Athletes change their diets to optimize performance in sports

For many sports, a change in diet can help to boost performance for athletes

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Aiden Burke, JagWire assistant editor

A long-distance runner in cross country and track, junior Vinny Bruno’s diet changes significantly depending on what time of the year it is and what sort of training he is doing at the time. For example, during the off-season and pre-season when the training is much lighter, Bruno’s diets focus much more on lighter foods, like fruits and vegetables.

“During these times of the year, you aren’t pushing your body as much so you don’t need as much energy from heavier foods,” Bruno said. “Once the season starts, you want to balance out the diet more; you want to add more grains and protein to your diet.”

Bruno’s diet changes significantly when training gets more intense and he is preparing for a competition. Leading up to track and cross country meets, Bruno prioritizes a heavier diet with things like grains and carbs over fruits and vegetables.

“When I have a track meet about to come up, I start to prioritize things like grains over vegetables and fruits,” Bruno said. “I try to carbo-load and mix in a few vegetables, fruits and proteins the night before an event.”



Junior Katie Schwartzkopf, a long-distance runner, has had to change her diet in one major way to keep up with her training. For Schwartzkopf, it isn’t the type of food that is necessarily important, but just eating enough food to keep up with the calories burnt from training.

“I didn’t realize how much you have to eat to gain back the calories that you were burning and how important a bigger diet can be,” Schwartzkopf said. “It’s hard to get out of the mindset that you don’t always necessarily have to eat healthy as long as you’re eating something.”

According to Schwartzkopf, changing her diet helps her feel more comfortable with her body when running and training for her season. Not only does this prevent her from falling behind on her eating schedule, but it also boosts her running performance.

“It helps me fuel my body better and I can continue running without getting injured and can become a better runner,” Schwartzkopf said. “It helps ensure that I don’t get behind on eating, which can cause other issues.”



One sport that heavily depends on changing eating patterns is wrestling. Sophomore Eddie Hughart had to make large changes to what and how he eats for the sport, transitioning from things like fast food to healthier, leaner meals.

“I completely changed the way that I eat; I went from eating Wendy’s and Dairy Queen to things like grilled chicken and green beans.”

Unlike sports like cross country, Hughart only focuses on changing his diet during the wrestling season rather than year-round. 

“I only diet when [the wrestling] season is going on,” Hughart said. “I mainly do it to maintain my weight.”

 


The Benefits of Dieting

To many athletes, dieting has become a way of monitoring weight, staying fit and building strength during their sports seasons. In anything from football and wrestling to cross country and track, what you eat can play a huge role in your performance. 

One sport where dieting is particularly prevalent is long-distance running. According to junior Katie Schwartzkopf, sports like cross country require a large change in your diet primarily because of the amount of calories that you are burning from running long distances every day.

“I didn’t realize how much you have to eat to gain back the calories that you were burning and how important a bigger diet can be,” Schwartzkopf said. “It’s hard to get out of the mindset that you don’t always necessarily have to eat healthy as long as you’re eating something.”

The common misconception about dieting, according to Schwartzkopf, is that it always involves cutting back on what you are eating. For a runner who isn’t eating enough, it can inhibit their potential and make running a lot more uncomfortable.

“I have to eat more to keep up with the calories I’m burning,” Schwartzkopf said. “So I think you can definitely feel a difference if you eat more and are able to fuel your body more as a result. It helps me feel better when I’m running, especially at the end of a workout.”

Junior Vinny Bruno, a runner on the cross country and track teams, takes a more methodical approach to dieting. Bruno has gone out of his way to do independent research regarding what diet will serve him best as a runner. The results he found vary greatly depending on the time of year and intensity or workload of practices.

“There is kind of a running cycle so there are different times of the year that I change my diet,” Bruno said. “When the season hasn’t started yet, you want to do a lighter diet where you’re eating more fruits and vegetables to get more fiber instead of protein. Fruits and vegetables help manage your weight, which is good to help keep your body fit during the off-season.”

Once out of the easier, pre-season training, Bruno begins to ramp up his diet to include things designed to strengthen his body for harder training and competitions.

“When you’re doing more moderate training and balancing fruits and vegetables with proteins and grains more, that will help balance your fitness. You won’t be losing as much weight, but you will be keeping your body in shape,” Bruno said. “When you’re doing hard training leading up to an event, eating grains will help prepare your body for that event.”

Bruno agrees with Schwartzkopf that a change in diet for a runner is quite literally a change in pace – it allows them to perform better at practice and themselves up for success at competitions and events.

“I think it has had an impact on my performance. When I used to not eat the right things the night or day before a race, my body would not feel as comfortable,” Bruno said. “I would feel like I was having to do more and work harder than when I ate the right things.”

Cross country is not the only sport that recommends a change in diet, though. One sport that heavily depends on changing eating patterns is wrestling. Sophomore Eddie Hughart had to make large changes to what and how he eats for the sport.

“I completely changed the way that I eat; I went from eating Wendy’s and Dairy Queen to things like grilled chicken and green beans.”

Why? Wrestlers like Hughart often need to cut off weight to fit into certain weight classes for the sport. Dieting gives them the means to do this without losing strength that is necessary to still win matches.

“Dieting helps me to cut weight off while still having the strength to win matches,” Hughart said. “It doesn’t really change my overall fitness during the season other than that I still have strength and I don’t feel drained from cutting weight.”

Not only can a change in diet help to stay fit, it can result in a boost in performance for any athlete, regardless of the sport.

The main takeaway? Dieting can be highly beneficial, but Bruno and Schwartzkopf would warn that how someone diets is largely dependent on who that person is.

“Doing a diet that works for you is one of the best things that you can do as an athlete to increase your performance and your health while you’re not in practice,” Bruno said. “I think it’s very effective as long as you do it right.”

Schwartzkopf largely agrees that the way that someone diets can vary greatly from person to person, and that that is something to be conscious of if you’re considering dieting.

“Everybody is different; a lot of the people on the team have different bodies that need different diets,” Schwartzkopf said. “Just make sure you are getting enough fuel for your body and that you know what you’re doing. Just understand that you’re going to be losing a lot of calories and it’s okay to eat because that’s how our bodies get fuel.”

 

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