Fast Food: Do you need to give it up to go pro?

Shaza Abdelrasoul, Reporter

Munching on burgers after sports practice is a good way to bond with your teammates. Multiple nearby fast food joints line the area around our school, just in sight of the athletes of Taylorsville High. But, is grabbing Chick-fil-a on the way home from practice canceling out all of that exercise? Are those chicken nuggets making you and your team less likely to win against Cyprus next week?

More than half of all American high schoolers have played on at least one school or community sports team in the past year, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of the 2018-2019 school year. Many want to continue to play in college or professionally, but playing sports on that level requires some serious dedication. A typical professional athlete spends 5-6 hours a day 6 days a week training, according to The Health Site journalist Siddharth Suchde. The last thing an athlete wants is to waste all that hard work. And if fast food really does keep athletes from fully performing, then Taylorsville players have seriously been sabotaging themselves.

“We don’t eat together often, but when we do, we go to Leatherby’s or Cafe Rio,” says Valeria Treviso, a Taylorsville girls’ soccer player. She says she’s an avid fast-food eater, and goes out to eat with her team sometimes. Most people eat after even just a light workout. So it’s understandable for growing kids to want to eat a hefty meal after straining their bodies for hours.

But mainstream news will often denounce fast food. They’ll often reason that fast food can make you hungrier and lead to unwanted weight gain. “…the quick spike in your blood sugar from eating junk foods high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars can cause a surge in insulin, leading to a quick drop in blood sugar. That leaves you feeling tired, cranky and hungry for more,” says The Washington Post. Eating fast food can make you feel like you need to eat more to feel full. And eating more food than you need will lead to unwanted weight gain. But, that’s really a problem for people who aren’t very active. 

A Deluxe Sandwich from Chick-fil-A contains about 500 calories, according to their website. That’s about a fourth of an inactive woman’s and a fifth of an inactive man’s recommended daily caloric intake, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, athletes are by no means inactive. They burn lots of calories during practice sessions and games and need to replenish that energy to fully perform. Endurance athletes like swimmers and marathon runners can consume 3,000-8,000 calories a day leading up to an Olympic event, according to National Public Radio. Burgers, burritos, and fries can easily replenish their lost energy because fast food is highly calorific. So the truth is, with good caloric planning, you can enjoy McDonald’s chicken nuggets and continue on your journey to playing professionally without missing a beat. “Most of the time I’ll play the same, fast food or not,” says Valeria.

“My favorite athlete, Tom Brady, commits his whole life into his craft with how he exercises and his nutrition. But, even professional athletes have cheat days because it can be a nice reward for all your hard work. Although Tom Brady eats avocado ice cream and stays away from red meat, he has even admitted that a cheat day can go a long way. So, don’t eat fast food every day, but don’t think that because you ate it one time you can never get to where you want to be as an athlete,” says Taylorsville’s Coach Dodge.“I have been one of those coaches that has demanded athletes not to drink soda, but the reality is that they will anyway. I might as well instruct that it’s OK in moderation. If you completely cut out a food or restaurant that you like or love, it’s not entirely good for your mental health either.” NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal loved eating chicken sandwiches from fast food restaurants after games, and Olympic runner Usain Bolt ate 100 Mcdonald’s chicken nuggets a day at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to Sportscasting. They are two more cases of successful athletes who still indulged in fast food. You don’t need to give up all your deep-fried desires in order to get that sports scholarship or land that Nike sponsorship.

If you’re feeling lightheaded during practice, however, you might want to edit your diet.  Make sure you are getting all your nutrients if you choose to supplement your caloric intake with fast food. You can usually find nutritional information on restaurants’ official websites. If you have questions about what kind of nutrients you need to be eating to maintain your level of activity, you can ask your coach or health teacher. When asked about whether she thought fast food impacted her athletic performance, Valeria says, “Based on personal experience, I think it might be affecting me because on days when I eat only fast food, I’ll feel dizzy.”

“The topic of nutrition is always at the top of any athlete’s list of important items required to play at their optimal level. In my experience as an athlete and coach, it is just as important not only what you eat but when. In reality an athlete that plans on working to make to the professional ranks for their sport should never let their stomach be empty,” says Taylorsville’s Coach Wells. “I always tell students and athletes, if you wait until you’re hungry it’s too late. And yes, in moderation fast food is not going to detriment their success. Anything eaten is better than nothing eaten.” You don’t need to give up all sweet treats and fried delights to go pro. Remember that many professional athletes once lived as teenage athletes like you. It might make your journey to gold a little easier.