By Intern Ashley Shaw
Summer is finally here, and while we rejoice in the lack of school, it also means that the window to qualify for Equitation Finals is narrowing. For this reason, some riders may choose to begin the infamous “Eq Diet,” to which there is no real set of guidelines, just the notion of losing weight to compete with the “skinny girls who always win.” I could argue all day how each rider is beautiful the way they are and perfectly capable of winning an equitation class, but for some they would be wasted words. In addition, I greatly encourage healthy eating, and therefore want to dispel some common misconceptions about certain diet trends. What you eat, or don’t eat, can have a harmful effect on your life and needs to be taken seriously.
Misconception #1: “Fat is bad for you.” Trans fats are bad for you, sure, but what about saturated and unsaturated fats? Fact is you can’t live without them. Saturated fats, in proper proportions, help build a strong immune system, strengthen bones, and improve brain and lung health. Red meat, whole milk dairy foods, and coconut oil are all common sources of saturated fats (Mercola). However, unsaturated fats are truly the star of the show. These fats help to reduce the risk of heart disease, build cell membranes, aid in blood clotting, and are needed for muscle movement, just to name a few. What’s more is that the body cannot produce these fats, so you have to obtain them from your food. Avocados, most nuts, and certain seafoods like salmon, shrimp, and trout are all good sources of unsaturated fats. Overall, fats help absorb vitamins and minerals and are a major source of energy, so bottomline: don’t go on a fat-free diet! You need fats more than you know (Harvard Health).
Misconception #2: “Snacking contributes to weight gain.” While you should do your best to choose healthy snacks, not snacking has its consequences. Firstly, it helps control appetite and limits overeating at meal times, which can not only be unhealthy, but also make you sick. Consuming healthy snacks increases your nutrient intake, something that is crucial due to how draining working and riding all day in the sun can be. In coordination, having your snack contain carbohydrates, proteins, and fats will increase your energy level, letting you power through those fourteen-hour horse show days without feeling fatigued. When your body is properly fueled, your mental focus and concentration also increases, inevitably leading to better show ring performance or a more productive hack or lesson (Martinez). My personal favorite snacks include Sargento Protein Packs, trail mix, or greek yogurt, but there are many other good snacks out there too. Don’t skip snacks just to try and cut calories – they are a vital part of your daily food intake.
Other helpful tips: Protein is essential to everyone’s diet, but for athletes like us, it is especially important because it provides energy and helps to rebuild muscles and cartilage, among other things. Meats, dairy, beans, and nuts are basic protein providers, but if you discover that you are not getting enough protein, you can try having a protein shake or bar as one of your healthy snacks (Clif, Aloha, and Rx Bars are my favorites) (MyPlate). The other thing I want to stress is the importance of sleep. Getting eight to nine hours of sleep strengthens memory, grows and repairs muscles and tissues, and synthesizes hormones (Nat’l Sleep Foundation). Studies have also shown that sleeping either too much or too little can increase the risk of weight gain and is another reason to get a full night’s rest (Hensrud). The benefits of sleep are endless, so to heighten your mental focus and physical state make sure you catch some Z’s this summer.
Here is my Eq Diet: Three meals a day with intermittent snacks consisting of fruits and vegetables, plenty of proteins, the right amount of carbs for long-term energy, and of course the occasional sweet or two. All of this capped off with a full night of sleep will keep you strong and focused throughout the summer show season. Don’t forget that we are athletes, not supermodels. Fuel your body accordingly and take home some blues this summer – you deserve it.
Hensrud, Donald, M.D. “Sleep and Weight Gain: What’s the Connection?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017.
Martinez, Eliza. “Low-Fat, Low-Sodium & Low-Cholesterol Snack Foods.
LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 06 Aug. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017.
Mercola, Joseph, M.D. “7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat.” Mercola.com. N.p., 22 Sept. 2009. Web. 26 May 2017.
“Nutrients and Health Benefits.” Choose MyPlate. USDA, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 May 2017.
“The Truth About Fats.” Harvard Health. Harvard University, Feb. 2015. Web. 26 May 2017.
“Why Do We Need Sleep?” Excessive Sleepiness. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 May 2017.
About the Author: Ashley Shaw is a senior at Lafayette High School in St. Louis, MO. She trains with Shannon Hicks and competes in the Junior Hunters and Junior Jumpers, and her goal is to qualify for the Devon Horse Show next year. Outside of riding, she enjoys photography, cooking, and hanging out with her retired horses.
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