In part one of this series of posts covering nutrition for college athletes we are going to quickly get into the benefits of eating better, and take a peek into research covering the dietary habits and knowledge of collegiate athletes.
The upsides of eating well may seem obvious.
After all, as athletes we are drilled from an early age on the importance of properly fueling up before practice and competition.
Here are just four of the things that happen when we clean up our diet:
You will recover faster between practices. One of the major impediments to better workouts is not being fully recovered from your most recent workout. Proper nutrition means you recover faster, giving you a fuller tank the next time another workout routine rolls around.
You will have more energy over the course of the day. This is one of the most noticeable aspects of a well-balanced diet—you aren’t leaving feeling run rugged after those tough workouts, which is especially helpful in terms of being able to focus during class.
Your performance in competition goes up. As with being able to recover after a hard workout, managing your nutrition in competition is critical in terms of assisting you to bounce back, whether it’s for coming back for finals later that evening, or playing another round of matches.
You will get ill less often. Eating like a champ means you are better able to ward off illness and injury, particularly during those heavy bouts of training that leave your immune system weakened.
The Reality of How Well Collegiate Athletes Actually Eat
By the time athletes reach the collegiate level it’s expected that they have picked up some basic knowledge regarding proper nutrition and hydration.
Collegiate athletes tend to be on the elite side of the spectrum, and yet, as the studies detailed below show, this doesn’t mean that the food they are consuming or even their food knowledge is nearly adequate.
· One study of a group of competitive swimmers in Michigan—85 in total from 6 different universities and colleges—found that a stunning 95% of them were not meeting their daily macro requirements.
· Research in 2012 of approximately 600 NCAA coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, athletic trainers and athletes sought to test each group’s nutrition knowledge. The strength coaches led the way, scoring just under 90% on the nutrition evaluation, which covered questions on hydration, nutrition, supplementation and weight management. And how did the athletes do? The 185 athletes surveyed scored an average of just 9%.
· A group of 263 NCAA division I athletes across various sports randomly provided urine samples before practice to assess hydration levels—53% of them were dehydrated, with a further 13% of them very dehydrated.
These studies are more than just numbers and figures, they represent real performance declines on the field, on the court, and in the pool.
But where to start?
Recently I reached out to a group of 20+ sports dietitians and nutritionists from top NCAA division I programs and asked them for their best piece of nutrition advice for college athletes.
Over the next couple weeks we will cover each of these tips, including actionable advice for you to take with you to the kitchen and to practice.