Athlete’s diets

Student-athletes share opinions on healthy diets


Photo by and used with permission of Lilly Clifford

Lilly Clifford, junior, shows one of her healthy recipes-grilled meat.

Teen athletes burn between 325 and 670 calories per hour of physical activity according to an article about sports nutrition for youth athletes from Live Science. Therefore, athletes need to make sure they are providing their body with enough proper nutrients so they can have the energy they need to improve and practice at intense levels of training. Some student athletes at LZHS share their knowledge and personal opinions about their diets and the importance of eating healthy as an athlete.

Science behind food 

Lillian Clifford, junior, dedicates a lot of her time to her training in track and field. Being a pole vaulter and sprinter requires Clifford to train very intensely, however, the more intense her training becomes, the more important it is for her to make sure she is fueling herself correctly.

“If you’re a person who’s very active, you need to fuel your body with the right nutrients that you need to keep going,” Clifford said. “If you’re just eating sugar all day, of course you’re gonna be tired; and you’re more prone to getting injured.”

Clifford’s training greatly influences her diet. She considers how much energy she’ll need for her practices on a daily basis and, based on that, she’ll adjust how much she eats and what she eats.

“During the season for track, I tend to eat a lot more carbs to keep my energy up for sprinting. But when I’m just doing weightlifting during the off-season, I focus more on protein for muscle gains,” Clifford said. “I focus more on proteins [during the off-season] because I use them to rebuild my body. It’s like a recovery process but in food.”

According to an article about protein deficiency in Healthline, lack of protein reduces strength and can lead to anemia, when your cells don’t receive enough oxygen, which causes fatigue. Clifford watches her protein intake to make sure she gets enough so she can have the energy she needs to support her throughout her training.

“During the school day, I usually make sure to bring a protein bar for a snack if I get hungry,” Clifford said.

Although protein is very important to staying strong and retaining energy, other factors such as carbs and sugar are just as beneficial to providing your body with the energy it needs to practice, compete, and improve. 

“There’s a lot of rumors that say sugar is bad and sugar makes you fat. No, you need at least 30 grams of sugar in your diet, especially athletes,” Clifford said. “The same goes with carbs. Some people say a lot of carbs are bad for you but your body needs them to store and produce energy.”

Even though Clifford has a balanced diet now, it was not always easy to maintain. After a while, Clifford found out how to retain a healthy and balanced diet while still being able to enjoy the foods she loves.

“When I first started eating healthy it was a huge struggle for me because I was setting myself on a very strict diet. I’d see my sister eating a cookie and I would think, no, I can’t have that; but, in reality, as long as you eat relatively healthy, it doesn’t matter. I think, personally, the most important thing is if you eat a nutritious meal first, you can have whatever you want afterwards. Just as long as you have the nutrients that you need. It doesn’t really matter from there,” Clifford said.


Making the weight

As for Grant Noland, senior, he follows a strict diet during his wrestling season. Wrestling requires athletes to gain or lose specific amounts of weight because the sport consists of each player going against someone of relatively close size and body mass according to an article about wrestling and weight. So, the weight that Noland loses or gains has a great impact on his competition.

According to Noland, the weight an athlete needs to gain or lose depends on the fitness goals of the athlete. 

“Initially, at the beginning of the season, my diet had to be really strict to get down to the weight I wanted,” Noland said.

Noland was able to cut 15 pounds for wrestling over the course of four weeks. To achieve this goal, Noland was eating “1800 calories a day, at least 200 grams of protein, and zero sugar.”

However, after Noland reached the weight he wanted, he started eating more in moderation so he could maintain that weight. And he’s able to be more lenient when choosing his meals, but he still watches his diet when he goes out to eat with friends.

“[When I was cutting weight] I avoided going out for the most part, but sometimes there’s healthier options at restaurants like a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a breaded chicken sandwich,” Noland said. “There were a couple of occasions where I would bring my own food into the restaurant while my friends ate whatever else.”

Noland tracks the types of food and amount of food he eats so he can maintain the specific weight he wants, but as he learns more about what his body needs, choosing his meals becomes easier.

“Tracking definitely does help but you can still have a healthy diet and healthy eating habits even if you don’t track every single meal. Over time, you kind of learn how much food you need and your body is really good about telling you whether you’re hungry or not. So if you’re feeling hungry, definitely eat,” Noland said.

Although Noland admits he is “prone to mistakes just like everyone else. I’ve definitely not been perfect but I’ve kind of gotten to a point where I generally know how my body reacts to different foods and how I should eat overall.”


More than food 

Similar to Noland, Molly Freisen, sophomore, admits that she does not always eat the right amounts of nutrients that her body needs to withstand her intense basketball training.

“I feel like I could definitely eat a little bit more protein because I think I don’t balance my intake of carbs and protein. I want to start eating more protein because I know it will make me feel better, help me feel more full, and to give my muscles a chance to recover,” Freisen said.

Because her basketball training is so rigorous, Freisen makes sure she eats a healthy diet to help her maximize her physical capabilities. When she’s not training for basketball, she weight-lifts, as part of her conditioning, to gain strength.

“On the days I know that I have more conditioning, I definitely eat a little bit more because I know I’ll be a lot more tired than usual,” Freisen said. “So, I might add some simple carbs like bread or pretzels because foods like that give you quick energy.”

Although choosing the right foods and making sure you eat enough is very important, water and hydration are key factors to staying healthy during training. Staying hydrated is essential for preventing cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke according to the Children’s health website.

“I try to drink about 70 ounces of water per day which is two and a half of my water bottle; but, sometimes I forget to drink water during the day which I could do a better job of because I don’t perform as well when I know I haven’t drank enough during the day,” Freisen said.

However, water is not enough to replenish all of the lost salt athletes lose when sweating. According to Medical News Today, it’s important for athletes to consume electrolytes because drinks that contain a lot of electrolytes, such as Gatorade, help your body retain water which keeps you hydrated for a longer period of time. 

“When I drink a lot of water along with a Gatorade, I feel like I can definitely run a lot longer. Drinking Gatorade helps me a lot especially when I get a headache during practice because it helps my body feel more hydrated,” Freisen said.