Nutrition remains an important factor in the regimens 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 athletic year, the need to fuel with proper foods and nutrition proves essential. Most UNCA athletes must balance their eating schedule to fuel in healthy ways and follow guidelines set by coaches.
UNCA Athletic Trainer Eliza Parker said nutrition is essential when it comes to physical and mental health whether or not you are an athlete.
“It is general health. It is recovery from daily activities, it is also heart function, digestive function, making sure you’re getting the right proteins and macro micro nutrients is the whole cascade. One thing a lot of people are unaware of is eating for mental health too, taking in sugars and caffeine can alter a person’s mind state, and that’s an important thing for athletes and even anyone,” Parker said.
As an athletic trainer, Parker said she helps student-athletes focus on the importance of timing when managing a well balanced nutritional diet for an athlete.
“When you are looking at nutrition in sports you are talking, for one, about timing, second, what you are eating when around practices and games because timing matters for shunting of blood into the digestive system. Obviously, you want most of that blood going through active muscles, but you have to make sure you have the right blood glucose level in order to get you through your prolonged activity. So, we talk a lot about timing and what we are eating,” Parker said.
Parker also said recovery plays a large role in student-athlete nutrition. She said consuming protein an hour after exercise remains a crucial factor in fueling for games and competitions.
“Protein is what is going to help us heal those muscle damages that we are doing. Particularly at night, the most common time that muscle recovery happens is at night, so eating protein with your dinner meal is great so that your body recovers the most at rest,” Parker said.
According to Parker, energy drinks such as Gatorade have some benefits when used wisely.
“Even just putting a glucose rich drink like gatorade in your mouth and then spitting out and so ingesting it will turn on your central nervous system and you get some of the sugar from your mouth as your tongue and your mouth absorb some of the carbohydrates, so that can raise your glucose without actually ingesting anything,” Parker said.
As UNCA student-athletes return to a year of regular competition, many teams strictly follow implemented nutritional guidelines. Gaby Shenot, a UNCA sophomore on the Swim and Dive team, said the team follows a diet they call detox before big championships.
“Basically, it is that we don’t eat sweets and kind of control our sugar intake, but obviously while still eating as much healthy food as possible,” Shenot said.
Shenot said nutrition plays a huge role in her performance as a swimmer, a sport that requires the right nutrients to sustain energy during high-performance training and meets.
“I need a lot of long-term fuel just because I do distance (swimming), and so I need a lot of energy to keep me going. Swimming is that way because you are constantly going, and nutrition is important so that I can last the whole time. Nutrition definitely helps, in high school I wasn’t really interested in it but now that I am here I have gotten a lot better just from watching what I eat,” Shenot said.
Blake Little, a junior on the UNCA Baseball team, said nutrition is a must for self-care.
“Nutrition is probably one of the most important things. For us, it is mainly just taking care of it ourselves, a big personal responsibility kind of thing. We are not following a strict diet plan, but we do keep track of our macronutrients just to make sure we are putting the right stuff into our bodies,” Little said.
UNCA Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Woody Taylor said that eating the right food consistently is a crucial part in maintaining the energy levels necessary to excel in basketball, something the UNCA coaching staff continually reiterates to their players during the buildup to the winter competition season.
“In our program, we really try to make sure that the guys understand that basketball is a sport that requires you to take care of your body. A quote that coach Morell uses often is, ‘The best ability is availability.’ What goes into that is treatment, recovery after practice, stretching before practice, but one of the most important parts of ability and being able to become available is actually eating the right things and making sure that you are eating throughout the day,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the team implements certain expectations for basketball athletes to make sure they consume balanced meals for fuel. For example, men’s basketball players must eat breakfast, according to team policy.
“One of the things that we do that I think is unique to us here on campus is that we have a mandatory breakfast check. What happens is that the students get an opportunity to get up and go eat the first meal of the day and that is required Monday to Friday,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, players also receive protein-filled foods after their workouts 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 that they can get some of the calories that they lost back into their bodies. The reason we use Muscle Milk is because there is a lot of protein in that, same thing for peanut butter. The studies all say that protein right after lifting weights is extremely beneficial when it comes to building muscle and weight gain as well,” Taylor said.
With the fall competition season underway and out-of-season teams in the midst of training, UNCA student-athletes continue to follow nutritional guidelines with the help of coaches and trainers in order to prepare physically and mentally for a more normal competition year.