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Posted at 04:42 PM ET, 10/11/2011

Secrets to success: Food and rest


As athletes, we are asked to do so much on top of our daily routine compared to what our “Muggle” peers endure. “Norms” just don’t get it, and nor should they, which makes us such outstanding commodities.

Handling our schedules is certainly a daunting task, which requires shifting time from one area to another. What are the first two areas we are most likely to steal time from? Meal time and sleep time.

Don’t do it.

Trust me: I remember how there’s so much to do and so little time. So we grab fast food or some sort of supplements, pick up a book and finish the homework that’s due in the next period, or we stay up a little later to get it all done. Yes, the more immediate mission is accomplished: Homework turned in (ignore the grease stain) or you make it through that dreaded presentation.

Do that every now and then, cool. But do that consistently? Problematic.

This is where that very delicate balance indicated in the term “student-athlete” comes into play. Academics are huge and so are athletics, therefore the quest for the magical combination continues.

Mistreating your body by not fueling properly or resting an inadequate amount of time is surely a recipe for athletic disaster, with an academic pitfall probably close behind.

“Sleep and nutrition are the two most overlooked aspects of one’s training and competition level,” said Mike Hill, the director of sports performance at Georgetown University. “If you are eating too much or too little, your body can only do so much with the fuel you give it. If you are only sleeping four hours a night it will eventually show and your body won’t be able to repair itself.”

Your body will not lie to you, so listen.

Some of us can perform after eating Five Guys or Chipotle as a pregame meal, while others would die. Take time to figure out your body, and consider it an investment; this is your career we’re talking about. Find out what foods seem to work best for you (for me, anything spicy before a workout, instant disaster).

“The biggest thing to learn is to eat to perform, eat for energy. Eating for a purpose,” says Melissa Robinson, a trainer at Georgetown. “The increased physical demand from sport and school work can be too much if [you] are not used to eating properly for energy.”

GET SOME PEANUT BUTTER! We always had PB&J after games especially, great recovery nutrition & comfort food.

Robinson had this to say about the pantry staple: “It has protein, and good fats. Put it with bread or pretzels or banana and you get the benefit of carbs and potassium. It is great, but it's also good because you have to put it with something usually.  It is a good and somewhat sneaky way to replace all of the essentials, protein, carbs, fats.”

Starting to train yourself to pick up high-energy foods now will only help to cut the adjustment period when you get to college. Just as a strong work ethic should already be in place, a healthy diet and getting the proper amount of sleep should be a no-brainer by your freshman year.

“Rest is important to let the body recover and build new tissue, replace bone or rebuild muscle [which] break down naturally from exercise,” Robinson said. “Both require good nutrition and rest to rebuild. When that’s not met, injuries happen.”

Honestly, who wants to miss out on precious playing and training time because of injuries that could be prevented? The game you miss with your self-inflicted injury could be the one your dream school attends. Don’t leave this part of your career to chance.

“Only the top one percent can function effectively eating Skittles, drinking sodas, and sleeping either four hours or 14 hours,” warns Hill, “and those athletes don't make up the majority of college athletics.”

If you feel that you are performing your best eating junk and not sleeping, then congratulations to you — you are a part of a very small percentage. However, I challenge you, try it the right way and see if you don’t feel a difference; after all you have nothing to lose.

Monica McNutt was an All-Met basketball player at Holy Cross Academy who went on to star for the Georgetown women’s team. She will be offering advice to high school athletes who are looking to make the leap to college sports.

Got a question for Monica, or an idea she can use for a future post? Leave it here in the comments, or email her at hss@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter at @__MCM__.

Previously: Introducing “Transition Game”

By Monica McNutt  |  04:42 PM ET, 10/11/2011

 
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