High school athlete, or how to set the table for massive weight gains

I am not a dietician, a nutritionist, a doctor, a trainer, etc. Please consult a doctor before beginning any diet program.

OK, now that’s out of the way. When I was younger I wasn’t particularly athletic but I wasn’t particularly non-athletic, either. I spent the usual amount of time running around playing and didn’t really eat to excess – maybe I had a weakness for chips and French fries but it’s not like it was served every day around the house, so I wasn’t eating much except what went on the table.


When I was about 14 or so (basically 9th grade) I took up tennis. I had never really played any organized sports up to that point, so that was a bit of a shock at first. I took it up casually since my friends were doing it, and then got serious about it when it was apparent that I was good enough to make the high school team. I went to camp, I started running with the team, and even sporadically began lifting weights. However, the most important aspect of all of this was that I started playing tennis – a lot. We had two seasons, fall and spring, and throughout the summers my friends on the team and I would get together and play 3 or more sets each night of the week. This was in Mississippi, where I grew up, so I was playing tennis at a competitive teenage male level 6-7 nights a week throughout the 100 degree summer, not to mention competitive tennis matches throughout the spring and fall combined with the usual training regimen of sprints, practices, etc.

Metabolism swings

So the result of this was that my metabolism cranked up to a pretty high level. I think there were about three main reasons, one obvious, one normal, and one abnormal. First, I was a teenage male doing a lot of exercise at a very high level. Second, I started eating more, which in a weird way, due to the massive amounts of exercise, probably cranked my metabolism up even more. I wasn’t eating lots of junk food yet, so the meat/veggies/etc. were just more fuel for the fire. Third, I switched from drinking juice and the occasional Coke to drinking diet Coke. I think that was very significant although I didn’t realize it at the time. More on that in a future post.

So my metabolism was cranked up to the point where I was always hungry, always drinking diet Coke, always putting something in my mouth to keep up with the near-constant need for fuel.

Basketball ankle injury

I forget the exact date, but I think it was New Year’s Eve 1986 when I agreed to meet some of my friends and play a pickup game of basketball early in the evening. We did this pretty frequently as a way to break the monotony of (for most of us) tennis training, but there were a few non-tennis guys too. We usually played pretty hard, as competitive teen guys do, and had no rules about body checks or 3-second rules or anything that made basketball a non-contact sport.

Anyway, to the best of my recollection I went up for a rebound, or a shot, or something, and when I came down someone stepped squarely on my ankle, bending (but not completely breaking) it sideways. I thought it was OK for a second, but when I stood up – BAM – I went right down again. It hurt, badly, and it started swelling up right away. I wasn’t going to be able to drive my stick-shift Mercury Comet, so I called my parents and they took me home.

Being New Year’s Eve, there wasn’t a doctor easily available and it was pretty clear that while I had badly damaged my ankle, it wasn’t a break (which as you will read later will teach you, the non-doctor, not to assess injuries). So I propped it up, watched it swell up purple, and waited a couple of days before going to the doctor, hobbling around the house. When I finally had a doctor look at it, he recommended I walk on crutches for a few weeks, wear an air cast (basically a hard plastic cast with inflatable sections that made it rigid), and not play sports.

Tennis scholarships (or lack thereof)

So of course taking the long term view, I stayed off my feet for about two weeks, then started playing tennis with the air brace stuffed in a hightop sneaker to hold my ankle steady. I had dreams of becoming the #1 player on the team, getting tennis scholarships, etc. It wasn’t to be. I had a disappointing senior year, playing worse than I did as a junior, and never really fully recovered from the ankle injury. I got a few tennis scholarships, but they were small nominal scholarships to private schools ( i.e. $1000 per year off an $8000 tuition at the time). I didn’t have any major schools looking for me to play for them, certainly, and not even any serious interest from minor schools. So much for my dreams of tennis glory. My biggest achievement was beating a guy who would later become the #1 ranked player in the southeast US, and at least hanging in a match briefly with a guy who would later play at Wimbledon (I think I lost 6-0, 6-0, but I managed to ace him once or twice).

So I graduated from high school as a former athlete, eating large amounts, going away from home to live on my own for the first time, newly discovering beer and diet Coke, quitting organized exercise in the form of team practices and competitive play, and coming into a large amount of money by virtue of a humungous academic scholarship and generous parents and grandparents.