By Nancy Chan
Young people have more dietary options than ever yet the variety and personal restraints can present a challenge to healthy eating, even for aspiring athletes.
“It’s important. And impossible and improbable at the junior college level,” said John Balano, City College’s director of sports performance. He helps train all of City College’s sports teams.
“If you’re living at home it’s no problem; if you’re living by yourself it depends on whether you have the money to get you through the month, the day.” Balano continues.
“My first year here we had a linebacker who’s been playing for two years. A pro standing on the sideline, walking around woozy and underperforming because he hadn’t eaten in two days. So we’re going into halftime to our meeting and he becomes this guy with a helmet in his hand, going to get a couple of hot dogs at the stand.”
Balano considers this example extreme but not uncommon, so he and his colleagues enforce simpler self-care approaches into their athletes.
For instance, Balano recommends eating carbohydrates at least 90 minutes before or a small snack 45 minutes before a game or workout, excluding acidic foods and large meals.
“You don’t want blood going to your stomach,” Balano says.
He adds that protein should be consumed one to two hours after a workout.
Balano doesn’t tell his athletes to measure water intake in ounces either, he believes hydration levels should be decided in the bathroom. Optimum levels yield clearer urine and dark yellow is a sign of dehydration.
“With these fancy bottles, gallon bottles and water fountains everywhere, I’m mystified people still get dehydrated,” Balano said.
Adam Lucarelli, City College’s head soccer coach, also recommends looking at urine to understand hydration levels. Like Balano, Lucarelli feels that water is the most neglected nutrient.
“I think athletes are chronically dehydrated because they rely too much on sodas and energy drinks when they should be drinking more water,” Lucarelli said.
Another potential pitfall to avoid are supplements because millennials are likelier to use them as meal replacements.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” Balano said. “They’re meant to be additions to your meal and aren’t always regulated by the FDA. You don’t always know what you’re putting into your body.”
For a list of approved supplements Balano recommends the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s website. As for dietary regimens they vary depending on the individual and their desired activities.
Anthony Ismail, a runner who specializes in sprints and relays, does not eat junk food on most days. Ismail emphasizes eating a lot of vegetables and fruits, usually eating fruit before a competition. He “builds muscle during the off-season to build strength, then slim down to get faster during the season.”
Rodney Morgan, who trains for long-jump and high-jump, drinks two gallons of water a day. “I’ve drank only water for the past five years; I don’t mess with soda,” Morgan said. He eats peanut butter and jelly throughout the entire week and doesn’t eat anything before competing. His teammates playfully call him a freak.
Lucarelli’s team, for the most part, similarly eat what they want but they don’t do cheat meals.
“Young athletes don’t really follow that idea. Food’s more than fuel for a lot of people,” Lucarelli said. “It’s a form of entertainment or being social. Eating foods that are not necessarily the greatest is okay as long as you do it on rare occasions.”
Balano reiterates that junk food “like pizza and Cheetos” is permissible in moderation. Cheat days, rather than being for anybody trying to reach a fitness goal, are better suited for high-level people.
“A great example because he always puts his [cheat days] on Instagram is Dwayne Johnson. If you knew that your livelihood is predicated on how you look you’d eat strictly for six days and work out like a fiend too,” Balano said.