About six months ago, junior and Varsity soccer player Shervin Jalilvand began a specialized diet to take himself one step closer to his goal of being a better, more physical soccer player and eventually becoming a collegiate athlete.
Specifically, Jalilvand has been sticking to a rigorous high-protein diet to gain muscle. He says he uses this diet to become stronger and specifically improve his performance as a defender. Jalilvand says that he’s noticed the positive effects of his diet.
In contrast, senior and Cross Country and track runner Upasana Dilip did not choose her diet to improve her performance. Rather, she has been a vegetarian since birth, taking after her parents’ eating habits.
To make sure she gets enough protein, Upasana eats high iron and protein foods, such as spinach and tofu. Because her vegetarian diet lacks certain nutrients, Dilip takes iron supplement pills as her diet currently does not contain a sufficient amount of iron for her.
Lawson Middle School Physical Education teacher Ingrid Lacy defines diets as a long term commitment to health. Lacy thinks that instead of restricting what athletes eat, athletes should eat in moderation.
“We need to not eat less — you need to eat more, but more of the good foods and less of the junk foods,” Lacy said. “I try to teach my students about serving size. It’s not horrible to eat ice cream — try to plan it out, maybe after a workout, have a scoop of ice cream, not three scoops.”
Lacy encourages student athletes who she coaches and PE students to try and eat cleaner foods. However, she doesn’t advise her students to be restrictive, which the word “diet” can indicate.
“I think of it as a seal for your car,” Lacy said. “If you don’t change your oil or you drive your car without enough gas, you’ll get to your destination, but you might have some trouble along the way or you’re not going to be able to perform to your ultimate performance.”
Similarly, Dilip doesn’t use her vegetarian diet to be restrictive. Rather, she says her dietary preferences make her feel better both in her daily life as well as an athlete.
“For me, eating healthy and not eating sugar and candy … is normal to me because I’m surrounded by people that do the same thing,” Dilip said. “But I feel like it definitely depends on the person. You’d have to find a way to do it so that you’re still happy.”
Dilip recommends a vegetarian diet to other athletes, emphasizing the environmental benefits of her diet.
“I definitely feel like [being] vegetarian has really been good to the environment because there’s your natural animals, then farms that have poultry and other animals that are really bad for the environment and have a large carbon footprint,” Dilip said. “I would definitely encourage people, but you can’t force anyone to do something, but I would definitely be encouraging.”
As athletes, both Dilip and Jalilvand value the importance of exercising alongside a balanced diet.
“There wouldn’t be [exercise] without [dieting],” Jalilvand said. “You have to manage them both, because if you have a good diet and good exercise, your body builds up and you gain weight or it makes [you] stronger. You can’t have a good workout without a good diet, and that’s the most important.”
While Lacy agrees that dieting and exercise go hand in hand, she says she cannot ignore the dieting industry as an issue for athletes and nonathletes alike.
“There’s no magic trick [to losing weight],” Lacy said. “My grandma didn’t have these diets growing up. She didn’t have a book on, you know, ‘Eat protein and you’ll lose 100 pounds in six months.’ These diet industries are trying to sell you a scheme in order to make money. Once you start eating normal again and get off that diet, you’re going to gain all the weight back plus more.”
Alongside the toxicity in the diet industry she has noticed regarding losing weight, Dilip believes stigma around body image and dieting comes from the surrounding community.
“I definitely feel like body image and like dieting and stuff can definitely be very toxic, but it depends on each person’s point of view,” Dilip said.”
For athletes, Lacy points out that it can be even more difficult to decide how to fuel their bodies due to contradicting marketing narratives.
“There’s a lot of mixed messages out there for athletes to look a certain way, to do things a certain way, but athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and they shouldn’t be trying to look a certain way and restrict their food or anything like that,” Lacy said. “They need to eat enough to perform well and not be on some crazy diet.”
The night before every race, varsity cross country runner and senior Sylvana Northrop bakes a batch of her signature blueberry muffins as a comforting pre-race ritual and a perfect, nutrient-packed snack to fuel herself for her race. To keep the muffin light, tasty and healthy, Northrop makes it without using sugar or oil, with the majority of it made from a fruit or vegetable, similar to how she prepares many of her meals.
Previously relying completely on her mother’s food, Northrop now makes many of her own meals and snacks in her daily life. While she still loves her mother’s cooking, she made the shift to be prepared for cooking on her own in college and have more control over her nutrients.
“It’s really easy to make a lot of little substitutions for ingredients, like I change all sugar to date sugar, which does the same thing, it’s just made out of fruit, instead of cane sugar,” Northrop said. “I traded olive oil for something else like coconut cream. I just find that I’m a lot healthier when I know what I make.”
Freshman and swimmer Sonia Verma also makes her own meals and she finds herself eating sweets and unhealthy foods while trying to maintain a clean diet. While she believes in having everything in moderation, Verma agrees with Northrop that finding substitutes for typically unhealthy foods can make her feel better and improve her swimming performance.
“One thing I can give advice about is [to] try making the sweet stuff that you get from the grocery stores at home, because there are a bunch of recipes online that have healthy substitutes for sweets,” Verma said. “If you’re really new [to cooking], going online is one of your most helpful resources. Just try to go the healthier route — instead of using bleached flour in your cooking use whole wheat flour or oat flour. It doesn’t taste as bad as you think it would.”
Unlike Northrop, Verma prepares all of her own meals, but she only began her cooking journey recently, at the beginning of the shelter-in-place period. Verma was worried about losing her fitness goals and swimming physique, especially since she wouldn’t be swimming on her regular team. She hopes that maintaining a clean diet by preparing her own meals will allow her to swim faster, gain muscle and have an overall better performance in the coming swim season.
“I used to eat what my mom cooked, but when quarantined started, I realized that since I wasn’t going to be swimming, I needed something that [had] lower calories,” Verma said. “[This way,] I wouldn’t gain a lot of weight and [be eating] a bit healthier, so I knew what I was putting in my body, rather than having somebody else cook for me.
Alene Baronian, owner of Eat 2 Perform and Barre3, suggests a meal plan for teen athletes to get food from all food groups and macronutrients. Eat 2 Perform is a nutrition clinic that specializes in Sports Nutrition, Weight Management and Lifestyle Health, while Barre3 is an exercise studio. One of the easy meals she suggests for athletes is “a nut butter sandwich on whole grain bread with a piece of fruit or a handful of vegetables.”
“[Athletes] will know exactly what they’re eating — they have full control over ingredients and portions,” Baronian said in an email. “One of the biggest challenges for student athletes is time. Between school, practice and their school loads, nutrition, hydration and sleep become less of a priority.”
Verma agrees that one of the setbacks that comes with making her own food is the time she has to spend on it. However, as she’s become more experienced in cooking, it takes less time. Her favorite meal to make is vegetable stir-fry because she can get her nutrients in easily with a mix of vegetables, sauces and proteins.
Baronian agrees that homemade food can often be more cost-effective and healthier if the foods chosen have more nutritional value but warns that homemade food can often be just as unhealthy as takeout food from restaurants. Regardless of where the food is from, Baronian emphasizes that high school athletes typically need to work on getting more vegetables and plenty of water.
“Protein intake tends to be imbalanced and sometimes too high. With this nutrient, more is not necessarily better,” Baronian said. “[My] advice would be look at the timing of your meals and make sure you stay hydrated. All athletes should be carrying around a water bottle and snacks to make sure they stay hydrated and can eat when they are hungry.”
While both Verma and Northrop agree that they make their own food mainly to have more control over the preparation of their dishes like Baronian suggests and have better performance in their sports, they both have noticed other benefits for it. Northrop calls cooking “really rewarding” and calls it a “great way to show love.” Similarly, Verma has used her new cooking lifestyle to bond with her mom.
“Now I started accompanying my mom on her groceries trips for ingredients, so that I can cook them throughout the week,” Verma said. “As well as being healthier, I go with my mom, I spend some time with her and we share tips about what we should eat, so I think it’s a good bonding thing as well. My reasons have definitely changed at first, [because] it started as kind of a fun hobby, but now it’s more of a lifestyle change.”
Before the shelter-in-place period, synchronized swimming team Santa Clara Aquamaids practiced six days a week. Now, the nationally ranked team has had to cut their practice down to exercises over Zoom for an hour each day. Junior Emily Ding has noticed that rather than the health aspect of her diet changing, it’s the amount of food she eats that has changed. Her typically “hefty amount” of food during practice that she needed to stay full has changed during quarantine, as team members have had far fewer practices. Ding used to be allowed to have more pooltime practices with her synchronized swimming team, but due to COVID-19, there have been few practices in the pool.
“I swim for about three hours, but it’s much more different because synchronized swimming is a team sport,” Ding said. “So we’re used to being really close to each other and swimming next to each other, but now the pool has lane lines that we swim across.”
With the lack of synchronized swimming practices, Ding realized that her food intake decreased. Her mom, who typically prepares her meals for her, has noticed that she’s not nearly as hungry as she was during full-time practices.
Unlike Ding, senior and volleyball player Ryan Li noticed that his diet began to consist more of processed foods than before quarantine. MVHS sports teams went from rigorous practice every weekday to a season cut short, and many athletes’ clean, strict and nutrient-filled diets were also altered. When he plays volleyball occasionally, he sees the impacts of eating fast food on his performance, as he notices his jumps not being as high.
“I eat noodles almost every day and before quarantine, I used to have less time to focus on eating,” Li said. “Before quarantine, we used to have practice for two and a half hour[s] after school and now it’s just three times a week [through] Zoom calls.”
Kennedy Middle School Physical Education teacher Andrew Murray believes that children are able to eat anything they want and not see a major impact on their performance and bodies, as long as it’s done in moderation. However, he still values a cleaner and healthier diet that includes more solid proteins than a fast food meal.
“If you do a hard job of exercise, and you throw a bunch of crap in your system — licorice and coke, which many kids do — that’s probably where you’ll see a big difference,” Murray said. “It’s really important to recover with solid proteins to let your muscles repair from hard efforts.”
Murray says he puts in the effort to lead his middle school students towards a healthier lifestyle and include more lean protein and less sugar in their diets. His encouragement for healthy eating comes from the fact that he sees a noticeable difference between healthy eating and an unhealthy diet both in mental and physical health.
“I think that healthy eating plays a role just like regular exercise does [to create] positive mental thoughts,” Murray said. “I think if you eat healthily, what you have is a much more consistent energy level. You don’t have the roller coaster that sugar places on your system.”
Ding agrees with Murray about how food makes her feel, especially before practices. Instead of giving in to her cravings for junk food, like Li, Ding prioritizes specific food groups, such as carbohydrates before practice.
“[Before practice], I just don’t eat a ton of junk food, and I [focus on] carbs before practice [more] than anything else,” said Ding. “This is a personal preference, but I don’t enjoy eating eggs or anything really acidic before practice either. I feel like it’s always there in your stomach.”
Murray has noticed that foods such as Hot Cheetos and drinks like Coca-Cola make it harder for athletes to perform at their peak, especially for those who need a steady energy source during long practices and games. However, the shelter-in-place period has allowed students like Li to have more time to snack on unhealthy foods and loosen their healthy diets.
“I used to drink a lot of water because of school and practice, and now I’ve noticed that I haven’t been that hydrated compared to my pre-quarantine self,” Li said. “Brunch, lunch and practice [were the times] when I primarily drank a lot of water, but now it’s more like around [those] times that I’m thirsty.”
Murray emphasizes that hydration is a key factor in having a cleaner diet because a lack of water can leave cells feeling dehydrated, and drinks like soda don’t satisfy the body’s need for water. Murray acknowledges that having a healthier lifestyle takes research and patience individualized to each athlete.
“The single best thing you need to [do is] develop a positive, consistent routine with diet, just like you do with exercise,” Murray said. “That’s the only way to maintain something for a lifetime – healthy consistency. “[It’s] the most important thing that your young athletes can do and you can’t expect things to change overnight.”
The night before a big meet, a member of the Cross Country team hosts a pasta party to carb load and bond. Cross Country head coach Kirk Flatow describes this bi-annual tradition as “a blast” and thinks that all Cross Country members benefit from pasta nights.
“The night before a race, you tend to be nervous, excited and keyed up,” Flatow said. “Being with your teammates helps us all find a balance between the right amount of excitement and not too much nervousness. I think being together makes sure we also have a nice healthy meal before [the race].”
Flatow explains that these meets can be nerve wracking, especially for new runners. He believes that pasta night is a great way for them to engage with their team captains and to hopefully take some of the stress off of their shoulders by hearing about other team members’ habits for success.
“[Pasta night] is a time when [new runners] can come up to one of the team captains or one of the coaches or even just someone a couple of years older than [them] and [ask], ‘Hey, how is the course? … What do you do to warm up? What do you have for breakfast? What do you wear?’” Flatow said. “[They] have a chance to have these informal conversations that are really practical and useful.”
Sophomore Cross Country member Nikhita Saldi agrees with Flatow, remembering how her first time at pasta night helped her make new friends.
“I remember sitting there [at pasta night and] we were making smores and roasting marshmallows and next to me was another teammate — his name was Max Ready,” Saldi said. “It was really nice because I hadn’t talked to him before [and] I didn’t really know him, but now he’s one of my really good running friends.”
Even though athletes in Cross Country run individually, Flatow thinks most people get the best out of themselves when they “feel like they are a part of a team” — including the coaches.
“When I’m out running races and [there are] times when it really hurts and I’m slowing down, I will think, I’m part of the Cross Country team — even as a coach,” Flatow said. “[Our team talks] about this all the time, about the really hard parts, continuing to push and continuing to struggle and continuing to fight to get the most out and I don’t want to let them down [by giving up].”
Saldi shares the same sentiment, noting that while runners compete individually, the placement of schools is based on the total score of all of the finishers.
“When you think about a sport and you think of it as a more individual sport, you don’t have that team mentality or that group mentality and you’re more focused on yourself,” Saldi said. “When you get to know your group and get to know your teammates and have a bond with them, it becomes more of a group race rather than an individual race.”
Flatow believes that pasta night provides a change of scenery so runners can get to know someone better.
“When you go out and you do something that’s out of that context, like go out and get something to eat together or you go and shoot baskets together, you have that chance to learn something new about that person,” Flatow said. “You wouldn’t have [gotten to know the person] if you were just doing the same thing everyday with [them].”
Senior Patrick Nguyen was huddled with a group of Marching Band teammates around a claw arcade game in the back of a local Pizza Hut. They had one objective: to obtain a rubber ducky, one quarter and one claw at a time. After spending nearly $15, Nguyen and his teammates finally decided to leave the Pizza Hut empty-handed.
This experience was one of Nguyen’s earliest bonding moments on the Marching Band and he says he’s experienced many more to date. Nguyen shares that there tends to be a split between Marching Band and Color Guard as a result of the structure of the teams, and each section in the Marching Band is further split into smaller groups based on instruments.
With such an organization, Nguyen greatly appreciates the opportunities he has to interact with others across sections and as an overall team. After many football games, Nguyen will go to nearby restaurants with his teammates depending on their mood — some of Nguyen’s favorites include Meet Fresh, Pizza Hut and IHOP.
In addition to being a member of Marching Band, Nguyen has also been a swimmer on the Swim team and he says that Marching Band has certain team-bonding privileges that not all teams have.
“Sports tend to be more high-intensity at our school, so most people tend to be super exhausted,” Nguyen said. “After a swim meet, all I want to do is go home, eat cup noodles and take a nap, so I can get that. I’m not saying that I know everything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s just how it goes with a lot of other sports — they wrap up the game, they talk to each other and they head home. [Marching Band] [is] lucky enough to have this sort of leisure after games — we have the privilege of making that happen and I think it’s really special.”
One of Nguyen’s favorite experiences with his Marching Band teammates was the last Senior Night dinner he attended. Over 30 members showed up to dinner at IHOP, and Nguyen recalls a night filled with jokes — the team even celebrated a teammate’s birthday.
“It was really cool because I wasn’t thinking that we would get the chance to actually make that happen,” Nguyen said. “I don’t think we’d been able to hang out like that for the entire season. Usually, we get to do this a couple of times throughout the season but for whatever reason, we never managed to get the time to do that. I was kind of sad because I was thinking we might not be able to make that happen but other people shared that fear, so we ended up putting it together and everything worked out.”
Nguyen recommends having similar bonding moments for all sports teams in some capacity. He notes that having a meal after every game can be costly and may be unnecessary, but having several shared meals throughout the season is a good community-building strategy.
“At least give it a shot two to three times a season,” Nguyen said. “That sort of camaraderie that’s built during those times is something that I would say is really important to have if you don’t have it already. Either way, it’s just a good excuse to hang out with your friends.”
Every year, Boys Volleyball coach Paul Chiu makes a promise to his team: if they win Central Coast Section (CCS) championships or NorCal championships, Chiu will personally take them out to Alexander’s Steakhouse for dinner.
“For many years, those dreams were unfulfilled,” Chiu said. “So instead of that, we always did a year-end barbecue in my backyard at the end of the season … Low and behold, two years ago we won NorCal [Championships], so I had to pay up.”
In 2019, the team won its first CCS Championship and Chiu took the entire varsity team to Alexander’s Steakhouse, paying thousands of dollars for 17 players’ meals. If the team has a solid season in terms of competitions and improvement, Chiu will also take them out for meals to restaurants including Gen Korean BBQ and Galpao Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse. None of these meals are funded by the parents — Chiu personally pays for them.
Chiu also loves to reward the team after a particularly strong practice. Senior Neil Poulo recalls completing a drill called “Continuous threes” where three players on the court had to keep the volleyball up for 50 repetitions. After the successful drill, Chiu bought the team boba milk tea and food from Tea Era to recognize their effort.
Another long-standing tradition of the Boys Volleyball team is drinking chocolate milk and eating Clif bars after each practice. Chiu finds that chocolate milk is both tasty for players and is good for helping them physically recover after intensive practices. Since Chiu notices that many players don’t get time to eat much food before practice, he brings these snacks to help sustain them for their workouts and to make sure they won’t “faint during practice.” After experimenting with different brands of chocolate milk, the team decided on Fairlife as its favorite.
“In the beginning, any chocolate milk was fine,” Chiu said. “As the kids’ taste with chocolate milk got more sophisticated, I had to go get Fairlife. That made getting chocolate milk a bit tougher because Target was the only store in town that carried it. It was just the weirdest thing, you’d see me walking there with a shopping cart, I’d walk to the chocolate milk section and I’d empty it. I’d get 12 for the week, and I’d get these strange looks from the shoppers.”
Beyond sharing snacks and meals together, the volleyball team is also looking forward to continuing some of its other traditions. Chiu shares that the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders have given the team a unique possibility to have a match against the team’s alumni, since the season has been shifted to the winter when many alumni will be able to return to Cupertino. In addition, Poulo recalls one of his favorite traditions: before each game, one member will recite a haiku about the opposing team.
Chiu is hoping that the volleyball team will still have a solid season ahead so the players won’t miss out on the season entirely and that they’ll be able to continue their food traditions as well.
“We’re the best fed team on campus,” Chiu said. “I challenge any other program to match the volume of food these guys eat over the course of the season, as well as the quality.”