Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a health professional, and all studies, stats, and events following were from my own personal research, experiences and observations.
UPDATE:Because of the response from this post, I've started a Facebook Group so that all of us former athletes can get our health back together! Check it out here: Athlete Reboot.
How many former college and professional athletes have you seen that are surprisingly now overweight and unhealthy looking?
When an athlete is at the top of their game and in midseason form, eating right and lifting weights... some may look at how amazing their bodies work. The ease of transition from one movement to another. The extreme physical hardship the body is capable of going through and power and finess it shows at the same time. The athletes are despised by those that wish to have that body.
But, this perception of the athlete often quickly changes when the athlete steps away from the game and no longer trains for the sport. People begin to say "what happened to him?"in utter disbelief. They see before them somebody who once had 8% body fat but now has 30+% body fat. Somebody who looks out of shape, un-athletic, and well... disappointing. Athletes often face a problem of keeping their weight under control after retirement from their sport they played their whole life.
Why is this?
There are a couple major reasons athletes gain weight and lose their health after retirement aside from the obvious aging factor. The first reason for this is that they don't usually change their eating habits even though their training habits have changed. When at the top of their game and training multiple times a day, athletes become accustomed to being able to eat whatever they want since the calories will be burned off anyways. This nutrition folly gets us all. It's extremely hard to change eating habits, especially for athletes who aren't in training.
The first year for an athlete after they step away from their sport is usually the hardest on their health. They typically feel that there is a major burden taken off of their shoulders of having to stay fit and healthy. They begin to binge a bit and eat whatever they want and however much they want. Gaining weight is usually expected, but normally the athlete doesn't expect the weight to be a very noticeable amount. And, well, normally the athlete just doesn't care until the weight becomes a problem. They've typically never had a weight problem so the thought of it actually happening to them never crosses their mind. In reality, this takes about a year for the athlete to notice because as long as their muscle mass is still there, they don't feel soft. After a year though of no physical activity, their muscles diminish, and the fat begins to take center stage.
When at peak physical condition, athletes bodies are using up so many calories every day that they can’t put on weight. Unless they are lucky enough to have coaches that are aware of healthy eating strategies... they are capable of looking good, exercising effectively, and keeping off any excess weight, simply because they are burning up so much energy every day.
The second major problem athletes face after retirement is "man, I deserve a break. I'm not lifting a single weight for the next year." This gets us all. From college to Hall of Fame athletes after they're done. The thought of not having to wake up at 5:30 am to go run and punish your body is too attractive to athletes after retirement. They take full advantage of this and I personally have heard more athletes then I can count tell me this after they played their last game. I myself am a victim of this "gym strike."
For athletes, getting back in the gym is substantially more difficult than it is for the average Joe. The reason being, they have never ran or lifted weights in as bad of shape as they're now in before. They're not used to the terrible feel of being out of shape in the gym. This is due to the poor post retirement diet and the year long gym strike. This makes that first day in the gym that much more difficult and showing back up the next day even more difficult. They don't have a deadline anymore to be at a certain weight and usually tell themselves that they have no reason to be strong anymore. Also, believe it or not, part of their gym problem has to do with their marital status.
Single retired athletes usually start hitting the gym again once they notice their health and looks affect their attractiveness to the opposite sex. Single retired athletes are more likely to get back to a top physical condition after that first year because of the embarrassment. Married retired athletes however are less likely to ever find that physical fitness again. Why? Because they typically aren't going to clubs and being judged, they don't typically need their bodies to look good to find a mate, and all in all they believe they don't have any reason aside from health to be in great shape. They already have their love of their life so they know they will not be dying alone. The driving force for most married retired athletes to get in the gym is at the hand of their wives.
Is there a solution?
The solution is awareness and planning. The weight gain in retiring athletes happens to all levels 0f athletes from elite college athletes to the Hall of Fame professionals. The majority of these athletes don't ever picture themselves possibly becoming overweight. Their confidence in their bodies gets the best of them since nobody ever mentions training for post sport. For athletes, the only exciting thing about retirement is the break and freedom. This causes extreme laziness and poor eating habits. The solution is knowing ahead of time to stay active, stay fit, and stay moving even if it is at a slower pace than before. Basically, keep being an athlete without taking a major "break" from physical activity.
With a proper awareness program in professional players associations and NCAA and NAIA athletics, I believe this problem for athletes could diminish substantially. Don't you think that a little post playing advice from the league is the least they owe their athletes for all of the money the athletes made for them? As long as we have the delicious calorie filled foods our world offers, the weight problems for athletes will never disappear all together. However, by sharing with them other athletes mindsets after their careers are over and then showing them what those mindsets did to the other athletes, I believe many athletes will begin to keep a healthy fitness level post sport. Education is a powerful thing.
*There are many other reasons why many athletes suffer from post playing days obesity that I did not list. I simply wanted to focus on the two most common issues. Other major reasons for post career obesity are depression and aging.
How I fell into this problem...
I felt like I was going to get in the best shape of my life when I stepped away from baseball. For baseball players, you can't perform fluidly and quickly being bulky so a lot of muscles you never workout much. I was excited to have so much time to really attack those muscles and see where I could get my body. But, the first thing I did was say I'm taking 6 months off of weights and 6 months off of running to treat myself after years of training. That 6 months turned into 18 months of random useless workouts a couple times a month I did for training for my new sport. After breaking my routine of lifting 5 days a week, I found it very difficult to get back on that routine even with new teammates to train with. Every now and again I'd go on a health spree of a week or two and hit the gym a few times, but when in the gym, I didn't have the drive that I used to have to push myself. I knew how to lift to be a well built baseball player, but didn't know how to properly lift to be a healthy well balanced person. This is a problem during my research that I've found 9 out of the 10 former athletes faced. It's 100% a mental problem since our training programs have typically been the same or given to us by somebody else our whole lives. The problem of walking in the gym and feeling like you're wasting your time since you're not on a program you think will benefit you, really gets to athletes mentally.
The reason for doing this study is because I've noticed so many former athletes fat and out of shape... and well, I finally found myself in the worst shape of my life recently even while playing a new sport. After finishing this mini study, I now feel obligated to do something to help retiring athletes stay healthy and add years to their lives. I flat out don't have the time in my days right now to be able to dedicate fully to doing a book on this, but would love to partner with somebody and help make it happen. Please contact me if you're interested and lets make something great!
If you're a former college or professional athlete and would like to share your story for the studies, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear all post playing health stories that are both positive and negative stories to help the research. Any and all stories can help at least one retiring athlete in some way so please share them in the comments section below, or email them my way.
Thanks for reading, stay positive, and lets get back in shape!
*Time for an Athlete Reboot *Updated on June 17, 2017
After a number of requests and and an incredible response to this post... I've decided to take it upon myself and start an email list and a Facebook group so that we can get back into shape together. As athletes, we're used to having coaches, predetermined game plans, and in many cases teams to train with. So over the next few months I'll be putting this all together so that we can hold each other accountable, push results, and get competitive about it no matter where we are in the world. It's time to reboot back to our golden days!
If you want to help or join the team, sign up below so we can bring everyone together and start making this happen.
Step 1)Join the Facebook Group and introduce yourself: Click Here