Eating to win

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WALES – It was a constant weighting game.

The day of each wrestling meet, Frankie Curtis would endure the same ritual. She’d weigh herself in the morning and hope she was within the limits. Quite often, the scale delivered bad news, leaving Curtis scrambling mentally and physically the rest of the day, just to be eligible to compete.

“It was very stressful,” said the junior Oak Hill wrestler. “I’d see the scales and be like Oh, man, what do I have to do today.’ If I didn’t have a time where I could run, it would be kind of hard. I’d be like, I can’t make weight.’ So I’d have to tell the coach.”

Curtis would be less than a pound over the limit, but to wrestle, she’d have to work off that measly difference. She might have 90 minutes before the meet to do something.

“It was enough to lose the weight that I wanted to lose, but by the time I’d get to the mat, I’d be drained of energy,” said Curtis.

So Curtis opted for a different routine. It took discipline, patience and a little sacrifice. In just the first few weeks, Curtis lost 4 pounds and noticed a significant difference. She wasn’t struggling to make weight.

In fact, she hoped to lose more and compete in a girls’ tournament out of state.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Curtis. “I think I’ll be better for field hockey and for wrestling, and my senior year will probably have a better outcome than in years past.”

Curtis didn’t find a miracle cure or try something reckless that put health and performance in jeopardy. She simply changed her eating habits. She ate to enhance her performance and health. The results have been dramatic.

“I’m more focused on my schoolwork now,” said Curtis. “When I get to school in the morning, I’d be all worried about how much do I weigh? Am I going to make weight? Now I just focus on what’s this Algebra II problem or what’s my writing comp in English.”

Curtis approached Sarah Drury, Oak Hill’s trainer and health teacher. She asked what could be done to lose a few pounds and better prepare her for the season.

Drury worked with her to find alterations to her diet that could make a difference.

“I try not to make real big, crazy changes,” said Drury. “A lot of times that can be overwhelming for a student. How can I eliminate potato chips when that’s my favorite thing to eat?’ So it’s making little changes, progressive over time. I think it’s worked well for her.”

Drury has also worked with senior Eric Daniels. The football and baseball standout was plagued by injuries the last two years, but he’s been driven to bring out the best in his athleticism. Part of that equation has been his diet.

“You’ve got one body, and you have one chance to go at it,” said Daniels. “So don’t ruin it.”

Food for thought

During Drury’s nutrition class, a half dozen basketball players talked about chowing down on Big Macs and fries as a regular part of their diet. Drury just cringed.

“I say to them What do I have to do to teach you that that is not a healthy choice?'” she said. “I’m not sure there is anything we can do for a lot of them.”

The value of nutrition is often overlooked. Kids are inundated with a fast food culture. It’s a high-fat, high-sugar world where the consequences are ignored. Even athletes, who rely on good health to succeed, shun the advice of good nutrition.

Coaches preach about eating properly, but the message falls on deaf ears. Soda ads plaster scoreboards. Fast food stops are the ritual on rides home, and concession stand leftovers are hardly a home court advantage. Students are surrounded by poor eating choices and accustomed to them. Changing that norm isn’t easy.

“Kids are really resistant to that stuff,” said Drury. “As much as they’ll say, I want all this information,’ and you give it to them, there’s not a lot of them that will follow through.”

Drury says she’ll have roughly 10 athletes per season come to her. They’ll ask for general advice. Only a few will take the steps that Curtis did, charting her eating habits for a few days and have them analyzed through a computer program.

“When I did that for Frankie, a lot of kids were like Can you do that for me?’ but then I never see them again,” said Drury. “Sure, I can do that for you, but can you commit to writing down everything you eat for three days.’ A lot of them can’t.”

Pushed by a desire to improve or make personal changes, a few determined athletes challenge themselves in ways others won’t. Drury feels that’s where the role of coaches and parents need to help change the trend that fuels poor eating habits.

“Until somebody says This is what you’re going to do to be part of this team,’ it won’t change,” said Drury. “I think coaches need to make it a priority to discuss it with their athletes. A lot of times at the beginning of the season, a coach will say, Let’s be sure we’re eating well and making good food choices,’ but then it just sort of gets left behind. I think coaches need to continue to demonstrate in their own food choices, so kids would have a role model. Then, also, don’t stop at McDonalds on the way home and make it a priority to continue to reinforce the fact that eating habits will allow you to be a better athlete.”

Drury says athletes like Daniels and Curtis having success can have a grass-roots effect. Another wrestler, Hanna Severy, contacted Drury and followed some of the same steps as Curtis.

“Eric is the senior stud on the football team,” said Drury. “If he’s eating healthy and making good choices, kids can say maybe I should be doing that too.’

“If we have more athletes that can be committed to making that dietary change, good athletes that kids look up to, it will start to impact other kids.”

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Better, faster, stronger

Daniels was recovering from a knee injury suffered during the 2004 football season. He was mindful of his overall health.

“It was just wanting to be better at the sport I played, wanting to succeed and not be mediocre,” said Daniels.

He’d already been working with Drury in rehabilitation, and was ready to fine-tune other areas.

“It was more of him seeking dietary and exercise advice,” said Drury. “What can I do to make myself a better athlete?’ Here’s a young person that continually seeks out information. He wants to make himself a better student and wants to make himself a better athlete. So I’ve been able to give him general advice over the last two years. Of all the athletes here, he’s the one who continues to come back and say I’m doing this, what can I change.'”

Daniels maintained a regular diet and cut down on snacks. The most radical change was simply drinking more water and milk.

“It wasn’t like a complete overhaul,” said Daniels. “It was just fixing things here and there. It’s been more about cutting back on the snacks. What I do eat, I eat in proportion.”

During his rehabilitation, Daniels says his weight dropped from 180 down to between 165-170. What weight he’s added, has been muscle.

The difference last fall might not have been visible to most, but Daniels saw results.

“My speed increased, and my strength went up,” Daniels said. “I didn’t get tired as quick. My endurance went up. Everything seemed to come together.”

Despite rolling his ankle, Daniels was on pace for a superb season before breaking his fibula. It ended his season early and nixed hopes of playing basketball for the second year in a row. He received medical clearance in January and is excited about the baseball season.

Habit forming

When Curtis was told to cut out Kool-Aid, she already knew she was in for a challenge.

“I just love juice and Kool-Aid,” said Curtis. “That was the hardest part.”

Curtis followed Drury’s instructions, chronicling her eating habits for three days. Drury used the diet record to produce an analysis of what she was consuming.

“That gives me feedback – nutrient information,” said Drury. “It shows what percentage of your diet are fats, carbohydrates, protein. From there, I made recommendations to her about positive changes she could make to her diet to lose some weight.”

Other than giving up the sugar-loaded drinks, the changes weren’t radical. She increased the fruits and vegetables and substituted chicken and pork instead of hamburger.

Curtis also made sure she would eat regularly. One habit she had was skipping meals, thinking it might help her drop a few pounds. Drury informed her that her metabolism would not kickstart properly if she wasn’t eating.

Besides eliminating the stress of trying to make weight, it has helped her compete better. Having seen the discipline displayed in her eating habits, she looks to use that in other areas.

“I’m able to be a lot faster and a lot quicker just because I have more energy,” she said.

When asked, what she’s learned already, she just laughs.

“I learned that my diet was really bad.”

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