You Play How You Eat: Athletes, Dietary Restrictions

Marah Alindogan

Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis

For collegiate athletes, nutrition is an aspect of daily life that is easy to overlook. With busy schedules filled with practices and rigorous classes, students often put the priority of eating the right amount of fruits and vegetables or drinking enough water on the back burner. Yet, one’s eating habits are vital to athletic performance.

For some varsity athletes at Whitman College, nutrition is even more important due to their specific dietary restrictions. Senior Sarah Anderegg, a basketball player, opened up her curiosity in being a vegetarian during a class project as a junior in high school.

“I did a project on the ethics of slaughter houses and animal cruelty junior year of high school. I believe in the humane treatment of all animals, so I took that summer researching vegetarianism,” said Anderegg.

After finding out the realities of nutrition in a middle school health class, junior Heather Lovelace, a basketball player, does not eat red meat at all and limits herself to only white meat and fish. While some athletes gravitate towards succulent steak dinners or carbo-loading with pasta before a big game or match, Lovelace says she has no problem preparing for games while still respecting her dietary restrictions.

“I learned about each type of fat and how each have different potentials to be good and bad for your body,” said Lovelace. “From then on I have read the ingredients on what I eat not necessarily to stay thin, but to keep my body as healthy as I can.”

For senior volleyball player Rachel Cline, living a gluten-free lifestyle has helped in alleviating her symptoms associated with gluten-sensitivity.

“I noticed a change in my daily energy levels. I also used to have tendonitis in the past that I don’t have this season. Overall, it has made me feel healthier,” said Cline.

Anderegg believes that her vegetarianism does not inhibit her athletic performance and is a strong proponent for the health benefits associated with being a vegetarian, such as a lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, two problems that run in her family.

“There are a lot of related health benefits to a vegetarian lifestyle,” said Anderegg. “I also feel a lot better about myself knowing I am not aiding in the inhumane slaughter of animals while simultaneously not putting toxins, chemicals and preservatives in my body that come from the animals and the production process.”

With a life filled with checking food labels and asking restaurant waiters specific ingredients in dishes, all three athletes have adjusted well. Cline has found other food alternatives that fit with her new lifestyle.

“I eat and still eat a lot of food that contain carbohydrates, like quinoa, rice, meat –– basically everything else,” said Cline.

Anderegg describes her diet as not being the norm for most vegetarians. In fact, she jokes about how some people identify her as a “carbo-tarian” due to her love of breads and cheeses.

“With the exception of salads, I never eat vegetables. However, I do eat a lot of meat substitutes like the Morning Star brand and Tofurkey,” said Anderegg. “There are a lot of meat substitutes and the companies do a really good job at making them taste if not as good, better than real meat.”

Lovelace’s diet is filled with copious amounts of natural food.

“I usually eat a generous amount of chicken when I can afford it at school, combined with spinach, avocado, tomatoes and carrots. Most snacks entail carrots, bananas or apples and peanut butter. For breakfast, I usually have oatmeal with protein powder and blueberries,” said Lovelace.

Rather than being inhibited by dietary limitations, these athletes have done their best to use them to their advantage. Lovelace certainly sees a connection between diet and athletic success.

“If you want your body to perform well, treat it well,” said Lovelace.