Are student-athletes’ meal plans adequate?
“Our goal is to match every student with the perfect meal plan that meets and exceeds your expectations,” Taylor University’s website states — acknowledging that food is a critical component of student life.
With 16 intercollegiate athletic teams, and a number of students participating in club sports and intramurals, the physical well-being of students is an increasingly relevant consideration.
On its main website, Taylor expresses a public commitment to athletic excellence and the holistic development of student-athletes, with a stated desire to strengthen bodies as well as minds.
However, there may be some dissonance between promise and reality: between the “perfect meal plan” — the voiced commitment to “strengthening bodies” — and the reality of limited swipes, few nutritious options and inconsistent accessibility to food.
Our editorial board believes athletes’ meal plans and food options should be proportionate to their training needs (in both quantity and quality), and that meals should be easily accessible despite training schedules.
In an article recently published by Training & Conditioning magazine, Toni Tillett Langhans, director of sports nutrition at Oregon State University, highlights the significance of adequate nutrition for athletes.
“(There is an) increase in energy needs that athletes typically have due to their high training load and quantity of lean muscle,” Langhans writes. “Put simply, they need more food than the general population.”
Taylor athletes are currently offered the same meal plan options as the rest of the student body. First-year freshmen residents are required to eat from the 19-meal plan, while returning students are able to choose either the 19 or 14-meal plan. Off-campus students may choose a 7 or 10-meal plan.
When asked if the 19-meal plan adequately meets athletes’ needs, K.C. Hackman, Taylor’s head athletic trainer, stated the following: “For the most part, yes: Some of our athletes supplement their nutritional needs with additional sources of protein and calories.”
Junior Braden Bixler’s experience as a track and field athlete on the 19-meal plan supports Hackman’s statement. Bixler feels three meals a day are sufficient for his needs.
However, experiences vary across the board.
Sophomore Natalie Dennis’s experience with meal plans, as a member of Taylor’s women’s lacrosse club team, has largely been marked by discontent. Dennis has paid for both the 14 and 19-meal plans and notes that she consistently runs out of meal swipes, regardless of which plan she chooses.
Sophomore Abby Portolese, a member of Taylor’s track and field team, also voiced concern — not over the number of meal swipes available, but over the nutritional value found in the options offered.
“I often find enough food in Euler to eat; however, one meal swipe at the Stu is not often adequate to supplement an athlete’s diet,” she said. “I would love to see side salads and fruit in the (Chick-fil-A) line at no extra charge, as well as 12-count (nugget meals) offered at no additional charge as well.”
Bixler echoed Portolese’s desire to see food options with greater nutritional value by naming fruits, vegetables and proteins as elements he would hope to see increase in the options offered.
Though Hackman has heard little frustration around a lack of swipes, student-athletes have voiced concern about the consistency of available food and the ability to grab something quick during off-times in their training.
The consequences of inadequate food options and inconsistent meal availability are significant.
“As proven many times over, a continuous or semi-regular caloric deficit negatively impacts both performance and health,” Langhans said in his article. “This is often referred to as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).”
The impact of limited food options and accessibility extends beyond athletic arenas to classrooms, social circles and daily life.
Portolese expressed the frustration of this reality.
“Our nutrition plan is a vital part of ensuring performance nearing the height of our potential,” she said. “. . . We find ourselves eating as much food as we possibly can in order to get as much protein as well as other nutrients as possible. Of course . . . in eating as much food as possible in order to gain these vital nutrients, we are also consuming many more fats, sugars, and starches than an athlete should ever consume. It is so hard to fuel my body at Taylor University.”
Immediate solutions could include the addition of more nutritional meal options (as mentioned above) and ensuring consistent accessibility to food items throughout the day.
Dennis mentioned increased meal swipes as an option she would like to see made available to student-athletes.
However, each of these solutions comes with layers of complication: Who qualifies for a more generous meal plan? Who decides which nutritional items should be added, how the university should increase accessibility to food options or how any of these changes could be made feasible financially?
The editorial board recognizes that this conversation will be complicated, but believes intentional dialogue is the minimum response required.
Certainly, conversations are already in progress, but perhaps there needs to be increased dialogue around campus athletes and the meals made available to them.
Our view is simply this: Let’s acknowledge the current dissonance, and let’s talk about it.