Winning starts in the kitchen

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The diet of an athlete is fairly balanced; a weight in one hand and a textbook in the other. It&rsquo;s impossible to manage such strenuous workouts without being a productive eater, but even our Warriors need to kick back every now and then.</p>

Maintaining a balanced diet is a difficult task, but practice makes perfect, something first-year Ethan McDonagh knows all too well. As a member of UW’s football team, McDonagh has learned to manage his meals and workouts to a tee, and, every so often, he still finds time to kick back with a bucket of wings. 

“Obviously, the odd time, there would be a weekend or something like that; you might pick a day that you stray from your diet. Maybe not a training day or what not. But, for the most part, it’s very regulated … You kind of map it out throughout the week — what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat,” said McDonagh. 

Despite the compromises, eating right hasn’t become a chore for McDonagh. 

“I say, it’d be a 50/50. I do it for athletics, but I also do it for my lifestyle as well, because it definitely has to be a combination of them both. Because, when the athletics stop, I don’t want to just have a bad diet,” said McDonagh.

To keep his diet exciting, McDonagh often mixes things up. 

“I’m not someone who likes to eat the same repetitive food,” said McDonagh. For proteins, McDonagh usually plays around with his meats: “Might be chicken, might be fish, it might be something different.” 

For carbs, McDonagh sticks mostly to fruits and vegetables, and for healthy fats, a notable mention is given to avacados. 

To McDonagh, food is energy. The right meal is the best way to start off his days, so he sticks very closely to his diet plan. 

“I tend to eat every two to three hours, in equal balances of proteins, fats and carbs in each meal and reducing starchy carbs each meal,” said McDonagh. “[You] definitely feel a lot better when you’re putting the right things in your body; energy levels go through the roof compared to maybe binging and eating tons of starchy carbs.” 

Chicken wings don’t normally fit into McDonagh’s fitness day. Usually, once or twice a month McDonagh finds time for a quick cheat with friends, but for athletes, regular indulgences can have serious consequences. 

“What you eat before, during and after an endurance exercise impacts performance and recovery.  Not eating properly when training impacts an athlete’s performance and level of fatigue and can increase risk of injury,” said Sandra Ace, the registered dietitian at Health Services.

Keeping such a regulated diet involves being aware of the foods available to you. For athletes like McDonagh, there’s a lot to consider. Generally, he stays far away from GMOs — packaged foods high in sodium and especially starchy carbs. Whether it’s a small snack or a full meal, everything has its impacts.

Like many first-years, McDonagh lives in one of UWaterloo’s residences and faces the struggle of balancing his diet with the limited food choices.

“It’s quite hard. What I do is I tend to implement a lot of shakes. I make shakes with frozen fruits, kale, spinach, protein-like chia seeds, so I’m getting my equal balance of protein, fats and carbs,” said McDonagh. 

Results are what matter in the end, and for new athletes, first year can be a bit of a shock. 

“The challenges of balancing a busy academic life with the demands of being a student athlete, including the time spent practising and competing, are pretty intense and require that students be very organized and good time managers. This can be hard for newer students who may also be faced with doing their own shopping and preparing meals for the first time,” said Ace. 

A healthy diet can make a major difference in your daily performance and unhealthy snacks can really take away from your potential for the day.  

“Less nutritious foods that contain lots of sugar and fat but few nutrients, for example chips, candy or pastries don’t provide lasting sources of fuel for anyone,” Ace said.

McDonagh chooses his diet not solely based on his athletic commitments, but because he likes the healthy lifestyle and feels that it makes his whole day more productive. 

During the off-season, McDonagh burns a lot more calories due to the rigorous training he has in order to be in proper shape for the upcoming season. 

“The timing of what I’m eating is completely different than during season,” said McDonagh as he wrapped up his training for the day.

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