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Food is fuel

How student athletes must prioritize nutrients to have a successful performance
Sofia Boddy ’25

After an exhausting seven hour school day, high school athletes are expected to attend a two to three hour sports practice. Then they return home to a hefty amount of homework and household responsibilities. This chaos is just a normal day. Nutrition is key for fueling these tasks.

Dr. Heidi Gunderson has been practicing internal medicine for the past 20 years with a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science. She stressed that a healthy athlete should have a balanced diet. Gunderson said athletes with low caloric intakes are lowering their metabolism and putting themselves at risk for fatigue and other downfalls.

“Athletes that are energy deficient or not taking in enough caloric intake are at risk for other injuries like stress fractures,” Gunderson said.

Along with efficient caloric intake, Gunderson said athletes should prioritize specific nutrients.

“It’s important that you’re depleting your glycogen stores, which is through your carbohydrates intake. It’s also vital that you have adequate protein intake for recovery of your muscle function,” Gunderson said. “Some of the key nutrients you’d want to look at as a young athlete also would be adequate calcium and iron, particularly young female athletes.”

Gunderson said that it is common for teens to skip a meal and try to gain nutrients from a protein bar or drink instead. By skipping meals, she said that students are more likely to binge eat at the next meal.

“Today, when you’re so fast paced and you want to maybe get all your nutrition in a drink, or in a bar, that will never replace what you’re going to achieve by having that in the natural form of the food,” Gunderson said.

Specializing in eating disorders, body acceptance and intuitive eating, therapist and clinical social worker Lexi Garfeild-Turner said that a person must eat every two to four hours. As a student athlete practicing or playing a game each day, she said the amount of food intake should increase.

“On days with practices or games, especially if said practice or game is rigorous, the amount eaten should be increased and should reflect the output from playing or practicing their sport,” Garfield-Turner said.

Garfield-Turner said that an athlete who doesn’t eat enough will not be successful long term and their body will tank in productivity. Along with the physical side effects, she said that a lack of nutrients leads to our neurotransmitters functioning less optimally.

“This might look like increased anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, overthinking, decreased desire to be social or isolating, paranoia, etc.,” Garfield-Turner said.

To ensure she successfully performs, varsity softball player Addie Waller ’24 said she prioritizes whole foods. She replaces processed foods with fruits, smoothies and nutrient dense meals with sources of protein like meat and cheese along with fruits and vegetables.

“When I was younger, we always had pizza parties before a travel tournament,” Waller said. “And it just made me feel sluggish and the next day I was very lethargic and didn’t feel very energetic.”

Waller always makes sure to have a banana before a game because she said it helps her feel ready to perform to her best ability. She said that the importance of good sleep, along with optimal intake of water, helps her fulfill her responsibilities as a student and athlete.
“Everyone should be nourishing their bodies all day everyday, especially with the added burn and stress on the body that athletes experience,” Garfield-Turner said.

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About the Contributor
Lucy Gabel '25
Lucy Gabel '25, Copy Editor
As an adventurous second-year staffer, Lucy Gabel ’25 will be taking on the role of a copy editor in addition to her extracurriculars and life outside of school. A ten-year softball player, Gabel is an avid lover of exercise and working out. This year will be her third season playing for South’s Varsity Softball Team, and she’s looking forward to returning to the field. In addition to her many school activities, Gabel is always trying to find balance through hanging out with friends and relaxing while watching “Gilmore Girls.” “When I’m not doing school, or hanging out with friends,” Gabel said. “I try my best to prioritize time by myself.” What she’s most excited about, though, is another year on Tower building her journalism skills and writing stories. “I like learning new things about people and shining a light on their stories.”

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