What I Wish I’d Known {About Nutrition} In College

Last week, Indiana University began their school year. Our once sleepy town is now swarmed with thousands of college students back for another year. I particularly hate this time of year because everything becomes busy, loud and usually obnoxious. I really enjoy Bloomington in the summer because it’s quite, calm and pleasant and the older I get, the more grumpy I become when the students return.

Each year as we prepare for the town to be overrun by students, I’m always brought back to memories of my college days. Ah yes. College. A pastime of lots of drinking, late nights, friendships, boys and Lord knows what else. For those of you who don’t know me or my history, I went to Indiana University (IU) my freshman year of college where I was on the all-girl cheerleading team and then, transferred to Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) via a full-ride cheerleading scholarship and finished my last three years there.

I know what you’re thinking so I’ll go ahead and answer your questions. Yes, Hawaii Pacific University is in Hawaii (Specifically, on the island of Oahu), no I did not surf everyday and yes I was able to study with the beach .5 miles away.

At IU, being on the cheerleading time was hard work. We cheered every home football, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, volleyball and women’s basketball games- not to mention practicing almost everyday for games and also attending weightlifting sessions in the mornings. On top of regular game-day practice, we had additional practices for UCA College Nationals where we placed 3rd in the nation (in 2007). It was extremely hard work and for those of you who don’t think cheerleading is a sport, check out these videos and then you can argue with me.

At the time, my friend Amanda who was also on the IU cheer team, knew someone who cheered at Hawaii Pacific University. She told us that they were starting an all-girl team…and giving full-ride scholarships to those talented enough. You see, at the time, and up until last year when they no longer have a cheerleading team, HPU won NCA College Nationals EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. A pretty outstanding accomplishment for any sporting team at any university. Amanda and I decided to try out. We sent in old school VHS tapes and waited patiently for a response.

I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I had just finished racing in the IU Little 500 and was still in my racing gear in my dorm room when I got the phone call from the head cheerleading coach at HPU. He said that they wanted to offer me a scholarship to be on their new all-girl team. I was ecstatic! Long story short, I said yes and my friend and Amanda and I moved out to Hawaii to join the team.

Being on the HPU cheer team was five times harder than being on the IU team. The level of intensity was much higher and in addition to all of our practices and gym time, we had community events, extra performances and TV tapings we had to attend. The level of talent on the team was amazing. The guys and girls were stronger, in better shape and could do all sorts of crazy stunts. We worked our butts off and it served us well. We won nationals the three years I was there and although I will probably never wear my national championship rings, I love that cheerleading will always be apart of my life.

 

I am extremely happy with my choice in attending HPU- not only for the cheerleading scholarship, but because I leaned so much.

When looking back at all of the things I learned, I started thinking about the things I could have improved on. Well there’s a can of worms, right?! I mean, I could have improved on everything knowing what I know now! More specifically though, I started thinking about nutrition and how if I had known the things I know now, in terms of nutrition, what would be different. There were a few key thoughts that came to mind immediately.

I want to share these with those who are just starting their college career or who are five years deep. No matter where you are in your college career (or life in general), you can probably benefit from these.

So, here are the things I wish I had known {About Nutrition} in college:

  1. Eating Well Will Help Make You A Better Athlete & Make You Healthier: In General
    I had a meal plan my freshman year of college. That meant eating popcorn, granola bars and Ramen Noodles in my room if I was in a hurry and eating whatever the cafe served. I usually tried to eat salads with some protein for lunches and would do yogurt, granola, cereal and fruit for breakfast. I would have salads for dinner with some “whole grains” on the side and I occasionally indulged in pasta, tacos, pizza, frozen yogurt and cookies. Lucky for me I was working out like crazy for both cheerleading and in general. I was burning a ton of calories and needed the energy for practices, games and other workouts. At the time, I could get by with the “I can eat what I want because I’m burning it off” mentality.When I moved to Hawaii, I had no meal plan so I was on my own for the first time. My first apartment was a studio (meaning one room) that I shared with two other girls and it had a mini fridge, two stove-top burners and only a few cooking utensils. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii you know that everything there is EXPENSIVE. I would buy soy milk and tofu because a.) I thought they were healthy options and b.) they had a much longer shelf life than cow’s milk and protein from an animal. I also ate a lot of canned soups (ow calorie of course!), beans, yogurt, low carb protein shakes, canned tuna, veggies and fruit- all seemingly good choices right?

    These were all good choices for me at the time, but knowing what I know now, I would have spent the majority of my grocery money on high quality meats and seafood and added in a variety of vegetables, fruits, seafood and nuts. I would have stayed away from the sugar-laden protein shakes, granola bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and would have eaten lot more tuna, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, berries, seaweed, Asian inspired and other whole foods.

    My pre/post workout nutrition would look a whole lot different too. I played club soccer in Hawaii and again, needed a lot of calories for the energy I was expending at both cheer and soccer practice. I would have swapped out the gallons of Gatorade I drank with a more natural source like coconut water. I mean helllllo, I did live on Hawaii! Why the heck wasn’t I eating more coconut everything!? The point being, it doesn’t matter if you’re in college and have the metabolism of a 13-year-old boy; eating whole, unprocessed food is the best for your body no matter what age you are and no matter what sport you participate (or don’t participate) in.

  2. Low Calorie Diets Are StupidMy third year of college I had my wisdom teeth pulled over Christmas break and I lost about 15 lbs from not being able to eat due to dry sockets. When I got back to Hawaii, I wanted to stay small so I ate the lowest calorie diet I could think of. This is literally what I would eat on some days; breakfast would include a Yoplait Whips Yogurt with a Sugar-Free Red Bull (before cheer practice); lunch would include a slim-fast shake and a 90 calorie Special K granola bar and dinner would be a spinach salad with stir-fried tofu, green peppers, mushrooms and cheese with an apple. I would sometimes have an energy drink in the afternoon as a pick-me-up. Where the heck was my protein? As you can imagine, this diet didn’t last long. No one can sustain themselves on that kind of diet.

    Although I ate fairly well most of the time, I know I wasn’t getting nearly ENOUGH calories. I would eat a lot of fruits, veggies, wraps and yogurt, but I guarantee I wasn’t getting enough protein or calories for me energy needs. I was so concerned about staying within a 1,300-1,500 calorie range, my body was practically starving for more food.

    Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have even counted calories. I would have just eaten whole, natural foods. I would have eaten more protein at each meal (and in general) and would have again focused on getting enough high quality nutrients for my activity needs.

  3. Lifting Weights Will Not Make You BulkyOk so this one isn’t totally nutrition focused, but it goes hand-in-hand with nutrition. This is something I struggled with even after college…up until I met Wil and started going to Force. We’ve all seen them. The girls at the gym who are working away on the cardio machines wondering why they aren’t losing any weight. I’ll admit it, I used to be one of them. I used to go out and run five miles only to come back and do a ton of crunches and then roller blade to cheer practice. I was a cardioaholic. I was in decent shape, but I KNOW my body composition would have been a lot better if I had been lifting weights and focusing on some strength training.

    At both schools I went to, the cheerleading program took fitness very seriously. Not only did they want us to look good, but we had to be able to do a two and a half-minute routine that included jumping, kicking, throwing, tumbling and lifting. At IU, we had a strength coach and were required to go to weights two to three times a week. We had little binders where we had to write in our weight load. It would have a suggested weight for me and being the bull-headed person I am, I thought it was too much weight and I would sneakily only do half the weight because I thought lifting heavy was going to make me big.

    In Hawaii, we had free memberships to Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness. I lifted sometimes but again, I was always on the cardio machines or stair master followed by my measly 10lb overhead presses. One year, I signed up with a personal trainer for a month. He had a great workout plan for me, but I really disliked him. He was ALWAYS adding weight (novel idea huh?) and telling me I should be doing more because I was strong. I should have thanked him because I was in better shape during that month than the rest of my time in Hawaii.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE to run, bike, kayak, swim, hike, jump and do pretty much anything to get my heart rate up, but I have changed my outlook on working out. I now add strength training to all of my half marathon, marathon and half Ironman training plans. I make sure to add in a few days of strength followed by some yoga or swimming. This not only helps my body composition, but it helps me to stay strong, injury-free and also makes me a better athlete.

    If I knew what I knew now, I would have not been such a sissy about weightlifting (for God’s sake I was lifting girls- it’s practically the same thing!) and would have added in strength training to my workout routine. It would have made me a better athlete, improved my body composition and made me a better tumbler, jumper and lifter (or as we like to call it in the cheer world, a base).

  4. Drinking Can Make it Hard To Lose Weight & It Isn’t Good For YouOk, so this one seems easy right? I mean, we all know that drinking a lot is not good for you, but what college kid wants to hear that? Not me at 21 that’s for sure. During college, as most kids do, my friends and I would make our ways to fraternities, bars and house parties on weekends and weekdays alike (Thirsty Thursday’s anyone?!). Being on a dry campus meant nothing and when I moved to Hawaii, my friends and I would go to house parties, beach bonfire parties or we would go to the 18 and older “clubs”.

    I look back now and cringe when I think of my body trying to rebound from those nights of drinking and eating terrible food. I attribute a bit of weight gain to the fact that we would go out all night and then eat Jack In The Box at 3am. We would drink, stay up late, get about three hours of sleep and then head to cheer practice where we would flip, jump and swing our bodies around like it was nothing. Knowing what I know about sleep and alcohol, I can’t believe I did that to my body.

    I would stay up late and then sleep during the day to try to “catch-up” from the night before…which as we know, doesn’t really work. It takes extended periods of deep sleep to make up for sleep deprivation. Alcohol affects your deep sleep pattern which is when the body heals muscles, bones and other tissues while also helping to maintain a healthy immune system. Those nights I was drinking and then getting zero sleep certainly weren’t allowing my body to recover in the way it should.

    Alcohol also makes it extremely hard to manage and regulate blood sugar. Thinking back to the mai tai’s, margaritas, strawberry daiquiris and jack and cokes I used to drink, no wonder I gained weight. And, as I just mentioned, most of the time we’d head to a fast food joint after we had been out (who doesn’t?). No one craves chicken and broccoli when they’re drinking.

    Knowing what I know now, I may have been more cautious about the amount I was drinking and what I was drinking. I certainly didn’t drink everyday and every night and I wouldn’t trade my memories or experiences for the world, but I could have made smarter choices when it came to drinking and going out.

  5. Supplements and Vitamins Are Just Part of the EquationAs you can imagine, being in the cheerleading world meant there was a lot of focus on how you looked. You were perched in front of hundreds (if not thousands) of people in a two piece uniform where most of your body was exposed. I actually remember my first year cheering in Hawaii we got points deducted during our nationals preliminary routine because our uniforms were too “revealing”. Ha! That being said, many of the girls (especially the flyers), were always worried about their weight.

    Being young and not-so-informed, there were quite a few girls on the team who lived off of energy drinks, weight-loss pills and other weight-loss drinks. The guys were always trying to get bigger because hey, they had to lift girls above their head for minutes on end and they wanted to look good. Needless to say, there were some caffeine pills, energy drinks, supplements and protein shakes being utilized by some of the team.

    Now, obviously not all protein shakes, vitamins and supplements are bad. Now-days, Wil and I take supplements when we need to and will drink the occasional protein shake when we’re in a pinch or in specific cases post workout. But back then, everyone was drinking protein shakes all the time (remember my Slim Fast shake for lunch?) instead of eating real, whole food for meals. I am now more informed on what supplements I should be taking and when and when it is appropriate to take a multivitamin if at all.

Just because you read this very long post, I want to share a little something from my past that you may enjoy…or you may enjoy laughing at it. Either way, it’s pretty cool- check it out and pay special attention to the 40 second mark 🙂

Ironically, this weekend Wil and I are heading up to see my little sister at her college and you better believe we are planning on doing some college tailgating and having some fun in the evening. There is still a way to have an awesome time being in college and going out, while being responsible about your health and wellness.

So, for all you young collegiates out there, if you haven’t read anything I wrote above, remember this: be smart, do your research, stay away from fad diets and eat real, whole food. You’ll be much better off in the years to come.

Author Score