The Importance of a Balanced Diet for Student-Athletes

Phillips celebrating on the ice after a goal in a BEL game.

Most people know it’s important to have a balanced diet year-round. Sure, it’s easy to find time to whip up a Christmas brunch on winter break when time seems to be infinite, but what about when it’s 7:32 AM and it’s a big rush to make it to school on time? Many will put breakfast and/or lunch on the backburner. Unfortunately, this is a common issue for many students, but can be especially detrimental for student-athletes. School, stress, and sports can make it difficult to maintain a consistent and balanced diet. Athletes Maceo Phillips (2025) and Daniel Ijadimbola (2022) share their eating habits as hockey and basketball players.

Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. Studies show that skipping breakfast can have a negative effect on cognitive function.The brain is slower, lacks attention, and is less excited. Quick reflexes and accuracy are some of the most important skills in sports – simply munching on a breakfast bar could keep athletes safer and more successful in games. “My diet is a lot more strict on game days and there are a lot more greens involved,” Phillips said.

With athletes constantly sweating, a balanced diet is no good without hydration. Dehydration can increase the perception of fatigue, affect memory and attention, and alter mood. Staying hydrated and constantly drinking water is necessary for hard-working athletes. “I like to drink a lot of water because I play a lot, and when I used to not drink as much water I used to catch a lot of cramps in games,” Ijadimbola said.

Speaking of sports, some programs will work with nutritionists to educate athletes about the importance of fueling their active bodies. Many studies show there is a correlation between nutritionally educated athletes and successful results. It’s crucial that student-athletes not only understand the significance of a well-balanced and healthy diet, but actually act on it and fuel themselves properly. It’s no surprise that the top professional athletes work with a nutrition team. Student-athletes are encouraged to educate themselves and find what works for them. “[Nutritionists] helped me eat the right foods to stay on top of my game. I’ve learned what foods enhance performance,” Phillips said.