“IT COULD BOTHER YOU THAT YOU HAVE TO BE SO BIG”
Then there’s the other extreme: bulking up to fit your assigned role on a team in which strength determines potential.
That is the situation that many Harvard football players find themselves in when they first enter Palmer Dixon in August of their freshmen year. In those early weeks, Director of Strength and Conditioning James Frazier assesses the incoming players, telling the athletes whether they need to size up or slim down in order to fill their role on the squad.
While it may seem counterintuitive, junior tight end Tyler D. Hamblin describes the diet required for bulking up as more regimented than that followed when trying to lose weight.
“You’ve got to be detail-oriented, you’ve got to be disciplined,” said Hamblin, who had to gain a significant amount of weight in order to change his body type from that of a quarterback to that of a tight end after his freshman season. “It’s a lot easier I would say to lose weight than it is to gain weight.”
While size may be key to the sport, it can also play a less welcome role off the gridiron.
“Self-esteem and body image are things that people [in general at] our age grapple with all the time,” Hamblin said. “[When people] see football players, they stick out like a sore thumb. When we’re not wearing our red jackets, you just know us by our stature.”
“And we’re at Harvard—smart people tend to be slimmer, fitter,” he added. “Being an athlete, especially a football player, it could bother you that you have to be big—you’re bigger than everyone else…. So I could definitely see how that would weigh on a student athlete in any sport.”
For these players, though, “getting big” always comes back to sizing up in the right way. According to Hamblin, transitioning from high school to collegiate play forces athletes to be increasingly “conscious” of their bodies, placing an additional “stressor” on the players.
No longer can the athletes solely rely on their instincts or athletic ability as they did in high school, but now they have to be wary of the foods they consume as well.
“An athlete’s diet is transparent by the way they play on the field or court,” Hamblin said. “You can always tell which one of the players is eating well compared to which one of the players went out at 11:30 at night to the Hong Kong…[and I think this need to be ‘conscious’] bothers a lot of guys when they’re starting off.”
“I WAS NOT GOING TO STOP AT MUCH TO GET OUT THERE”
Former lightweight rower Erin F. Flynn ’13 knew that there was an issue. In the days leading up to a weigh-in, she was performing poorly on the river and in the classroom, feeling both a mental and physical strain. After walking on to the team her freshman year, she decided to walk off after her sophomore season.
While athletes often recognize the link between poor nourishment and injury, few take the time to reassess and prioritize their health. But when Flynn did that following her second year on the team, she decided to walk off crew and walk straight onto ECHO, Harvard’s peer counseling group that specializes in body image and eating concerns.
“Seeing the practices and being part of the practices of really trying to maintain a low weight, and dealing with the stress of it both mentally and physically was tough,” Flynn said. “I found that when we were going to have weigh-ins, I didn’t really want to get out of bed, and was just waiting for that moment when I could eat a bagel.”
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