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Diary of a student-athlete

Food ultimately dictates direction in wellness evolution

Published: Monday, November 14, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07

As a student, I am continuously humbled in having this opportunity to reach out to the Texas A&M community abroad through this blog series. My goal is and has been to inspire and educate readers to consider alternatives with deep respect to their current lifestyle. As an athlete, I have not only been an integral part in representing this school in a positive light, but along the way, received many experiences that have molded me into an individual as well as a national champion. 

It is these two worlds that we (as a society valuing convenience) take for granted. One world represents this pseudo-"Campaign for Greater Good," and the other world, encompassing the many anecdotes from the toolkit of an athlete, has all-in-all given me the drive to become acquainted with certain biological, chemical and physical implications.

The wellness evolution

Upon the first day at A&M, my coach recited to us, "Everything that you have learned from high school — forget it." It was from here on that we would come into adoption by the excellence of Texas A&M athletics and grow together as a team. But I was to learn, as a track athlete, the challenge of track adaptation was merely a metaphor for the things to come. Of course, in youth, competition seems to be the essence of "How-come" and "What-for." It wasn't until after my first season, when I looked at myself as a failure, that I began to consider the more monumental aspect, "What if?" And I became consumed with it.

I wasn't used to self-evaluation as a natural competitor. But I realized if I continued on the same path I would become acquainted with this feeling of hopelessness. With the help of my coach's wisdom, I came to the conclusion that two facets habitually construct fitness: diet and exercise. On one end, I am receiving world-class physical training, but on the other I am continuing to neglect my nutrition and uphold a standard American diet. Without balance there is no accountability to progress in my sport. This pivotal realization changed everything.

Consistency in learning

During my second year of school, I moved into my own apartment. Alas, I was introduced to something I always acknowledged and never quite became cool with — a kitchen. Food was looking less like cooking and more like construction science, for I lived off frozen dinners, frozen pizzas and ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Running at about 6.7 percent body fat, it didn't quite show. Energy-wise, however, I was drained, and it seemed the amount of calories, sodium and trans fat I would consume on a regular day would literally be the end of me. I gradually began to cook, and these meals mostly came in the form of grilled chicken, starchy white rice and microwaved frozen vegetables. This held me over temporarily, but later on I would still be hungry and I would have to eat, say, peanut butter and bread just to appease my stomach.

Coupled with the experience, my national rankings rose from top 100 to top 50. I was partially satisfied — there was obviously still a long road ahead.

  • Breakfast: Basic 4 Cereal with sliced bananas, soy milk
  • Lunch: Full sandwich made of two slices of turkey, one slice of cheese, red onion slices, iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato; an apple
  • Dinner: White rice, frozen meals, frozen pizzas, George-Foreman-Grill grilled chicken, fried foods
  • Body Fat: 6.7%
  • NCAA 800-meter Ranking: No. 32

During my third year, I gained a greater understanding on how my system worked and which foods did or didn't succeed. I began to consult my nutritionist on a regular basis (who, by this time, deeply understood I was driven to "passing the body fat test") and was continuously offered alternatives, pointers as to how I could get the most out of every meal.

However, that wouldn't come until I seriously altered how I perceived the grocery store. For shopping, with a newfound and seemingly deep distaste for food, I started banning things out of the cycle. Mayonnaise (along with condiments in general), frozen pizzas, frozen dinners, sugary-anything, white rice, white bread, chips, desserts, full sandwiches, red meat, cheese, fast food and bacon. All gone. 

From now on, I reasoned, I would shop along the outside of the food store aisles. There wasn't anything processed I couldn't reproduce from scratch through healthy and cost-effective means.

If there were any times I wasn't satisfied after dinner, I would eat a fruit or a vegetable, or I would drink a quart of water to fill the void. Six times out of seven I was very faithful to my diet, but there would be times when I would crave something sugary.

Once a week, I would reward myself with a dessert, and I began to call these days, "Fend-for-yourself Fridays," where no rules would apply.

I was progressing tremendously both academically and athletically. I had more energy than ever before and the consistency set me up such that I could expect to eat at this time, every day. Coincidentally, I could study after I eat at this time, every day. I also told myself that I wouldn't eat a meal unless four hours had transpired. This also helped me plan my days effectively.

  • Breakfast: Dry toast, coffee
  • Lunch: One-half sandwich made of avocado, romaine lettuce, turkey and banana pepper on rye; one fruit, usually an apple
  • Dinner: Brown rice, black beans, chicken, fish and steamed and stir-fry vegetables
  • Body fat: 5.9%
  • NCAA 800-meter Ranking: No. 6

Now it's senior year. Without question, my cooking has become a science. Techniques, seasonings, preparation and flavors — I am very comfortable in the kitchen, and I continue to experiment and pull off meals I'm always satisfied with. My body is an efficient, fat-burning machine only because the food I put into it are mostly single-ingredient and highly nutritional in value.

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1 comments Log in to Comment

Sun Nov 27 2011 00:32
In addition to everything in your blog, I would offer that college students simply fail to grasp initially (and some, never) that their, your, success as an elite student is predicated on your ability to endure, and to thrive. Eating junk food is a serious impediment to wellness. The stresses each student faces are debilitating but often unrealized ("I'm always coming down with the flu", "my roommate is always giving me the crud", or just plain feeling lousy, is not normal and can be easily avoided. Eating decent meals with fruits, vegetables, berries, sound nutrition instead of fast food crap, will contribute not just to athletic success but also to academic performance. As a pharmacist (and not just a high performance coach for the USOC/USA Archery) I would recommend at least 15 to 30 minutes of raw sunshine (for vitamin D, a hormone as potent as testosterone for athletic performance - taking 10,000iu of D3 is an acceptable, cheap, effective, and safe substitute for the sunshine, esp in the winter- just be sure to avoid sunburns, always), adequate calcium, some iron if you donate blood and you should since the life you save might be a veterans', and as much free-radical-neutralzing antixoidants as you can get (the aforementioned fruits & berries). Add in periodization training for the serious athletes and you can get to world class levels even as you matriculate(a teasip word meanin' study). :) Stay the heck away from multivitamins, the A in them is actually harmful. Stay well and you'll do your best - never leave anything undone that you could have done, ever. And if I could - Joey, don't focus on the % body fat - that is not an indication of health for your needs and athletic performance - look after the basics as you have been, use periodization intelligently (find Coach Bill Coady for more on this) and with more hard smart work you'll be even better. Good luck and solid training.
A.Ron Carmichael, grandson of Aggie James Settle Anderson

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