Playing a varsity sport has an undeniable impact on the life of the average Bulldog. Practice consumes a large portion of an athlete’s precious time, and in many cases sports can dictate lifestyle choices as seemingly trivial as diet and eating habits.
But diet has everything to do with one’s overall health, and a lot to do with athletic performance. Just remember Michael Phelps’ much-touted breakfast regimen. Yet despite the importance of diet to athletes, Yale often fails to provide the necessary support for their eating needs.
If you’ve ever been to Commons after 7 p.m. on a weeknight, you’ll notice something slightly unusual about the dinner crowd. Dressed comfortably in Yale sweatpants, cross-trainers, and hoodies declaring allegiance to a particular varsity sport, any member of this exhausted elite is not your average Eli—many came straight from their respective varsity practices to grab a quick dinner before Commons closes.
Their eating habits are vastly different from non-athletes’. Practice, weight lifting, team meetings, running, conditioning—all of this adds up to some pretty heavy calorie burning. There is no question that this affects an athlete’s eating habits.
Trey Rallis, CC ’12, of the Men’s Baseball team, says, “On mornings that I lift, I have to eat breakfast in Commons within 30 to 45 minutes after I lift, because a workout is wasted if you don’t feed your open muscle cells. On days when I don’t lift, I sometimes skip breakfast and just eat an early lunch.”
Does this flexible eating schedule affect how an athlete feels throughout the day? Joe Alagna, ES ’12, believes so. “When I have to eat breakfast earlier in the day [to accommodate a morning lift or practice], I feel more tired later in the day and I get hungrier earlier than I normally do.”
As an athlete myself, I find that morning practices have a huge effect on how I feel throughout the rest of the day. Though it is nice to practice at 6:30 a.m. and have the rest of the day off to relax or catch up on schoolwork, I get very hungry halfway through practice and later in the day don’t play as well as I would normally. Before early morning practice, the dining halls aren’t even open, so I’m forced to either go without anything to eat or to take a bagel from the dining hall the night before for a paltry pre-practice bite.
On top of the mid-practice hunger pains, I feel more tired throughout the day and usually take a nap in the afternoon. Does the athlete’s sports schedule affect how they feel during the day? In my case, yes. Austin Pulsipher, BK ’12, a linebacker for the football team, agrees. He says it’s annoying not being able to eat breakfast before early morning practice, then rushing to a 9 a.m. class and not eating until after.
Could the university do anything better to accommodate athletes’ schedules? Pulsipher and Rallis both said that the residential colleges should serve hot breakfast in the mornings—not just Commons. Not only would this make a pre-practice breakfast quicker and more accessible, it would encourage athletes and others alike to eat a good breakfast, that most important meal, when they otherwise wouldn’t.
Commons is a bit of a walk from some colleges—cough, Stiles, cough—and when it’s 20 degrees and snowing outside, the last thing I want to do is walk through freezing rain to eat hot breakfast. Most students (not just athletes) would appreciate daily hot breakfast in their residential colleges. Even if the budget can’t handle implementing hot breakfast campus-wide, they could start by offering it in some of the colleges, gradually increasing supply if student response is positive.
In addition to serving hot breakfast, the college dining halls could supply the current continental breakfast earlier in the morning by opening at 7 a.m. At the very least, Commons could open a couple hours earlier.
The hours problem applies equally to dinner. Virtually all athletes agree that 7 p.m. isn’t late enough to ensure that an athlete can eat dinner in his residential college. By the time 9:30 or 10 p.m. rolls around, I’m usually hungry again, because I ate dinner at a senior-citizen-like 5:30, and will either keep a snack in my room or make a run to G-Heav. If Yale could extend residential college dinner hours to at least 8 p.m., it would help. Let’s face it: Few students, if any, are in bed by 10 p.m. After that, students still get hungry.
That’s not to say that the dining halls are all bad. According to Rallis, “I think that Yale offers a healthy diet for all athletes. I can eat some steak and potatoes at Commons while the guy sitting next to me can have salad and a sandwich. Yale has a wide selection of food in every dining hall.” Since many athletes have different dietary needs based on their sports, Yale’s dining services cater to their needs. There are various food types, and any athlete can create just about any diet they need for himself.
The athlete’s diet is markedly different from that of a regular student, and their practice schedules often demand that they skip meals or eat at different times of the day. Can the University do anything to help us? Yes, by serving hot breakfast in the residential colleges, setting earlier hours for dining hall continental breakfast, and extending dinner hours to accommodate athletes’ often-late practice hours. I, and the other athletes, would be thankful.
Rhett Anderson is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College and a forward on the Men’s Bassketball Team.