Each time I walk into a classroom I always perform a quick scan of my students in order to get a feel for the room. Are they animated? Will I have to wrangle them in? Are they dragging? Will I have to pull an Emeril Lagasse and “BAM! Kick it up a notch?”
Almost every time I perform this scan, I see at least one student who looks like he or she is about to audition for the new season of “The Walking Dead.” These students look tired, listless, drained of energy and sometimes they seem close to nonresponsive.
Here’s the thing, though. I get it. Being a Trinity student comes with various responsibilities and deadlines, and weighing all sorts of priorities. You’re finishing assignments, you’re involved in extracurricular clubs, sports and/or groups and you’re adding bullets to your resumes through volunteering, internships and jobs. A lot is asked of you, and you make a habit of rising to the challenge. However, in the midst of such busy lives, we often don’t think about the basics such as nutrition and sleeping. So, considering my background in the fitness and sport industries, I’d like to offer a few tips to help maintain such highly productive lifestyles.
Let’s first talk about what we put in our bodies. There’s a high correlation between food and water consumption and both physical and mental performance. As much as I love donuts, especially the chocolate cake donuts. And then they’re even better after letting them sit in the milk so they’re just soggy enough to not resist your teeth as you bite down “¦ Oh my goodness. See, I told you I love them.
But as much as I love donuts, chips and cheese products, these processed foods can affect our bodies in a number of negative ways. In some cases they’ve even been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Some argue that processed foods cause inflammation in the body, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, and can lead to deleterious effects.
So choose an apple over a candy bar. Cook your own food with fresh ingredients, if you can. There are even those who advocate eating rice and potatoes over bread and pasta. Drink water instead of a soft drink. Keep in mind, I’m not writing this through the lens of weight loss. I’m not trying to help you lose weight. I’m writing this through the lens of wellness. I want you to have better quality of life!
The last argument that I will make about food consumption is that we should be somewhat aware of our caloric intake and our macronutrient (referred to informally as macros) intake. Macros are composed of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Although everyone’s needs are different, many of us don’t provide our bodies with enough fuel or the right kinds of fuel to work most effectively.
For instance, I asked one student in my class last spring about what she ate in a typical day. We calculated based on her responses that she was eating less than 1,500 calories per day. This may seem like a lot, but the USDA recommends moderately active women aged 18-30 consume 1,800-2,000 calories per day, and moderately active men aged 18-30 consume 2,400-2,600 calories per day. This student was not fueling her body for the rigors she put it through daily, and to make matters worse, she was a student athlete!
What’s more, protein was a very small portion of her diet, while carbohydrates and fats made up the majority of it. These types of ratios can affect energy levels, and it’s important, especially for physically active individuals, to maintain adequate protein intake. Many official nutrition guidelines suggest .8 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight, or .36 grams per pound. However, this means that for a 150-pound individual, the recommended protein intake is 54 grams, which is the equivalent to a large chicken breast. More recent research suggests upping protein intake to 25 to 30 percent of one’s caloric intake.
I know that much of this can be overwhelming and, at times, intimidating. I also understand that food is often a non-priority in our lives, and it’s usually taken for granted. However, I would argue that these little things add up to big results. In this case, that result is how we feel day to day. With these concerns in mind, one tool that I use to keep tabs on my diet is MyFitnessPal. It is an app that can be downloaded onto your phone, and it can help give a better idea of how much, or how little, you are eating. As a disclaimer, I have no financial interest in the app or in Under Armour, which bought MyFitnessPal last year.
Now, food isn’t the only thing you put into your body. Up to 60 percent of our body is water, which I would say makes it pretty important. I’ve told my classes this semester to drink one-half gallon of water before noon, and to drink at least another half gallon before bed. Not only does water help flush our bodies of waste and toxins, it helps our body function efficiently. I like to carry around a container that holds one half gallon of liquid so that I can easily assess where I am regarding my water intake.
I understand that something as basic as drinking water is not always easy. Granted, maybe I take it to the extreme because I want to increase my weight-room performance, but sometimes I will take a couple of minutes to make sure that I drink half of my container because I know I’ll be busy for a while and I won’t think about it. The point here is that we should be proactive about our health and not wait until we feel sluggish or sapped before taking action. To be more blunt, we shouldn’t wait until we are diagnosed with a scary condition before altering our lifestyles.
Finally, I’ve felt like Ludacris lately because I keep telling students to go to sleep! Yes, I know the song I’m alluding to was released in 2001, and I don’t mind the judgment. More seriously, if you aren’t getting at least six hours a night, I implore you to make changes. Life is a balance, and sleep is a crucial part of that. We cannot continuously push ourselves to achieve more without taking proper steps for recovery.
Inadequate sleep is linked to chronic health problems and decreases in our cognitive capacities. It also affects our metabolism. In other words, it decays our minds and our bodies. So if you can’t get eight hours at night, make sure you take a nap. Or if you’re in a sleep debt, skip Bay’s one week and get a full night’s sleep. Make up for inadequate sleep on the weekend by getting in 10 hours if you need it. Think of it as “treating yoself.”
I wrote this piece for the same reason that I started teaching: I want to help young people succeed. I don’t want you to sleep instead of doing homework. I want you to sleep so that you can understand the homework better and then crush the test. I want you to eat the proper nutrients and drink enough water so that you can you be a successful student and be social, but without feeling like you’re always dragging.
I understand that I probably haven’t told you much that you didn’t already know. But if you’re still reading, here’s a challenge. Choose at least two out of these three basic components that I’ve discussed and follow these recommendations for two weeks. After the two weeks, compare how you feel to how you felt before you started. I would bet that you no long feel like your day is always uphill. And if you see me on campus, feel free to talk to me about your results. I’m the guy who walks around with a half-gallon container of water and keeps food in his office mini-fridge.