The Freshman 15

Feature by Michelle Berman, Swimming World intern

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, October 28. THE freshman 15, as many know, is a scary number that represents a move out of the house and into a new reality. The freshman 15 has long been thought to be just a number of pounds you seem to gain over the course of your freshman year in college, but in reality the freshman 15 can be much more than that.

The looming question is can the freshman 15 impact athletes just the same as it can affect normal college students.

"I definitely think it is real (for athletes)," said Jace Howanitz, a junior at Virginia Tech University as well as member of the swimming and diving team. "I know a lot of people that have dealt with this issue. It's not just a saying. I think it happens to a lot of people, including athletes."

Possibly the biggest part to the freshman 15 is the transition from mom and dad making your dinner every night, to being in a situation where you can eat whatever and whenever you want without any guidance at all about what you consume.

For example, when your parents give you money to spend on groceries, or buy you meal swipes to go to the dining halls, they are not going to be standing right next to you saying ‘No, don't eat that' or ‘you know that's not good for you'. It becomes a matter of self-control.

Timothy O'Malley, a sophomore at West Virginia University and distance free specialist, explains his view of the transition.

"The taste is definitely different. You have to get used to your food not being exactly the way you like it," said O'Malley. "It's not so homemade anymore. Your portions are as big as you want them to be, so it's very easy to go back for seconds, or maybe fourths."

Howanitz, an IM and sprint free specialist, explains that not only does the food she eats affect her body, but it affects swimming too.

"I think it does, maybe not at first, but by the time conference rolls around, and you are swimming with 10 or so more pounds than before, you're going to notice it!" said Howanitz.

When you enter college, how do you know you're not home anymore?

"Well, my mom made sure I had my vegetables and milk every night, and here at the dining hall I now had the option to have sodas and just get burgers and fries," said Howanitz. "I could also go back for more if I was still hungry, but at home my mom gave me my plate of food and that was it."

"When I first came down for breakfast with my roommate, we got in line and as we went down we noticed the eggs," said O'Malley. "They looked like they were made from a jell-o box. I put some on my plate and they jiggled around like they were mostly made of water. That's when I realized this definitely wasn't home anymore."

Perhaps the biggest factor that goes into weight gain for athletes is weightlifting. Does lifting cause the weight gain for the new freshman? Or is it a combination of dining hall and lifting?

"Lifting is a big part of how you gain weight," said O'Malley. "You're building more muscle through the year, which is where a lot of freshman athletes think they are getting fatter."

Howanitz had a different view on whether the freshman 15 was all about weight lifting.

"I think it's a little bit of everything. You're going to gain muscle weight, and also start to want to eat all the time," she said. "With two-a-day practices you're always going to be hungry, and you're going to need to eat more in order to have energy to practice."

One aspect about what Howanitz said is crucial – double practices. For many athletes growing up in club swimming atmospheres, doing doubles every day or multiple times a week is really not an option. When you go off to college, and you are now in a situation where swimming is a big part of your day, things change.

With that being said, the amount of food you would consume as a club swimmer versus the amount of food you need to consume to stay energized as a college swimmer is very different.

Many college teams today have sports nutritionists available to them. And, in many cases they can be very helpful with understanding what to eat when your options are limited.

"At the beginning of every year, we sit down as a team and have a big nutrition meeting where we can ask questions about what we need to be eating and where we can get the food," O'Malley said. "Then they break down the different part of the cafeteria and how we can make up a healthy meal with what they serve. Using a nutritionist is a huge help!"

A very important part of being a college athlete is understanding your role on your team. The difference between being a college athlete and just a college student is astounding. Therefore, it is important that you use all the tools that are there for you to have the successful career you want to have.

The role of coaches in the nutrition aspect of your career is a tricky one, but they can be a great influence.

"They made nutrition meetings a mandatory event," O'Malley said. "Our weight coach drills us every week on a different type of nutrition. Everything from hydration to what to eat for post workout meals. They make sure we eat right and stay as healthy as we can so that we can swim fast and keep up in classes."

"They have our school nutritionist come talk to us every month as well as going to the bod pod every month (which measures our body fat/muscle weight)," said Howanitz. "They also have us do so many cardio sessions a week if they feel applicable."

Michelle Berman is a junior swimmer at Rutgers University who is serving as an intern at Swimming World this semester.