Foods to Avoid for College Athletes

Foods to Avoid for College Athletes

Welcome back to our series on nutrition for college athletes. As a former college football player at NC State, I’ve seen the ins and outs of nutrition at the college athletics level. There are athletes that get it right and some that do not. With this in mind, I want to give you some foods you should avoid if athletic performance is your goal. 

Nutrition can be tricky in college athletics. I say this because, for the most part, you are dealing with athletes in their late teens or early twenties. Athletes in this age group are not only burning incredible amounts of calories because of their sport but also because of their age, metabolism, and muscle mass. You may have heard the famous stories about how NFL players only eat McDonald’s and think that that is absurd. You’d be right; however, often these are the most successful athletes. For instance, one of the recent Olympic USA Basketball teams went to Wendy’s during one of their road trips. We are talking about the highest-level athletes in the world eating hamburgers, fries, and frostys. 

The reason I mention this is because, for some athletes, they are so good that they can get away with what we may consider poor nutrition. However, as an athlete, you should be looking for every opportunity to be the best you can be - and nutrition is no different.

I also want to say that your nutrition is highly dependent on your weight goals. If your coaches have you trying to gain fifty pounds in a year, being incredibly selective about your food choices is not as feasible. You will sacrifice some of what we would consider “health” in order to improve performance. 

So, let’s jump in.

Foods To Avoid For College Athletes:

  1. Fast Food

I know, I know - fast food always gets a bad rap and is always on these lists. You may be thinking, “I can get grilled chicken,” or “Is it really that bad, I hate cooking.” If so, you are partially right, what I am talking about with fast food is not the salads, grilled chicken, subs, or even burritos. There are certainly healthier options at fast food, but oftentimes college athletes don’t make the best decisions at places like McDonald’s, Cookout, or Bojangles. 

The ultra-processed, fried foods are tough on the body. Things like french fries and chicken tenders are fried using harmful oils for your body. Eating food like this slows down your recovery as an athlete by adding additional inflammation - not to mention these foods significantly lack nutrients.

  1. Alcohol

Man, if fast food wasn’t popular, this one sure won’t be. 

Technically this isn’t a food, but it is such a large part of college life and has a pretty significant effect on college athletes, so I feel it is important to mention. While certainly, it depends on many factors, it is still pretty clear that alcohol has a negative effect on overall athletic performance

Some of alcohol’s effects to be aware of include dehydration, impairing muscle growth, energy depletion, and preventing muscle recovery. Alcohol interrupts sleep patterns and can even decrease the release of human growth hormones by 70%. 

As an athlete, you work so hard in the weight room and on the field, so it’s important to realize that at least some of the benefits you would have gained can be lost by consuming alcohol.

  1. “Junk” Foods

You know what this means. If you want to be an elite athlete, snacks like Cheetos, Chips Ahoy, and Lucky Charms don’t belong. Of course, the occasional snack won’t kill you, but similar to fast food - these foods contain artificial ingredients, oils, and high levels of sugar that aren’t great for your recovery from a hard day of training. 

What to Eat

This could be an entire article, if not a book, by itself. Again this depends highly on the goals of the athlete for their weight, whether they are eating before practice or after practice, or even what their food sensitivities allow. 

A general principle I like to use is to eat food as close to how it was grown as possible. What does this look like? Instead of eating potato chips eat a baked potato. Instead of eating fried chicken nuggets opt for a grilled chicken breast. Choosing from major food groups such as meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy, nuts, and grains will generally leave you in a pretty good spot. 

Wrap Up

There you have it - what not to eat as a college athlete. Especially as you move off campus and have more kitchen space, one of the best ways to make sure you are eating healthy is to cook your own food. This way you can be sure you know exactly what you are eating. If you aren’t sure where to start - check out 18 High Protein Meal Prep Recipes. Leave us a comment or question below. We’d love to hear from you!


Braun, Perrin. “How Does Alcohol Affect Your Athletic Performance?” The InsideGuide, 1 Aug. 2022, etic-performance. 

AboutCamden Woods

Wake Christian '18 | NC State Football Player 2018-2020 | I am passionate about helping people by bringing value to their lives.

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