The athlete’s diet a key to success on the field

Hofstra University's Jordyn McDonnell says it's hard to eat right as an athlete because she's always rushing around, but she tries her best. Above, McDonnell competing in the 3K steeplechase at the Princeton Invite. // Photo courtesy Hofstra University

By Francis Argueta

Part six in a series featuring stories that appeared in the 2022 edition of Pulse, the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication’s annual student-created magazine, titled this year as Pass the Plate. Pick up your copy at the Herbert School.

Morning workouts, breakfast, school, weight room sessions, work — just a few things that make up the day of a student athlete. What is indispensable among these activities is eating, and finding the time to nourish the body is often what athletes leave last, though it may be the most important part of their day.

For some, their diet may consist of roughly the same meals every day to ensure they don’t lose weight or gain too much. For others, the diet may depend on how much time they have available to eat during a busy schedule. Regardless of what diet is followed, there are varying methods one can use to eat healthy and get in shape.

There are many factors involved in the life of college athletes. They play sports, but they are also students. That means that their time is divided between their participation in athletics and classes. Along with sports and school, many also hold jobs, whether they be during the school week or on the weekends. 

College athletes dedicate a great deal of time to these variables each day, and they may play a part in their diet, both in the energy that they need to accomplish these tasks, and in how much time they may have in between. 

Jordyn McDonnell is a junior who dorms at Hofstra University and is a cross-country and long-distance track runner. She finds it difficult to eat at school because of her busy schedule. “At school, it’s very hard to eat because I’m always rushing around, and I feel like I’m never actually enjoying what food I eat,” McDonnell said. 

One to two meals a day gets McDonnell through school and practice, but most importantly for her, she needs coffee. If she is running late, she may not eat before her classes and just have her coffee in the afternoon. When she can eat, she might have a sandwich, salad or rice bowl with chicken.

The team stops off at the Starbucks on campus after each of their morning runs, and McDonnell sometimes gets a bagel with cream cheese with her coffee; if she has more time, she orders eggs with home fries on the weekends. The track team occasionally goes off campus to parks and fields for runs, and members eat at other bagel shops after.

McDonnell said she doesn’t eat before practice or a meet, drinking only water, and she eats better during winter and spring breaks because she has more time to herself at home. “At home, I’ll eat whatever, whenever, because there’s more stuff there than here,” she said.

Dinner time is McDonnell’s favorite because it’s her biggest meal of the day and she can relax and enjoy it more. She typically has pasta, a rice bowl or anything else that might grab her attention at the Hofstra student center. If it’s after a race, she and her teammates go out for pizza, Chinese food or another fast food. 

Carlos Santos competing.

Carlos Santos Jr. is another cross-country and long-distance track runner from Stony Brook University, where he recently finished his senior year. Santos averages five to six meals a day, because, as he puts it, “I never get full and I’m always hungry.” 

Santos’ meals generally consist of rice, chicken, beans, salads, and water or Gatorade. He doesn’t have a go-to dish to eat every day, but he tries to keep it consistent with the normal grains and foods that he’s accustomed to. The only meal Santos always eats is chicken parmesan and pasta the day before a race to raise his carbohydrate levels.

“I’m confident with my diet because it’s easy to follow and consistent. I’m very healthy, I barely get sick, and my metabolism and immune systems are great.”

Carlos Santos, Stony Brook cross-country runner

Whereas McDonnell treasures her time off from school because she gets to eat whatever she wants, Santos doesn’t change his diet much because he doesn’t want to interfere with his routine. “I’m confident with my diet because it’s easy to follow and consistent,” Santos said. “I’m very healthy, I barely get sick, and my metabolism and immune systems are great.”

Someone who eats just as much as Santos is Justin Umanzor, a junior weightlifter also from Stony Brook University. Measuring 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, the 20-year-old takes his diet seriously to maintain his weight. He trains year round, so he doesn’t have a break in his diet either.

Umanzor eats two breakfasts to start his day; his first comprises two egg sandwiches (two eggs each) on whole wheat bread with mayonnaise and ketchup. He eats the second breakfast an hour or so later, including another egg sandwich, this time with one egg, and a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Lunches typically include grilled chicken and rice, and he also eats two dinners. The first one is protein based, with chicken, steak or salmon. The second is lighter, including cereal with almond milk and a peanut butter sandwich. 

Though Umanzor keeps a busy schedule, finding time to eat is not difficult because his meals are typically easy to make and he’s a fast eater. When asked if he considers himself healthy, Umanzor said, “I would not consider myself healthy because I eat to gain mass and strength. Personal health is a secondary factor.” 

Silvestre Macias is a goalkeeper for Molloy College who also lifts weights four to six times a week. Macias eats three to four meals a day, with light breakfasts of smoothies or fruits because he doesn’t want to feel heavy during early-morning soccer drills.

“I would say my meals are usually based on high protein, easily digestible meals with frequent consumption [rice and ground beef or turkey], because I often struggle to build up an appetite.” 

Silvestre Macias, Molloy College soccer goalkeeper

“I would say my meals are usually based on high protein, easily digestible meals with frequent consumption [rice and ground beef or turkey], because I often struggle to build up an appetite,” he said. 

Macias pointed to his lack of appetite and busy schedule as reasons that he sometimes struggles to eat, but since he isn’t overly strict with his diet, it’s easier to follow. He thinks he’s “moderately” healthy because, though he’s very active, his struggle to eat and lack of sleep impact his wellbeing. 

During school breaks, he said he feels more loose and doesn’t stress about his diet as much as during the soccer season. “I let myself enjoy food a bit more, and I’m more lenient when it comes to going out with friends,” Macias said. “I believe life is about balance and not fully removing anything from your life.” 

Whether athletes are running miles in spikes, pumping iron at the gym or stopping balls from landing in the net, they need to eat. There’s more than one way to succeed at your sport, and these athletes justly personify that.