Our Take: Student-athlete meal options aren’t up to par

Are student-athlete meal plans adequate?

“Our goal is to provide every student with the perfect meal plan that meets and exceeds your expectations,” the Taylor University website states, recognizing that food is an essential part of student life.

With 16 intercollegiate sports teams and a number of students participating in club and intramural sports, the physical well-being of students is an increasingly relevant consideration.

On its main website, Taylor expresses a public commitment to athletic excellence and the holistic development of student-athletes, with a stated desire to strengthen the body and mind.

However, there may be some dissonance between the promise and the reality: between the “perfect meal plan” – the expressed commitment to “strengthening the body” – and the reality of limited actions, few nutritional options and inconsistent accessibility to food.

Our editorial board believes that athletes’ meal plans and food options should be proportionate to their training needs (in quantity and quality) and that meals should be easily accessible despite training schedules.

In an article recently published by Training & Conditioning magazine, Toni Tillett Langhans, director of sports nutrition at Oregon State University, highlights the importance of proper nutrition for athletes.

“(There is an) increase in the energy requirements of athletes due to their high training load and amount of lean muscle mass,” Langhans writes. “Simply put, they need more food than the general population. »

Taylor athletes are currently offered the same meal plan options as the rest of the student body. First-year students must eat according to the 19-meal plan, while returning students can choose between the 19- or 14-meal plan. Off-campus students can choose a 7 or 10 meal plan.

When asked if the 19-meal plan adequately meets the athletes’ needs, KC Hackman, Taylor’s head athletic trainer, replied: “For the most part, yes: some of our athletes supplement their nutritional needs with additional sources of protein and calories. »

Junior Braden Bixler’s experience as a track and field athlete with a 19-meal plan supports Hackman’s statement. Bixler estimates that three meals a day is enough for his needs.

However, experiences vary from one area to another.

Sophomore Natalie Dennis’ experience with meal plans as a member of Taylor’s women’s lacrosse club team was largely marked by discontent. Dennis paid for the 14 and 19 meal plans and notes that she constantly runs out of meals no matter which plan she chooses.

Sophomore Abby Portolese, a member of Taylor’s track and field team, also expressed concern — not about the number of meals available, but about the nutritional value found in the options provided.

“I often find enough food to eat at Euler; however, a single meal at Stu is often not enough to complete an athlete’s diet,” she said. “I would love to see side salads and fruit in the (Chick-fil-A) line at no extra cost, as well as 12 course (nugget meals) also offered at no extra cost.”

Bixler echoed Portolese’s desire to see food options with greater nutritional value, citing fruits, vegetables and protein as items he hoped to see increased in the options offered.

Although Hackman heard little frustration about the lack of shots, student-athletes expressed concerns about the consistency of food available and the ability to grab something quick during downtime from their workout.

The consequences of inadequate food options and uneven meal availability are significant.

“As has been proven repeatedly, a continuous or semi-regular calorie deficit has a negative impact on performance and health,” Langhans said in his article. “This is often referred to as relative energy deficit in sport (RED-S). »

The impact of limited food options and accessibility extends beyond sporting arenas: classrooms, social circles, and everyday life.

Portolese expressed frustration with this reality.

“Our nutritional plan is an essential element in ensuring we perform close to our potential,” she said. “. . . We find ourselves eating as much food as possible in order to get as much protein and other nutrients as possible. Of course . . . While eating as much food as possible in order to get these essential nutrients, we also consume far more fats, sugars and starches than an athlete should ever consume. It’s so hard to nourish my body at Taylor University.

Immediate solutions could include adding more nutritional meal options (as mentioned above) and ensuring consistent access to food items throughout the day.

Dennis mentioned increased meals as an option she would like to see offered to student-athletes.

However, each of these solutions comes with layers of complications: Who qualifies for a more generous meal plan? Who decides what nutritional elements should be added, how the university should increase accessibility to food options, or how each of these changes could be made financially feasible?

The editorial board recognizes that this conversation will be complicated, but believes that intentional dialogue is the minimum response required.

Certainly, discussions are already underway, but perhaps we should intensify the dialogue around campus athletes and the meals made available to them.

Our view is simply this: let’s recognize the current dissonance and talk about it.

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