Adjusting To Life After College Sports
For most college athletes, except for the very small percentage that go on to the professional sports arena, life changes dramatically after graduation.
During the years of participation as a college athlete, life tends to revolve around the sport. Many decisions and responsibilities are out of the athlete’s control. Once he or she leaves the collegiate sports world, an athlete has numerous decisions to make around appropriate eating, post-sports physical activity, how to achieve/sustain a healthy body weight, balancing finances and a career or other post-graduation activities.
Fortunately, into this new lifestyle, college athletes take with them some skills learned as an athlete that can assist them in making these decisions. This includes determination, motivation, goal setting and striving to achieve them, organizational skills, a sense of self-esteem, and a desire for striving for maximum physical potential.
As part of this new learning curve, athletes may need to learn food preparation and purchasing skills, practice financial budgeting, explore new forms of physical activity, create a new social environment, secure a new support system, find other ways to feel of value, develop time management skills, practice other ways to reduce potential stress, enjoy a sense of accomplishment outside of the collegiate sports world, and create a broader sense of identity.
For competitive athletes, one of the biggest challenges is modifying their food intake for sustaining a healthy body weight. Caloric intake during an active sports season or during training, generally requires a high intake of calories. If caloric demand decreases after graduation, the athlete needs to change his or her eating habits to account for this change.
When an athlete’s calorie needs are high, he or she may not be as conscious of the quality of food choices. An example would be college football players. Although many have a high percentage of lean muscle mass that contributes to a higher body weight, many also have a higher than healthy amount of body fat needed to reach the upper body weight often necessary for some positions. Less healthy calorie-dense foods are often consumed while trying to sustain this higher body weight.
According to NCAA statistics, many of these players fall into the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which means they are at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes. Football is a sport that is difficult to continue post-graduation, so these athletes need to determine how they will stay active with goals of reducing body weight, body fat and the risk of chronic disease.
For these and other collegiate athletes, as caloric needs drop, the quality of the foods consumed should improve. This allows for needed nutrients while achieving or sustaining a healthy body weight. Any desired weight loss should occur gradually to sustain muscle mass and to provide enough calories for nutrient needs. Attention to appropriate portion sizes can be helpful, as well as a balance among the healthy food groups.
The daily pattern of eating should include three meals with healthy snacks between. Including sources of healthy carbs plus protein plus fiber at each meal/snack can sustain brain and body fuel until the next meals/snack, while helping to control overall food intake. Limiting caloric “extras” such as fried foods, foods with a high amount of saturated fat (such as that from full-fat cheeses, high-fat meats, etc.), processed and high sodium foods, foods/beverages with added sugars, a high intake of juices and excessive alcohol intake can be helpful.
Plant-based foods can contribute positively to overall health and can assist with reducing the risk of a number of potential medical concerns. This would include eating plenty of fruits, vegetables (think variety), beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains with amounts dependent on caloric needs. Sufficient fluid intake is important despite the possible decline in physical activity from the collegiate level.
Some athletes experience emotional shifts as they transition from collegiate athletics to the “real world.” One response can be emotional eating and/or higher alcohol intake which can negatively impact weight and health. The athlete should be aware of their coping mechanisms for dealing with this dramatic life transition and seek professional help as needed.
Before graduation, some athletes may be able to take advantage of resources at their college/university for guidance in reaching new weight goals, shifts in food intake needs, and establishing a tentative new plan for physical activity.
The plan for physical activity moving forward should include both cardiovascular and strength-sustaining exercise. Since most college athletes have been focused on perfecting one sport, post-graduation allows the athlete to experiment with a wide range of other options. Since the time available for these activities depends on other time constraints, the athlete will now need to seek a balance with other commitments.
So, life after collegiate athletics can be exciting as one chapter closes and another begins. By making any needed adjustments in eating and physical activity, and addressing any emotional issues resulting from this life change, collegiate athletes can continue to enjoy a lifetime of health can fitness.
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, Maine, and Portsmouth. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Visit www.pamstuppynutrition.com for nutrition information, healthy cooking tips and recipe ideas.
Story Credit: http://www.fosters.com/news/20170709/adjusting-to-life-after-college-sports