As college athletes, we are required to balance it all. We must excel in time management, kick ass in athletics, do our job in the classroom, and somehow find the time to eat well, get enough sleep, then wake up and do it again the next day.
I should preface this by saying that I am a former D1 college athlete. I played softball at Oregon State University from 2009-2013. I graduated with a degree in Liberal Studies (Public Relations) in June 2013. Following graduation, I landed a job with the company I did my summer internship with and I am still with them today. I married my college sweetheart and we have purchased our very first house together in Northern California.
Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned thus far in life came during my time at Oregon State. I learned, by trial and error, how to balance school, athletics, a social life, extra-curricular activities, cooking, cleaning, laundry…the list never ended. Figuring out how to achieve good grades and be ready to perform on the field was by far the most difficult task. Waking up before sunrise for weight lifting and conditioning never got easier. It always felt like punishment, even though it wasn't. I only wish my 18-year-old-self realized that then. It's all part of the balancing act. Since graduating I have maintained a healthy and active lifestyle. Working out has become my favorite hobby (imagine that). I choose to eat clean, exercise daily, and I love inspiring the people around me to do the same. With that in mind I wanted to share some of my experiences and the things I wish I would have known before stepping foot in Corvallis and into the world of college athletics! Here are 6 tips to help you balance it all!
1. Get some serious Zzz's
Sleep may be the most important tip I give. Sleep is often overlooked especially for college students! We think we are invincible and can function on far less sleep. It all depends on your definition of functioning, for the athlete it’s more like performing both in the classroom and on the field. The average adult needs 7-9 hours to be at their best the next day. For the student athlete that day includes waking up at sunrise for weights and conditioning, going to class, studying, eating, then heading to practice. Every time I ignore sleep or put it to the bottom of the priority list it came back to bite me. Either I got sick, or I was off my game on the field, or lacked clear thinking on an exam. So take note! Find your optimum sleep schedule and stick to it as best you can. Your “performance” will thank you!
2. Prep your meals
Aaaaa, if only the “meal prep” era was popular during my college days. Food prep photos have taken social media by storm and for good reason. Preparing meals for an entire week is life changing. My advice would be to go to the grocery store Sunday and buy enough produce to last you the week. If you don't have a car, ask a teammate, ask your coach, heck take an Uber. If you are an athlete that receives complimentary training tables, strive to eat a healthy carbohydrate, healthy fat, and protein at every meal. For those that need to prepare meals on their own, food prep is easier than it sounds.
Here's what a typical shopping list might look like:
· Eggs (2 dozen, one carton to hard boil, the other to cook for breakfast)
· Lettuce (usually spinach &/or mixed greens)
· Sweet Peppers (red have the most nutrients)
· Baby carrots
· Asparagus or Broccoli
· Avocados (healthy fat actually makes you fit not fat, fancy that!)
· Raw nuts, you choose (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, etc.)
· 1 whole Rotisserie chicken (debone as soon as you get home and store in your refrigerator)
· Deli meat (If you do choose to buy deli meat make sure it’s nitrate free. Best thing about deli meat is it's cheap, it's a quick source of protein, and it's perfect for a lunchtime sandwich or a meat and crackers snack!)
· Sweet potatoes
· Quinoa or rice
· Frozen Sprouted Ezekiel Bread (since its frozen it won’t go bad!)
· Protein bar (RX, Quest, Epic)
· Jerky (beef or turkey, another quick protein source)
· Fruit, pick a few (bananas & grapes (freeze before they spoil), organic apples & berries (taste so much better), melon, cherries)
· Unsweetened Greek yogurt (don't buy the flavored cups, instead add your own sweeteners like mashed banana, local honey, stevia, cinnamon, or organic maple syrup)
· Nut Butter (peanut &/or almond)
· Plant based protein powder (NSF certified, obviously)
This list is “prep-beforehand friendly” and designed for grab and go. Cut your veggies, boil your eggs, and peel apart your rotisserie chicken.
If you ‘re going to be gone from 5am to 5pm, pack a lunchbox to get through the day. Here's are a few options:
· Option 1- 1 cup of Greek yogurt, Ziploc with 12 almonds/walnuts, 1 small Tupperware with a handful of mixed berries.
· Option 2 - a protein smoothie (1 scoop vanilla protein powder, ½ banana, 1 handful spinach, 1 Tbsp almond butter, ice, almond milk, cinnamon)
· 1 apple with 1 Tbsp of peanut butter, 1-2 hard boiled eggs
· Option 1 - Turkey & avocado sandwich or wrap w/ a side of baby carrots, celery, peppers w/ ¼ cup hummus.
· Option 2 - a spinach salad topped with chopped veggies (whatever you have on hand) avocado, rotisserie chicken, w/ your choice of healthy dressing (I like olive oil, red wine vinegar & a squeeze of lemon)
· Option 1 - 1/4 cup homemade trail mix (raw almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries)
· Option 1 - RX bar
Although I wasn’t clued into prepping ahead during my college years, I was usually able to cook dinner at home most nights (unless we were traveling during season). A typical meal was a piece of meat (chicken or fish), a side of vegetables (broccolini is my favorite), and a sweet potato (with a sprinkle of cinnamon). Sometimes, I’d even have breakfast for dinner. My favorite was an egg white scramble; 3-4 egg whites, 2 pieces of bacon, rotisserie chicken, handful of veggies (spinach, peppers, onion, zucchini/squash), topped with salsa and avocado. Each of my meals included some type of healthy carb, fat, and protein, all necessary ingredients for an athlete to perform their best. And if you want a prep-ahead dinner…consider making a big pot of soup or chili! It’s healthy and easy to reheat!
3. Don't procrastinate, better yet… get ahead!
I’m not kidding. I mean what I say, don’t procrastinate. You’re fooling yourself if you believe “student athletes work better under pressure”. There is nothing worse than having a term paper looming over your head when you are in the playoffs. You want your sole focus to be on your performance on the field, not in the classroom. So whenever you get the chance, get ahead, DO IT! Whether that’s making flashcards over the weekend or writing your paper on the airplane or bus, you will never regret getting ahead. It is true that great athletes perform well under pressure. They thrive on sinking the game winning shot or hitting the go ahead run. I think it’s in our blood to rise to another level when the games on the line. The same cannot be said for your performance in the classroom! Take it from me…really!
4. Embrace the Student-Athlete Community as a Social Circle
The University’s student-athlete community has a social life all its own. Obviously you are spending a tremendous number of hours with your teammates, working out, eating, practicing and traveling, but you will also find that student-athletes from other teams seem to be everywhere you are as well. It’s nice making friends with people from other teams because they understand the grind of the student-athlete. They understand the pressures, physical exhaustion, and scheduling nightmares. They too have limited and odd hours to meet for putting together group projects. They will do whatever it takes to make scheduling work. And when you all have a moment to breathe, these individuals are some of the most fun to hang out with! I think it’s because everyone simply appreciates the down time! My tip, make friends with other student-athletes!
5. Carve out alone time
Although having a social circle is important and keeps you sane in college, finding quiet time is equally as important. I had a lot of roommates my first two years in college, and when my junior and senior years rolled around I had just one roommate who was not a student-athlete. Our schedules were seldom the same, which meant we rarely saw one another during the week. I was alone a lot and learned to love it. For most of us, it’s our first time away from family. We learn how to fend for ourselves. We cook, clean, do laundry, all while getting a degree and playing a sport. And for me another lesson, and maybe the best one, was learning how to be alone. After a long day of classes and practice all I really wanted to do was shower, eat, and go to sleep. Once you live on your own you realize that there is always something to do. Whether its washing the dishes, doing laundry, or cleaning up around the apartment, I was never bored. I truly learned to appreciate the quiet moments whether I was doing my chores or just sitting alone with my thoughts and calming my mind and body!
6. Always go the extra mile
Doing the minimum is never enough. Athletes know this. Putting in the extra work will benefit your own athletic successes and the team’s as well. Here are a few examples of easy extra activities all athletes can MAKE time for:
· Extra conditioning/cardio
· Extra reps before or after practice
· Participation in Community Service
· Join SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee), a great resume booster!
· Volunteer to organize and run student-athlete events
I would not trade my 4-years at Oregon State for anything. Yeah the early mornings sucked and my social life was not typical, but the perks of being a student-athlete far exceeded the challenges. The lessons I learned reach far beyond athletics and academics. Many of those lessons continue to guide my decisions today. So I encourage you to embrace the early morning workouts and go the extra mile both on and off of the field. One final thought… there was not a better feeling in the world than having the privilege to represent my university on the softball field!
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