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.