Sports diets yield mixed reactions among athletes

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Greta Bjornson, News Editor

A common misconception people have of athletes is that they don’t have to worry themselves with watching what they eat: their constant exercise alleviates any stress, many assume. However, some Staples students face weight classes and limits in their chosen sports, making the number on the scale especially significant.

For participants in sports such as wrestling, rowing or dance, diet is an integral part of their participation, as weight is considered in all three. Wrestling is divided into multiple weight classes, while rowing is less complex, with only two groups: lightweights and heavyweights. Dance has weight limits “because people believe it will be more beautiful easy and appealing to watch a ballet dancer who has long, lean and slender muscles,” said dancer Emily Ritter ’17.

In order to maintain their weight or reach a desired number, athletes try a variety of techniques. Jonathon Maragos ’16, a member of the Staples wrestling team, avoids unhealthy foods. “All I do is cut back on sugar and carbs slowly from the pre-season to mid-season. Pretty simple,” he said.

Others like James Banbury ’16, a rower at Saugatuck Rowing Club, keeps a consistent diet and makes changes in anticipation of a race. “For lightweight season, I just [eat] a healthy diet, ignoring desserts and not taking that second helping,” he said. “For the week before race week, I would eat an apple and a granola bar for breakfast and then periodically have a carrot throughout the day to keep my metabolism running and eat a spinach salad for dinner.”

Ritter doesn’t follow a specific diet as a dancer but instead recommends “eating in moderation from all of the food groups” as “the best and most reliable diet.”

Although many athletes are responsible with their diets, at times there can be pressure to lose weight that comes from the outside or that they put on themselves. At Saugatuck Rowing Club, the weight limit for lightweights was recently moved from 150 lbs to 160 lbs. “They thought there were too many kids who should be heavyweight starving to be lightweight,” Banbury said. “I think that will happen no matter what weight you make it because kids will always try to just make the cut.”

Dancers, too, are susceptible to dangerous behavior, as “there are critics and directors who take the weight limit very seriously and can force dancers to feel very self conscious and eventually harm themselves in order to please their director or teacher,” Ritter said.

In some extremes, athletes significantly cut their caloric intake to to achieve a specific weight. According to Kidshealth.org, “Teen athletes may need anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 total calories per day to meet their energy needs.” Yet, some dip dangerously below the recommended amount.

“The bigger kids in my boat were averaging about 300 to 800 calories a day, which is an insanely unhealthy amount for growing teenagers who are working out two to four hours a day,” Banbury said.

However, not every athlete agrees that their sport brings out destructive actions in its participants, and, thus, see no issue with the weight factor. “Our coaches don’t push us to be a specific weight, [and] cutting and gaining weight is specifically up to the wrestler. Nobody is forcing them,” Maragos said. In rowing, the weight categories actually alleviate stress for some, as they are an alternative to stricter weight limits.

“My sport has weight categories, not limits, so I don’t really care. I think it’s fine,” said rower Grace McGinley ’17.

While all athletes seem to agree that their diets are well-intentioned and designed for maximum performance, the varying methods continue to stir up controversy. Nonetheless, “[My diet] helps to maintain stamina, build muscle, and have the energy to sustain [my] busy schedule,” Ritter said.