misleading athlete diet

As a 12-year-old, I used to finish my Dad’s plate during dinner.

Two hours later, I would find my way back to the kitchen, quietly opening the cupboard doors with my parents in the other room, for something – anything! – to tame the hunger beast inside.

And when I was 13 years old?

I used to frequent Subway in between AAU basketball games, casually polishing off 12” subs like I was in an eating contest.

During high school, my first hour teacher used to stock a mini-fridge in his room just to feed me Pop-Tarts and ANYTHING else I could get my hands on…

…just 1 hour after breakfast (thank you, Mr. H.!).

From the time I was born until I turned about 19 years old, I grew.

To SIX FEET (6′).

And my body screamed “FEED ME!”… All. The. Time. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that everyone who knew me from college and prior has a story about food and me.

Me and food.

"Really? I have to stop eating for a photo?!" (It started young.)

“Really? I have to stop eating for a photo?!” (It started young.)

In between my mother’s wholesome salads, chicken, and flank steaks, I had my way with:

Honey Nut Cheerios
Nature Valley bars

Similarly, in a parallel world, my now husband was/is the garbage disposal of his entire family and friends.

Add another 11 inches to me and you’ll understand why.

His poor mother put lavish Dutch meals of meat, starch, and veggies on the table daily, but there’s only so much you can do to feed a hungry, growing beast.

Aww, my giant in the making...

Aww, my giant in the making!

When I was eating my Pop-Tarts, Kyle was eating a box of cereal.

When I had my snack attacks of the aforementioned foods, Kyle was mowing on:

Boxes of fried cheese sticks (isn’t that nasty!?)
Whole pizzas
Ice cream protein shakes
Stacks of grilled cheeses

{Side note: We’re meant for each other, aren’t we!?}

So, here Kyle and I were, eating *fairly healthfully* in our youth compared to most Americans, trying to manage our freakish Energizer bunny metabolisms.

And yet, the 1990’s sports nutrition philosophy pervaded our everyday diets and way of fueling ourselves.

Ultimately, we were eating diets that were:

  • High in carbs
  • High in sugar
  • Low in fat (minus the ice cream and brownies!)
  • Loaded with energy & sports drinks
  • And with a focus on {lean} protein! Protein! Protein!

Elusive Success from Our “Athlete Diets”

Were we successful as athletes eating this way?


{Enter bragging rant.}

  • My high school teams won 3 soccer state championships and a runner-up basketball state championship, and I was named 2nd Team All-State for soccer and 1st Team All-State for basketball.
State Championship Freshman Yr Soccer

Soccer State Champs!

  • My additional training with the high school football team (yes, I was/am a bit psycho) transformed my wiry frame into a powerhouse, affording me an opportunity to play basketball for 4 years at Grand Valley State University.


  • My junior year, we were NCAA Division II National Champions (glory days!!), and I was named MVP of the tournament and to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District Team.
2006 NCAA Division II National Champs!

2006 NCAA Division II National Champs!

{Okay, ENOUGH of the bragging already. Seriously.}

Then, there’s Kyle, my current professional basketball-playing husband.


  • You can read about his awesomeness here.


The point of me telling you all this?

Despite our athlete accolades on PAPER and what appears to be bonafide success, we BOTH had issues that hindered our performance and health.

The Real Outcome of Our “Athlete Diets”

Me (Julia)…

  • Hypoglycemia – If I didn’t eat every 2 hours, I was orn-a-ryyyy, shaky, and light-headed. Not good for performance or anyone near me when hunger struck.
  • Weight Gain – They used to call me “Shaq of the G.L.I.A.C.” (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). Well, part of that was because I was the center on our team. While I had to be strong, I got injured my freshman year while eating like a linebacker and, consequently, gained the “Freshman 20.” Talk about a wake-up call to get my act together! Even after trying Weight Watchers, calorie counting, and low fat eating, I still struggled with keeping extra pounds off.
Okay, bad angle, but you get the point!

Okay, bad angle, but you get the point!

  • Injuries – 5 stress fractures in 5 years. True story. Three were within my freshman year, and the other two happened after I graduated and decided to become a long distance runner (bad idea).  I know it was due to processed foods, sugar, soda, and eating way too little good fats.
  • Fatigue – As most of my teammates did, I went in EVERY day before practice (and on days off) to get an extra 30-minute intense session in with my coach. On top of overtraining, my highly acidic diet of processed carbs did me a major disservice in recovering properly (and quickly), to the point where I would do anything to keep my legs fresh – Icy Hot creams, taking the elevator on game days, etc.


  • Skin Problems – We all had issues with our skin growing up, didn’t we (raising my hand!)? Well, Kyle may or may not have had a LITTLE more of an issue than the average teenager. Turns out, skin health is directly correlated to gut health, which is correlated to nutrition and lifestyle. With his “athlete diet” of processed foods and genetic predisposition to gluten and dairy allergies (unbeknownst to him at the time), it all makes sense as to why he struggled with digestive issues and corresponding skin problems…
  • Digestive Distress – Ever since college, Kyle always had an “off” stomach on a regular basis. He dealt with gastrointestinal issues on and off for years, and we could never figure out a pattern until I dove into a health quest and figured out his gluten and dairy allergies.

Speaking of digestive distress, he even had an emergency appendectomy when we were vacationing during the summer of 2010.

Good thing he had a nurse there to care for him. 😉

Kyle post-emergency appendectomy in 2010.

Kyle post-emergency appendectomy in 2010.

  • Fatigue – As a professional basketball player, Kyle normally has 2 demanding practices per day, which (obviously) requires rest in between to recover. On a daily basis, Kyle used to sleep for 2 – 3 hours in between each practice without FAIL because he was so fatigued.
  • Feeling “Weak” – Despite two-a-day practices, he always felt like he needed to lift in ADDITION to his already arduous workout schedules. So, he would get extra weight lifting sessions in to keep his strength up, which in hindsight was probably doing his body an even greater disservice to the issues that were already going on.

Are We Just Outliers??

Truth be told, our own health struggles from eating the typical “athlete diet” are not isolated cases.

This misleading diet has and IS affecting MANY casual to professional athletes today.

1. Look at Kevin Ware, member of the Louisville men’s basketball team.

Did you see his infamous and NASTY leg break during the NCAA men’s basketball semi-finals this year? 

It sent chills up and down my spine, as I’m sure it did the rest of the nation.

Photo: www.foxnews.com

Photo: www.foxnews.com

I got curious and did some research as to why this young, fit adolescent would endure such a ferocious injury, and found it on ABC News:

“Tim Hewett, director of sports medicine research at Ohio State University speculated that Ware’s diet could have been deficient in vitamin D and calcium leading to more porous bones.

That, combined with the constant pounding Ware endured through an entire season of basketball, may have created small stress fractures in the tibia and fibula bones in his lower leg, causing his bone to snap when he took a bad step.”

Guess what causes more porous bones? Sugar. Processed carbs. Soda… These are all acidic foods that steal nutrients from the bones so the body can rebalance.

2. Did you hear about Kyle Love, former defensive tackle of the NFL’s New England Patriots?

He was released 2 weeks after his Type-2 diabetes diagnosis.


Image: www.sports.yahoo.com

3. Mark Sisson, former U.S. National Marathon and Olympic trial marathoner, dealt with many sub-par health issues when he was supposed to one of the fittest and healthiest. 

Ever since quitting chronic cardio and the typical “athlete diet,” this 50-something, New York Times best-selling author and blogger at Mark’s Daily Apple has made incredible gains in his health, physique, and life.

Image: www.primalblueprint.com

Image: www.primalblueprint.com

The jury is in.

The glorified athlete and his or her fitness level is NOT tied to health.

The high carb, high sugar, low fat diet preached to athletes culminates in:

  • Poor health
  • Poor performance
  • Poor recovery
  • Poor immunity

…All things that athletes especially need to get the competitive edge.

What changes did Kyle and I make to successfully turn around our health, performance, recovery, and immunity?

Stay tuned for my next post!


Your turn! Can you relate to being misled while eating the typical “athlete diet?”


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