What you put into your body is what you get out of your body.
For student-athletes performing at a high level of their sport, this sentiment may ring particularly true. With sports nutrition as a burgeoning field of study, athletes are increasingly encouraged to monitor the food they eat in order to have an optimal performance during competition day.
Due to the season being cut short from the coronavirus outbreak, UCLA track and field athletes used to eating food prepared at school are tasked with the challenge of keeping their bodies in top shape at home.
“It’s definitely been a bit of a challenge (to keep in physical shape), especially with all the restrictions around going outside,” said senior distance runner George Gleason. “Back at UCLA, we had all those amenities available to us, where you know you’re getting the proper fuel and that you’re getting taken care of. We also lose the cultural aspect as well, not being able to finish a hard run and then go in and eat with all my teammates.”
With stay-at-home orders in place across the nation, Gleason said that diet has taken on an even larger role in ensuring that athletes don’t fall out of shape during these trying times to keep the immune system running well.
However, Gleason said the time at home has afforded some student-athletes the opportunity to spend more time with their families, which can help with healthy eating and sparks cooking adventures with the family.
“I’m definitely lucky because … my family is pretty active, so my parents have been taking really good care of us, making sure that we have everything we need to be eating healthy and staying healthy,” Gleason said. “We’ve also been taking advantage of the time together and making some brownies, definitely getting into the sweets as well.”
Eating well during the season can also play a role in keeping athletes in competition-shape. Throughout the course of the 2019-2020 season, several members of UCLA track and field shared what their go-to pre-meet meals are, and the results showed a wide range of preferences.
Protein, a building block of the body’s muscles, appeared to be a popular choice among Bruins.
“The night before a meet, I’ll usually go for a salad with grilled chicken,” said junior thrower Alyssa Wilson. “I like to get a lot of protein in so I’m fueled and ready to go the next morning. Nothing too heavy, usually just super light.”
While Wilson favors a light, protein-heavy meal, other athletes identified carbohydrates as the most essential nutrient for them on race day. Both senior distance runner Riley Kelly and junior distance runner Christina Rice said pasta is their go-to meal before a meet.
Pre-race pasta meals can build up the body’s energy reserves through the conversion of carbohydrates to glucose, which in excess is converted to and stored as glycogen within the body that can be used as an energy source during a race.
Gleason echoed the carb-loading sentiment.
“If I can, I go for some Thai food, a chicken pad thai. And then oatmeal and coffee,” Gleason said. “You just want to go real big on the carbs. No holding back, just full carbs. I eat like three pad thais. Probably 5000 calories.”
Not all athletes said they had a real preference for a particular food before competing. Senior distance runner Arturo Sotomayor said he prefers to switch things up.
“Sometimes it’s pasta, sometimes it’s pizza, sometimes I’ve had a steak,” Sotomayor said.
Although athletes may have to adapt to quarantine conditions, they said maintaining their diets is important for staying in shape through these times.