As a developing athlete in the ‘90s, it’s pretty ridiculous, and a little sickening to think about the way I fueled my body. Like most student athletes, I woke up early, went to school, participated in practice or a game, then I came home and did my homework. This schedule typically ran from - 6 a.m. wake up call until approximately 7 or 8 p.m. when I completed my studies. That’s a long day for anyone, particularly for an active and growing adolescent.
As a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) this was my typical schedule throughout high school, and there’s no way I could have completed it without a balanced and nutritional diet, right? Not exactly. Looking back on this time, I could always count on my folks to provide a healthy dinner; however, breakfast, lunch and snacks were at my discretion - and this usually wasn’t a good thing.
I suppose you could say I was a product of the times, eating whatever tasted good and was convenient, rather than what was best for my body in the short term and the long term. I wasn’t alone in this process, most of my teammates had similar eating habits. I suppose we represented the anti-Todd Marinovich’s of the world. While the former football prodigy and USC quarterback had famously never tried a McDonald’s hamburger, my friends and I didn’t just try this convenient cuisine, we largely grew up on it.
Suffice to say, my generation was a product of misinformation. We ate what was affordable and available. For breakfast this meant frozen waffles, a sugar based cereal or sometimes a donut or two. Lunch wasn’t much better. My high school was a closed campus, so our choices were limited to what the cafeteria had to offer - pizza, burgers, nachos, burritos, etc. Thankfully, in between breakfast, lunch and my athletic endeavors there were always candy bars readily available in the vending machine. Looking back on what I used to fuel my body during this time, it’s hard to believe I had the focus or energy necessary to fulfill my academic and athletic obligations.
I can only imagine the potential my teammates and I might have had if we ate with a purpose. Perhaps this would have made a difference in the elusive section championship we failed to capture or the collegiate aspirations that never came to fruition for some of us. It’s impossible to predict what might have been, but the beauty of time and information, is that we can learn from our mistakes and educate others in the process.
In 2020, most athletes have been informed and realize the benefits of eating right and fueling their bodies with the proper foods. It’s pretty rare to see an athlete in this day and age who doesn’t buy into the fact that diet and nutrition play a role in athletic success. Some athletes, particularly teenagers, may still indulge in some unhealthy foods; however, they are completely aware of the ramifications related to their choices. Undoubtedly, this is a step in the right direction.
The off-season provides a great opportunity to make improvements to your diet. During this time an athlete can research health and nutrition, and help them implement foods that complement their training and fit into their budget or dietary restrictions. These individuals who make diet a priority will find that they can train longer, harder and with better results than ever before.
It’s strongly recommended to take an invested interest in the foods you introduce to your body. I’m not a doctor or a dietitian, but I have found from personal experience and observation that the foods we ingest play a pivotal role in the way athlete’s train and compete. There is an abundance of information in this day and age, and it may take some time and energy to find a diet that is best for you, but it will be well worth the effort. This knowledge will provide an athlete with increased endurance and developmental capabilities in the short term, and overall physical wellness in the long term.