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The Postgraduate Meal Plan

How to eat right after your playing days are behind you

The Expert: Lenka Shriver is an associate professor in The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Department of Nutrition

In the months preceding graduation, student-athletes will begin preparations for a different kind of game plan. Major life changes await — new jobs, cities, people, goals — and the bustle of transition can lead soon-to-be grads to overlook another important adjustment. Often, they’ll experience steep drops in physical activity from their playing days — a shift experts say should be reflected in their diet. “Without adjusting their dietary habits, including calories and nutrients, it could lead to some unwanted and sometimes surprising outcomes,” says Lenka Shriver, an associate professor in The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Department of Nutrition.

Shriver joined a team of professors in developing a new program — MovingOn! — to educate and prepare student-athletes for these lifestyle changes. The program, based on research funded by an NCAA Innovations in Research and Practice Grant, takes a holistic approach to promoting healthy transitions after college, with focuses on individual identity and motivation. “Our goal is to help student-athletes figure out who they are outside of their sport as they enter the real world,” Shriver explains.

Healthy eating is one piece of the puzzle. Here, she provides some strategies:

Know your body’s energy needs: When you no longer have thousands of calories burning away each day in training, you don’t need to eat like you do. The change in caloric needs varies with the sport. For instance, athletes in football, cross country and swimming — sports with higher energy demands — may need to make larger adjustments when they cease training. Don’t know where to start? Check out some of the individualized tools available at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s choosemyplate.gov.

Cut back on the carbo-loading: Athletes in certain sports have specific dietary needs. Endurance athletes, for instance, are often advised to eat more carbohydrates to meet the physiological and metabolic needs of their long-distance training regimens. But once their training wanes, so does their need for the extra bread and pasta. Shriver suggests following the recommendation for the general population: Get 45-65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates.

Aim for variety: Sports that demand body size and power may push athletes to gain weight during their college career. This can be accomplished by increasing caloric intake without paying close attention to the quality of foods being consumed. Students may develop habits of eating primarily foods that are high in calories, fat and sugars, rather than lean protein, dairy and vegetables, which are rich in nutrients. “The key to preventing these transitional issues is increasing student-athlete awareness about healthy weight management practices … and choosing a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are low in added sugars, solid fats and sodium,” Shriver says.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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