Freshmen athletes adjust dietary habits living at BYU

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Sugary cereal for breakfast, ice cream for lunch and chocolate milk with every meal. College freshmen are known to overload on junk food their first semester away from home. But freshmen athletes don’t have the freedom to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. Most athletes stick to personalized nutrition plans tailored to their sport and needs.

Freshmen athletes not only have to adjust to living away from home and taking tougher classes, but also to managing a demanding game and practice schedule and eating an athlete-focused diet. BYU has resources available to help athletes eat more healthy.

BYU sports dietician Rachel Higginson said athletes are in a constant cycle of needing fuel and nutrients in order to perform well at practices and games and need to eat at consistent times every day.

“Being on that constant cycle helps them perform better; it increases their endurance and helps prevent the risk of injury,” Higginson said.

BYU freshman gymnast and pre-dietetics major Natasha Trejo of Tuscan, Arizona, has been interested in nutrition for years. A back injury in high school made Trejo conscientious of what she eats. She said gymnasts eat differently than other athletes because they participate in a different type of physical activity. Gymnasts often eat lean protein, fruits, vegetables and minimal carbs.

“(For) gymnastics, I just feel you don’t really need all those carbs because you’re not burning as much because you’re not running around for 10 miles,” Trejo said. “So I think it’s different in that way.”

Higginson meets with individual athletes to discuss their eating habits and make nutrition plans. Some athletes have never cooked before and need help planning healthy meals. Others need help incorporating specific food groups into their diet or simply planning when to eat each day.

She advises her athletes to “think in food groups” and eat food from at least three different food groups, including protein, at each meal. An athlete might do this by choosing to eat salmon, salad and fruit.

Some athletes choose to avoid sweets or carbonation, but Higginson doesn’t require that for all athletes. She adapts each nutrition plan to fit the needs and wants of the athlete. Higginson may give a calorie count to an athlete with a sweet tooth to let them eat what they love while moderating their intake at the same time. The key is having a plan.

“If you have a plan for the week of how you’re going to eat your meals, where you’re going to eat, that just make a world of a difference,” Higginson said. “Planning meals is huge.”

Some BYU freshmen athletes live in dorms or apartments and have meal plans, while others live in a house and cook for themselves, but they all have to plan healthy meals and when to eat them. Eating at consistent times every day provides the needed fuel and energy to play well. If an athlete eats at a random time during the day, it can throw off their schedule and a lack of energy can worsen their play.

Freshman baseball pitcher Zach Brinkerhoff from Cedar City, Utah, traveled to Salt Lake City for three summers in high school to play summer baseball for the Utah Marshalls. He lived in a hotel with teammates and they intended to cook healthy food for themselves. But soon they resorted to picking up fast food for dinner on the way home from practices.

“I noticed over the summers I wasn’t feeling as good,” Brinkerhoff said. “Running and stuff sucked… and it seemed like it was easier to get sick and get colds and all that stuff.”

Brinkerhoff now lives in an apartment and has a meal plan. He said it’s easier to eat healthily than it was during summer ball. Brinkerhoff met with Higginson at the beginning of the semester and they made an easy-to-follow plan of when to eat meals.

Freshman cross country runner Connor Ross is living away from home for the first time and also adjusted his eating habits. The Reno, Nevada, native said he had to find a balance in eating the right amount of food before practice and get used to eating at the same times every day. Ross said he will even eat lunch in class if it means staying on his eating schedule.

Freshman volleyball outside hitter Lacy Haddock of Longmont, Colorado, now realizes how much time and effort her mother put into preparing balanced breakfasts every morning for her and her sister growing up. Her mother was careful to include different food groups and knew how much of each food group was in the meal. Haddock now monitors her diet herself. She said the nutrition center on campus is convenient and helps athletes make healthy choices.

Haddock knows when she’s eats some unhealthy because it affects her athletic performance.

“If you want to play well, you have to eat well,” Haddock said.