Culture  Balancing mind, body, and diet

The added dietary challenges McGill Varsity Athletes face in their student-athlete lifestyle

There’s no doubt that maintaining a healthy diet while immersed in the realities of student life can prove challenging for the ordinary student. But what does this challenge mean for students who also have the added commitment of being on a varsity sports team? With an extra twenty hours of practice per week, how do students whose bodies have greater nutritional demands than their peers meet all their dietary needs?

Partying, schoolwork, class, athletics – balancing all the components of a student-athlete lifestyle soon becomes second nature to members of varsity sports teams. Most teams offer some level of support and education in regards to what kind of diet athletes should maintain. Gabriel Aubry, a McGill student who’s played for the Redmen football team for three years, explained in an interview with The Daily how every year his coaches remind his team of what and what not to eat through training programs that offer healthy lifestyle advice and meal suggestions. “We are always reminded by our coaches to eat properly, because if we don’t, we’re the ones who are going to suffer from it,” said Aubry. Isabel Pett, who has been a member of the varsity track and field team for two years, echoed Aubry in an email, writing that coaches are always available for questions and generally have a wealth of nutritional information: “The coaches are full of information for those who need help fixing their diet, and they want us to EAT, not starve. None of that Atkins, no carb B.S.”

Yet, just because these support systems exist, does not mean that they are easy or even realistic for students to follow. Simone Sinclair Walker, a first year student who joined the women’s synchronized swimming team, is currently experiencing the difficulties of living in residence while trying to maintain her vegetarian, nutrition-conscious diet. The limited selection of vegetarian protein options in the New Residence cafeteria has forced her to reluctantly start consuming meat this year, in order to get the protein her body needs. Her coaches will often consult team members on what meals to consume the night before sporting events, but for her this often isn’t an option. “It’s not like I can just go to the cafeteria the night before an event and ask them to prepare spaghetti and meatballs, just because I have an event the next day,” she told The Daily.

Sinclair Walker’s diet is further hindered by the fact that her residence cafeteria only opens at 10:30 a.m. on weekends, while her practices often begin much earlier. Being in first year, she generally relies on her meal card to pay for food, which isn’t accepted at the Athletic Centre cafeteria. Walker’s inability to purchase food before practice unless she spends her own money at the Athletic Centre poses great difficulties when trying to consume a healthy breakfast before morning workouts.

More debates surrounding the Athletics Centre cafeteria exist. As  a site where athletes often stop to have pre- and post-workout meals, one might assume it would be filled with nutrient rich foods, but this often isn’t the case. Helen Magdalinos, assistant coach of the women’s basketball team, wrote in an email that the lack of healthy options at the cafeteria presents an added burden to athletes who already have a very busy schedule. “Unfortunately I do not feel that the cafeteria provides healthy options nor a considerable variety of a healthy balanced menu” she wrote. “Often times the team has to pack their own meals from home due to this.”

The lifestyle challenges of students are often overlooked, but there is no doubt that certain students may face more challenges than others. For student athletes, the added burden of balancing dietary needs on a tight schedule makes for an extremely difficult juggling act – combining books, class, partying, eating healthily, working out – and this should be given the full credit and assistance it deserves.