Athl-eats: How Chapman athletes manage their diets

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Austin Pyka, a senior defensive lineman, eats a dish of chicken, rice and vegetables in Chapman’s athlete’s gym. Photos by Riani Astuti

Whether it’s a 265-pound defensive lineman, a 5-foot 5-inch star women’s basketball player, or a men’s soccer defender with a passion for great sandwiches, athletes have to think about the food they put in their body almost as much as their physical preparation before games.

While Division III athletes don’t have the same schedules as professional athletes, year-round practice schedules demand year-round fitness.

Nasira Burkholder-Cooley, a Chapman professor and nutrition educator, said dieting is a critical component in maintaining prime fitness and health.

“For athletes, dieting is especially important because they have higher energy demands, and performance is crucial,” Burkholder-Cooley said. “Athletes also have some nutrients of concern, such as iron. Nutrition needs are very individualized depending on the activity, size, gender and weight of the athlete.”

Austin Pyka, a senior defensive lineman on the Chapman football team, provided an imposing physical presence on the defensive front line.

Pyka played eight games, with 19 solo tackles and 26 assisted tackles during the football team’s championship-winning season this fall.

He won the highest defensive honor in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the Defensive Athlete of the Year.

“I was (eating) about 6,000 calories a day,” Pyka said. “I was 285 (pounds) during season. Now, being off-season, I am completely different. I have lost 8 percent body fat and 20 pounds,” Pyka said.

Pyka prefers his offseason weight, which relieves the stress that the added weight puts on his body.

“I enjoy being the weight that I am now, going from 285 to 265,” Pyka said. “I’m leaner now, which is better for my joints. Plus, I just feel better and look better, since I don’t have that extra fat on me.”

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Cameron Cohn, a freshman defender on the men’s soccer team, eats chicken and rice and a sandwich in the Randall Dining Commons.

Cameron Cohn, a freshman defender on the men’s soccer team, is a self-proclaimed food lover, eats most of his meals in Randall Dining Commons.

“During season and off-season, I don’t have a huge change in my diet,” Cohn said. “I snack a lot, but in a good way. I’ll usually have a PowerBar for breakfast, then a decent-sized lunch, and eventually head to practice, and have a big dinner.”

But even athletes have their cravings. Cohn, who manages a food Instagram account, @issa_sandwich, that reviews of some of the best sandwiches Cohn has tried from around the world. (His favorite is The Pastrami – layers of pastrami piled high on rye bread with mustard – from Katz’s Delicatessen in New York City.) He eats a sandwich one to three times a week.

The Pastrami Sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen in New York. Ingredients: Hot Pastrami piled high on rye bread with mustard. Price: 21.45$ Height: 3 inches +- 1 inch Rating: 9.99/10 Comments: There's a reason why this is the most expensive sandwich I have ever seen. No matter how much Pastrami is piled into the sandwich or how you hold the sandwich, the sandwich somehow stays perfectly intact. The Pastrami is absolutely unreal. Prepared over days, the Pastrami is juicy, incredibly flavorful, and melts in your mouth like no other meat. This is the best Pastrami on Earth and you will not find better elsewhere. The mustard is not that strong, but still has enough flavor to enhance the sandwich. Overall, this sandwich is a delicacy, and I personally would pay twice as much to eat it. Katz's Deli is better than Langer's Deli in LA and their Pastrami Sandwich is holy grail of sanwiches. – cambam

A post shared by Ur Local Sandwich Plug (@issa_sandwich) on

For Jaryn Fajardo, a junior guard on the Chapman women’s basketball team, meal-prepping is crucial.

“I definitely stick to the basics, such as chicken, sauteed kale and rice,” Fajardo said. “I stock up on a lot of oatmeal. I can also eat an entire carton of eggs in a week and my roommates make fun of me for it.”

This season, Fajardo was named MVP in the SCIAC championship game, which was the women’s basketball team’s first SCIAC championship. Fajardo started in 22 games, played 704 minutes and scored 266 points – eating healthy and staying fit paid off.

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Kayla Redner makes her home-cooked meal of vegan chicken oven baked vegetables.

Kayla Redner, a sophomore forward on the women’s soccer team, became a vegetarian her freshman year. She said she was unsure of the quality of the meat being provided on campus and was concerned about the environmental ramifications of consuming meat.

“I don’t think it’s difficult at all,” Redner said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much protein you would get out of little things like nuts and beans. You can easily get a sufficient amount of protein without eating meat every day.”

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Redner’s lunch consisting of brown rice, oven baked vegetable and vegan chicken.

Redner’s go-to meal is a grain base, like rice or quinoa, a pan of roasted vegetables and a soy-based meat substitute like tofu.

As a health sciences major who hopes to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant, Redner said she pays a lot of attention to what she puts into her body.

“It’s very important for athletes to eat as healthy as possible,” she said. “Your body is only going to be as efficient as what you put into it.”

Jake Hutchinson contributed to this report.