Athletes: Strength Through Wellness

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can be a challenging project by itself, but throw in a couple hours of running, lifting and strenuous exercise several times a week, and eating right suddenly becomes quite a task.

Athletes, no matter what sport they play, need to treat their body like a temple in order for it to be able to withstand the stress that they force on it. In order to do so, athletes must adhere to specialized diets that have been fitted to their bodily needs required by their respective sports.

These athletes’ diets can vary greatly, some barely differing from a non-athlete’s diet, and some being drastically over-the-top (i.e. Michael Phelps’ diet).

“What’s important for athletes is what they eat before, during and after an event,” said Diane Werner, a registered and licensed dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics.

Werner graduated from Washburn University in 2001 and has been an adjunct instructor in the kinesiology and nursing departments at Washburn for approximately 10 years. She is also a consultant dietitian for those who are interested in starting a specific eating regiment.

When it comes to sports diets, Werner said the top nutrients athletes need to be ingesting are carbohydrates. Carbs, such as starches, pasta, bread, cereal, grains, etc., help to replenish energy in the athlete’s body that is burned during exercise or game play. Along with carbs, athletes also need to take in ample amounts of fluids like water or Gatorade, as well as proteins for repairing muscles and foods with sodium to replace the salts lost in sweat.

Not only do athletes need to eat the right stuff, they also need to eat the right amounts. Being physically active burns calories, but one must first have those calories to burn. The suggested number of calories an athlete should consume can vary from person to person, but normally requires more than that of an average non-athlete diet.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” said Werner. “It depends on the resting metabolic rate and how active a person is.”

An athlete’s daily calorie intake could range anywhere from a typical 2,000 to an extreme consumption of 12,000 per day like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps claims to ingest. For Washburn football player Marty Pfannenstiel, sometimes getting that many calories down can pose a challenge.

“We are told to eat more mainly because we are expending so many calories throughout the week, that you must eat more to maintain,” said Pfannenstiel. “This is sometimes hard to do with such a busy schedule, but is something that is stressed throughout the season.”

Pfannenstiel, a senior accounting major, said he has to be conscious of what he eats during football season because the diet of an athlete plays a major role in his or her performance.

For this reason he avoids eating fast food and other greasy substances that are hard on the body. In order to meet the recommended daily intake of calories, athletes like Pfannenstiel eat frequent meals and snacks throughout each day, take supplements and/or drink nutrient shakes.

Generally, eating right and getting what the body needs takes work. Luckily, teams have consultant dietitians like Diane Werner to help. Werner emphasizes that not only do diets differentiate between sports, but more importantly, between people. Werner states that a person’s diet must be individualized to their needs and specifications, whether an athlete or not. Maintaining a balanced diet may have its restrictions, but that doesn’t mean cutting out favorite foods entirely.

“Tell me what you want and I’ll work it in,” said Werner.