It happens to everyone: staying up late to study and complete rigorous homework assignments. As fatigue begins to take over, and it requires every ounce of energy just to stay awake. When people realize that they’re hungry, they head over to the kitchen pantry past midnight for an unhealthy snack.
People have heard it time after time again that they should live a healthy lifestyle. They’ve heard it from their family, friends, doctors, teachers and coaches. While the majority of students are generally healthy, people all know what it’s like to do something unhealthy.
How does this differ for student athletes? It is a coach’s job to make sure their athletes get into top-condition, but they can only control the things that athletes do for the duration of practices. This leaves the rest of the day for athletes to do whatever they please.
Freshman Samantha Yamashita has danced for the last 10 years. This year, she began dancing for the Paly team.
Although a freshman’s workload is often lighter than that of an upperclassman, Yamashita said she still experienced a big leap from middle to high school.
One of the biggest conflicts that Paly student-athletes will run into is sleep, or lack thereof. In a high school known for its overachieving students, many athletes will return home after practices with a large amount of homework piled-up.
“In general, I tend to prioritize my school work,” Yamashita said. “I always try to get it done during prep. It isn’t too hard yet, but I think if it were starting to affect my general health, I’d sleep if I had to sleep. It has become a bit harder balancing my school work with dance lately, but it is still manageable. I try to plan it out, so if I had to do something important for dance, I’d get my work out of the way first.”
Junior Kai Douglas is running on cross country for her third year.
“My coach says that it’s good to go to bed early, and wake up early to complete my homework,” Douglas said. “That way my mind will be fresh and not tired.”
On the other hand, Paly psychology teacher Melinda Mattes thinks that waking up early does not have as big of an advantage.
“I don’t think there are significant advantages to waking up early. The best thing you can do for yourself is keeping your sleep cycle consistent. If you wake up early, you should always wake up early. If you go to bed late, you should always go to bed late.”
Alongside sleep, diet is something that students must improve. To stay healthy, one must eat foods from all nutritional groups, including proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, fats and vitamins.
While many athletes fulfill these needs, many still find ourselves eating unhealthy snacks every now and then.
“Town and Country is still pretty new to me, so I always find myself going to Trader Joe’s and getting cookies,” Yamashita said.
Even upperclassmen, such as senior football player Paul Thie, admits to cheating on his diet from time to time.
“For the most part, I eat healthy foods for all three meals of the day,” Thie said. “However, I like ice cream and boba too and I love to have them as snacks. They are definitely unhealthy foods, but I can’t resist sometimes. I have gotten better at managing my diet, but I’m still young and it can be hard to control.”
It can be a lot to balance school work, dietary choices, sleep and athletics. However, student atheletes cannot blame themseleves. According to Mattes, a teenager’s prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed; a part of the brain that regulates most quick-decision making.
“The prefrontal cortex does a good job inhibiting behaviors or actions that might not be good for you,” Mattes said. “Since the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed in teenagers, emotions sometimes play a larger role in what a teen might do. It doesn’t mean that all teenagers are destined to do bad things, but it does mean that the balance of power in the brain is not quite the same for teens.”
Most times, people make these decisions without thinking about what they just did. Eventually, the prefrontal cortex will make a decision, but by then it’s too late.
Thie said, “Sometimes I regret it right after I eat something unhealthy. I remind myself about how bad it is for my sports performance. But it’s too late at that point.”