By Ellie Rice
Nutrition is defined in so many different ways. Some people believe their fried chicken salad topped with ranch is a healthy choice, while others might think they are doing right by choosing a diet coke over a regular coke. It can be a touchy concept to discuss because every individual feels they might be doing it right. They follow what the media says, or conventional recommendations have said, and never really question what exactly is in the food they are eating. They never ask themselves, “will this be a lifestyle change or just a fad diet lasting a few months?”
My advice: Instead of just doing what everyone says to do, it is important to do your own investigation, be honest with yourself, and find out if your food choices are actually good for your body. Something I’ve learned is the importance of keeping your food fun and most importantly, simple!
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to decode the mixed messages we are surrounded by. One week the health department says to eat small meals throughout the day, then the next week it is telling us to only eat three. How can we possibly know what is good from bad when the media is constantly changing its mind?
Looking back on my past, I too have fallen for the many new trends the media has publicized. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to grasp onto what this whole nutrition thing is all about. I wouldn’t say I ever ate “bad,” as I was brought up in a very healthy family. However, as I changed what I ate and drank, so changed my body, my performance, and my mindset.
In my early years as a collegiate soccer player at Santa Clara University, the foods I reached for were sugary cereals, oatmeal, energy bars, smoothies with a lot of fruit, sandwiches, salads, and pastas. I mainly drank water, but Gatorade and fat-free lattes/mochas snuck their way in throughout my first year. Maybe the list of foods listed above doesn’t look so bad, but it certainly was not the best I could do for my health and performance.
My motivation to look deeper into my food choices came partly from my coach. He was always motivating me because he thought I was too small, or not strong enough. But, I lifted like the rest of the team and ate well (based on conventional recommendations)! What else could I do? I despised hearing his words because I knew that even though I was small, I was just as strong or stronger then most of the other girls. Due to this, I started to look in depth at my nutrition. I wanted to find any little edge that would allow me to be better than my competitor. That little edge that I found I could better control was food.
For three years I experimented with food, drinks, and strength programs. By my senior year, I knew I had it right. It was also the first time my coach had told me how strong I looked. I did not weigh more, in fact, I was a little smaller. However, my lean muscle, power, and play on the field was so much stronger. I played so much bigger. My mind set had also changed. I knew I was strong enough, which translated into more confidence on the field.
So what did I change? I cut out most cereals, cut out sugary drinks, cut out most processed grains, and really focused on “whole foods.” I ate real foods as much as I could, kept my food simple, and made my food fun. My roommate and I cooked almost every night, buying the freshest ingredients that we could afford. I focused on getting lean protein at every meal with healthy fats and nutrient dense carbohydrates rather than highly processed and refined carbohydrates. For breakfast, I usually ate eggs with a lot of vegetables, avocado, and Ezekiel bread. For lunch I stuck to colorful salads with protein and quinoa or rice. And for dinner, we almost always had some form of sweet potatoes, with a lean protein (chicken, salmon, steak), more vegetables, and some fat. We weren’t perfect by any means (I mean we were still college kids) but we took pride in the food we made and it made us feel amazing!
Looking back on my college career, I did not realize how much food could play a role in my success as an athlete. I now believe it can be the complete advantage of one athlete over another. Nutrition is not as complex as some might think. Keep it simple, make it fun, and most importantly keep your food REAL. I began doing this and I saw tremendous results.