As we are approaching the hottest, most humid summer days, I can’t help but reflect back to the summer before my sophomore year of college. I was on a mission to train as hard as possible so I would report to preseason in the best shape of my life. I set out on this challenge, clearly, without any guidance or a strategic plan to make sure my mission was completed in the healthiest manner. My goal focused solely on running, more running, and then even more running. I was aware that drinking water was essential to staying hydrated, and I had, also, been attuned to the fact that it could help in losing weight. I believed that the lighter I was, the more fit I would be, and then my performance on the soccer field would be better. So, I made sure to include drinking water in my daily regimen. In fact, to be exact, I forced myself to drink a 1.5 liter bottle after every run. And, then more throughout the day.
The aspect that I didn’t realize, or even consider, that was most essential in becoming the most physically fit and strongest athlete possible was the nutritional component. At the time, I had been exposed to friends, teammates, and society obsessing with the act of dieting to lose weight. I believed that in order to reach my ultimate goal, weight loss was, also, key. So, I began training more and eating less. This pattern slowly began spiraling out of control, as my training seemed to continue to increase, but my calorie intake was dwindling down to very little.
Not only did this take me down the path of an eating disorder, where I became compulsive about exercise and obsessed with my diet, but I lost a significant amount of weight. My goal of being “fit” was accomplished, as I was able to run for what seemed like eternity, but my physical condition dissipated. I became an extremely weak, feeble, and dispirited college soccer player; characteristics that had never been used before to describe the way I performed.
I learned a lot from this experience, and I hope that by sharing the mistakes I made, then others will understand and be aware of these issues and the importance of health, nutrition, and hydration–particularly in high level athlete. It is especially even more important in the summer heat when there are tournaments, games, practices, and camps occurring every single day. And, if someone is motivated to increase his or her strength, fitness, and athletic stamina, to make sure he or she seeks professional guidance on how to conquer it properly; unlike myself.
Proper nutrition and hydration can enhance athletic performance. Without them, an athlete can be more susceptible to injury, as a result of low bone density from calorie restriction. I, myself, developed severe tendinitis in each of my Achilles’ tendons. There was a definite relationship between my injury, food intake, and overall health. When you are under-fueled, you can expect a poor return on your training efforts, and a higher risk of colds and other illnesses (SCAN Registered Dietitians). Therefore, it is so incredibly important to be aware and on top of one’s nutritional and water intake to ensure optimal health and performance. Losing weight does not necessarily equate to performance enhancement–trust me on this one.