Athletes evolving through diet, training

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Texas Type

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Texas Type

There was a humorous photo making the rounds in the pre-Superbowl buildup of quarterback Len Dawson in 1967. Dawson and his Chiefs had just taken a whipping from the Green Bay Packers, so Dawson sat down on the sidelines and lit up a cigarette.

Fifty-plus years later, we saw 41-year-old Tom Brady help the Patriots to yet another Superbowl win. Brady, love him or hate him, is an überathlete and supposedly has a training regimen that involves strict foods, custom workouts and, of course, no cigarettes.

He and his supermodel wife seem ageless. Not sure what Brady’s plans are for retirement, but there aren’t many 41-year-olds still performing at that level. There was talk of him being the best ever after the game with six title rings to his name and the Patriots taking over the mantle of greatest franchise from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We are living through an age of advancement for athletes and it is showing on the courts, tracks and fields all around the world. Special diets, focused training and lifestyles that are much less colorful than those of top athletes of the past are allowing athletes to continue playing for years past what was thought possible a half century ago.

The money that athletes command today allows them to hire trainers, nutritionists and even psychologists to help them with their games. Supposedly, Tom Brady’s diet regimen would make the Old Testament’s 600 food rules seem loose. He focuses on alkaline foods heavy on the veggies and a lot of protein shakes.

Even high school athletes are benefitting from the additional knowledge we now have about sport training. Weight room training is a huge part of the Fredericksburg Independent School District’s regimen for all athletes and all levels. And it has proven beneficial as we see more and more dedicated young athletes setting records and going on to compete at the college level.

When I was in high school — 30-plus years and 60 pounds ago — only the football players ever lifted weights. Training had not yet evolved for us to realize muscle development would assist any athlete. My scrawny frame certainly could have used another 10 pounds of muscle in high school, but I didn’t realize that until college, when our coach had us at the weight room at 6 a.m. three times per week. Our games advanced substantially.

It was the 1980s when a lot of that began to change. Martina Navratilova rose to the top of women’s tennis. I remember reading an article about her in Tennis magazine about her weight training and a strict eating plan with lots of lean proteins. She even had a trainer that measured her biorhythms and whatnot.

Pete Sampras followed her and talked about the challenges and dedication it took to stay at the top of the game. He talked about the sacrifice it took “having to eat another meal of pasta and chicken breast.” That was just two decades after the infamous tennis bad boys John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis partied at Studio 54 until the wee hours, then dragged themselves onto court the next day.

We tennis fans thought it would be decades for anyone to break Sampras’s record of 14 grand slam titles. Yet Roger Federer, at age 37 and considered the greatest of all time, did it only seven years later. And Novak Djokovic, who is six years younger than Federer, may yet eclipse the new big-four title mark. He also keeps a strict diet and training.

The entire sports world has no shortage of other athletes who look at the entire body, training methods and what goes into it as fuel.

It ever-so-slowly filters down to we nonathletes and, maybe over time, our society will become healthier by it.

Today, many of us still feel like Len Dawson and find solace in that bad habit, whether it’s a cigarette, beer or cake. We focus for a few short weeks on a New Year’s diet and exercise regimen, but then those cute little Girl Scouts come around with the boxes of cookies and, hey, we have to support the Girl Scouts, right? And then, look, it’s Taco Tuesday or there are donuts in the break room at work.

Oh well, there’ll be no Superbowl rings for us. We can watch and appreciate these super-athletes while eating cheese dip and dreaming of a time when our metabolism ruled.

ken@fredericksburgstandard.com