Photographed by Roy Inkidar
Athletics trainer Eliza Parker in the UNCA justice training room.
Diet remains an important factor in the training plans of UNC Asheville student athletes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As student athletes return to a more stable competition and training schedule after a shortened 2020-2021 sports year, the need to provide themselves with proper nutrition and nutrition is becoming imperative. Most UNCA athletes need to balance their meal plan to energize in a healthy way and follow the guidelines set by the coaches.
UNCA Athletic Trainer Eliza Parker said diet is vital to physical and mental health whether you are an athlete or not.
“It’s general health. It’s recovery from daily activities, it’s also heart function, digestive function, making sure you’re getting the right proteins and macro-micronutrients is the whole cascade. One thing that many people are not aware of is food for mental health as well. Ingesting sugar and caffeine can alter a person’s state of mind, and that’s an important thing for athletes and even everyone else, “said Parker.
As an athletic trainer, Parker helps help student-athletes focus on the importance of timing in managing a balanced diet for an athlete.
“When you look at nutrition in exercise, you talk about timing on the one hand, and what you eat during exercise and games on the other, because timing is important to the flow of blood to the digestive system. Of course, you want most of the blood to flow to active muscles, but you need to make sure you have the right blood sugar levels to help you survive your prolonged activity. So we talk a lot about timing and what we eat, ”said Parker.
Parker also said that recreation plays a huge role in the nutrition of high school students and athletes. She said consuming protein an hour after a workout remains a key factor in fueling games and competitions.
“Protein is what will help us heal the muscle damage we do. Muscle recovery happens most often at night, especially at night, so it’s great to have protein with dinner so your body can get the best rest when you take it, ”said Parker.
According to Parker, energy drinks like Gatorade have some benefits when used wisely.
“Even if you just put a high-glucose drink like Gatorade in your mouth and then spit it out and ingest it that way, your central nervous system gets switched on and you get some sugar out of your mouth because your tongue and mouth absorb some of the carbohydrates. That can raise your blood sugar levels without actually consuming anything, ”said Parker.
As the UNCA student-athletes return to a year of regular competitions, many teams strictly adhere to the implemented dietary guidelines. Gaby Shenot, a UNCA student on the swim and dive team, said the team followed a diet they call detox prior to major championships.
“Basically, we don’t eat sweets and we sort of control our sugar intake, but obviously we still eat as much healthy food as possible,” Shenot said.
Shenot said diet plays a huge role in her performance as a swimmer, a sport that needs the right nutrients to maintain energy during high-performance training and exercise.
“I need a lot of fuel in the long run just because I’m doing distance (swimming), so I need a lot of energy to keep myself running. Swimming is like that because you are walking all the time and diet is important so I can keep going all the time. Diet definitely helps, I wasn’t really interested in it in high school, but now that I’m here, I’m much better just watching what I eat, ”Shenot said.
Blake Little, a junior on the UNCA baseball team, said diet was a must for self-sufficiency.
“Diet is probably one of the most important things. For us it is above all to take care of it ourselves, a great deal of personal responsibility. We don’t follow a strict eating plan, but we keep an eye on our macronutrients just to make sure we’re getting the right stuff into our bodies, ”Little said.
UNCA Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Woody Taylor said that consistently eating the right foods is a crucial factor in maintaining the energy levels necessary to excel in basketball.
“In our program, we really try to make sure the guys understand that basketball is a sport where you have to take care of your body. A quote that Coach Morell often uses is: “The best skill is availability”. That includes treatment, post-workout recovery, pre-workout stretching, but one of the most important parts of being able and available is eating the right things and making sure you eat throughout the day “Said Taylor.
Taylor said the team has certain expectations of basketball players to ensure they are consuming balanced meals for fuel. For example, men’s basketball players must have breakfast according to team guidelines.
“One of the things we do here on campus is unique in my opinion that we have a mandatory breakfast check. What happens is that students have the option to get up and eat the first meal of the day, and that is required Monday through Friday, ”said Taylor.
According to Taylor, players are also given high-protein foods after a workout to support their muscle growth.
“After they lift weights, we usually have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and muscle milk available for them just so they can put some of the calories they lost back into their bodies. The reason we use muscle milk is because it’s high in protein, the same goes for peanut butter. The studies all say that post-weightlifting protein is extremely beneficial for building muscle and gaining weight, ”said Taylor.
While the competition season is in the fall and teams are in the middle of training off-season, UNCA student athletes, with the help of coaches and coaches, continue to follow dietary guidelines to prepare physically and mentally for a more normal year of competition.