Ahh, chicken strip day at the Food Zoo. Every UM freshman’s favorite day of the week—except, of course, for the freshmen who happened to be on the cross country team.
Yep, we were the kids who, in addition to being skinny and socially awkward, could be spotted in the cafeteria eating bagels and saltines on the day that everyone else ate luscious strips of farm fowl. I remember chewing my dry, flavorless bagel with rancorous deliberation as I watched the chicken strip line grow and snake around more and more tables. Each breath I took reeked of fried heaven. I couldn’t help but hate the other kids, just a little, for their freedom to chow down on crispy yard bird and hot, tasty French fries while I was stuck with a cold lump of refined carbohydrates.
But, alas, it was usually a workout day and I was not willing to risk suffering a nasty bout of mid-interval diarrhea. I had been there, done that when I indulged on Cajun catfish day after convincing myself that I would probably be fine, as it was “just a tempo run.”
There were, of course, freaks with freaky stomachs who could eat whatever they wanted without consequence—freaks like Steve. He was a tall, ringlet-headed waif with a stomach of steel and a taste for variety. That kid would eat his way around the Zoo on a daily basis, beginning with the main line and continuing in a rectangular path that hit the vegetarian line, the burger and sandwich bar, the pizza line and the pasta bar. Sometimes he even had room for a bowl of Marshmallow Mateys to top everything off. (FYI: Contrary to what the folks at Malt-o-Meal would have you believe, Marshmallow Mateys are not in any way comparable to Lucky Charms. Period.)
I wanted so badly to be like Steve—to be able to eat whatever my little tummy desired and still kick ass in workouts. How did he do it? I had to know his secrets. One day, when there was a lull in normal lunchtime chatter, I casually brought it up. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Hey Steve, I couldn’t help but notice that you tend to consume massive quantities of food prior to workouts, yet suffer virtually no gastrointestinal repercussions. How is this possible?
Steve: Well, [pauses to finish chicken wing and lick barbecue sauce from fingers] I just tried to get myself used to it over the summer. I would, like, eat a bunch of hotdogs and then go out for a long run.
Me: Didn’t that make you barf?
Steve: Sometimes. But eventually, my stomach got used to it and now I can eat pretty much anything before I run.
Me: So it was worth it?
Steve: Do you like eating bagels for lunch every day?
He had me there. No, I did not like eating bagels for lunch every day. In fact, I had come to hate everything about bagels except for the fact that they provided me fuel with no stomach cramps. I decided to be an adventurer and give Steve’s methods a try.
Without a word, I got up and marched to the soup section. If I was going to do this, I was going to really do it. I was making a serious commitment, which is why I ladled myself a sizeable bowl of spicy Food Zoo chili. With sour cream. And cheese.
I returned to the table and sat down slowly, staring at the giant gut bomb in front of me. I immediately felt substantially less bold than I had been during my confident stride to the chili pot. Everyone else at the table went on discussing the day’s events like nothing had happened. They hadn’t even noticed my potentially groundbreaking foray into the study of pre-workout nutrition. I resisted the urge to announce my intentions. Instead, I quietly finished my bowl of chili, cleared my dishes from the table, and returned to my dorm room to wait.
Tomorrow: the thrilling conclusion to this story and free popsicles for everyone! Just kidding about the popsicles.