim Team
As a junior and a captain on the women’s swim team, Chelsea Henry said experience has taught her to maintain a rigorous eating regimen in the off-season to keep her body prepared for the next season’s challenges.
“I cut back — I definitely don’t eat as much in the off-season, and I shouldn’t, because I’m not burning as many calories a day,” Henry said. “I work on portion control — I’ll eat a tiny little bit of something, then think, ‘I shouldn’t eat the rest of it, because I’m not about to swim ten thousand yards.’”
Henry said that during the season, swim team members have to adopt an unusual eating pattern to accommodate their practice schedule.
“Because of practice time, I eat at a different hours than most people would,” Henry said. “Our afternoon practice is 2 to 4 [p.m.], so during season I always have to eat an early dinner. Then I’m good for the rest of the evening, so I can’t really eat late at night.”
Henry said sticking to a healthy diet can be a challenge, even for an experienced athlete. When self-control fails for her, she uses physical exercise to make up for it.
“That’s why I exercise — I have a huge sweet tooth,” Henry said. “That’s why I force myself to work out almost every day, even in the off-season, because I’m really weak when it comes to having self-control with some food.”
If you want to eat anything you want and not have to worry too much about the consequences, sophomore Austin Brown has a solution for you: join the rugby team.
“The rugby diet is not a very strict one,” Brown said. “Probably no food is off-limits during the season.”
That sort of freedom doesn’t come without a cost, though. Brown says the heavy consumption of food is only possible because the rugby workouts are so demanding.
In particular, rugby players tend to load up on protein, as building muscle is essential to their sport. In addition to meat-heavy meals, Brown said, protein shakes are certainly a viable option for someone who is looking to get into rugby shape.
“I personally don’t [use protein shakes],” Brown said. “But there are a lot of guys that do because it’s cheaper than normal food. A protein shake is cheaper than a steak.”
However, Brown said, a bulky diet alone will not make a rugby player.
“Rugby isn’t a sport just about being strong and fit,” he said. “It comes to a lot of different athletic [body] types, so practice CrossFit stuff as well.”
Soccer players need energy. With a solid 90 minutes of cardio on game days, it is imperative players structure their diets in a way that provides them with the fuel to keep going for the duration of the game. That’s why senior Erica Wheeler-Dubin makes sure she stays hydrated and stores up carbohydrates in the days before games.
“Usually before games we try to have pasta nights as a team,” Wheeler-Dubin said. “We meet together at a player’s house and have pasta, some salad, and a dessert like cookies.”
And when it comes to the morning of the game, Wheeler-Dubin chooses to pack light. She stays away from heavier foods, insisting it is easier for her to go on a relatively empty stomach with only lighter foods that pack high energy, like fruits.
“I don’t like a heavy meal in any way,” Wheeler-Dubin said. “Maybe an egg or two, or oranges, but really nothing heavy.”
But aside from game days, Wheeler-Dubin said, almost anything goes.
“During the season I kind of allow myself to eat whatever I want because of how hard I’m working,” Wheeler-Dubin said. “I know that if it’s not that great for me, I’m going to work it off.”