Seeking Symbiosis: Balancing Sport and Study as a Student-Athlete

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Seeking Symbiosis: Balancing Sport and Study as a Student-Athlete

Blog by Samone Franzese, US Military Endurance Sports Team Triathlete and USA Triathlon Military Athlete of the Year

Samone Franzese is a first-year Elite Triathlete and Army Officer who races for the US Military Endurance Sports Team. She is also a full-time medical student in her final year at Virginia Commonwealth University. Balancing medical school and triathlon has been a huge challenge, and she struggled with fatigue for a season before turning to better time-management and nutrition strategies, which led to improvement on all fronts. Check out some of her tips for balancing intense training with a busy lifestyle.

Medical school can be daunting. It requires two years of learning an insurmountable amount of material in class, followed by two years of hospital rotations. During the first two years, a medical student has tests every two to three weeks. After the second year, students take Step 1 of the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) boards. For most medical students, this is the most difficult and important test of their life, and studying becomes a full-time job in the six to eight weeks before the test. Step 1 is followed by two more standardized tests at the end of third year.

During third year, medical students work 50-80 hours a week in the hospital, rotating through various specialties. Some rotations involve grueling 14-hour days. These rotations are designed to introduce medical students to the incredible demands of the medical profession, and students are expected to apply their knowledge while under a great deal of stress and fatigue.

During my first year of medical school, I found I needed something outside of school to keep me sane; something that required zero thinking where nobody quizzed me; something I could call mine. Some students have families, some compete on recreational sport teams; I started triathlon. My background in swimming and running helped me find early success, and I found myself focusing more and more on triathlon during my second year of medical school.

Third year presented a new set of challenges. I no longer made my own schedule and often didn’t have time to train twice a day. I would get home after 12 hours at the hospital, train, eat something, and study until I fell asleep. My nutrition was awful, I wasn’t recovering well and I wasn’t sleeping enough.

In examining these struggles, my husband and I agreed that something had to change. We sat down and created a plan that budgeted time for meals, training, chores and study time. The nutritional changes resulted in a significant improvement in my ability to focus and perform in the hospital, as well as during workouts. Here are some of the changes that brought me the most success:

  1. Eating on the trainer: I do almost all my cycling on the trainer during the winter due to lack of daylight. On a busy rotation, I will get home around 6:30, ride from 7:00 – 8:30, and often try to go to bed at 9:00 to be rested for a 5:00 AM wake-up. This schedule leaves me with little time to do necessary tasks like eat an appropriate meal, walk my dog and shower,  so I started eating a full meal as soon as my hard intervals were done on the bike, during my cool down. Not only does this save time, it ensures that I get the calories and nutrients I need during a crucial recovery window. I have continued to do this even when I have more time in the evenings.
  2. Protein: I subscribe to a pescatarian diet, but just to make it more challenging, I don’t like beans, among many other foods. My picky habits make it difficult to get in enough protein, so I started having a recovery drink with Klean Recovery™ after each hard session. I also like to add Klean Isolate™ to smoothies when I am low on protein for the day.
  3. Vitamin D: During routine blood work this past fall, I was found to have borderline low Vitamin D. I thought that being an endurance athlete ensured that I got enough Vitamin D (20 minutes of daily sunlight exposure usually provides enough), but after evaluating my work schedule, I realized that I had been going several days at a time without seeing the sun. I now take Klean-D™ (Vitamin D) on days I will not have sun exposure for peace of mind.
  4. Meal planning: There are countless articles online about the benefit of meal planning, and my husband and I definitely eat much better when we take the time to plan our meals and cook some of our meal staples on Sunday, when we have time. This gives me more free time during the week, while still providing me with high-quality meals.
  5. Crock-Pot cooking: I have fallen in love with our Crock-Pot again. I try to do a couple meals per week in the Crock-Pot. I cut everything on Sunday and put it in a gallon-size freezer bag. On a busy weekday morning, I can easily dump a pre-made meal into the Crock-Pot, and have a healthy, complete meal that evening with little prep time.

My third year of medical school saw me run personal bests in the half marathon and 10k; I was now faster than I had ever been, and had earned my elite license in triathlon. This spring, I start my first year as a pro triathlete and I’ll begin my Family Medicine residency in June. These changes will include a move to a new city and new demands on my time. However, I know that my husband and I will be able to build on the habits we’ve created over the past year, ensuring that we continue to balance healthy eating decisions with our busy schedules.

You can follow Samone on Twitter.




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