When star basketball player Jody Burrows became the assistant coach of Northeastern University’s women’s team and learned about the PN system, she realized she had a chance to learn from her mistakes… and to share that insight with others.
Remember finishing junior high?
You were on top of the school – the senior student, the big dog. The little kids looked up to you.
Remember starting high school?
Suddenly, you were getting mashed into your locker by the new big dogs. And you were the little kid.
Life’s transitions bring new challenges. As our identities and roles shift, we confront new expectations and new demands.
From 2003 to 2007, Jody Burrows at Northeastern University in Boston.
She was a three-time captain on a full athletic scholarship. She was Northeastern’s fourth all-time scorer in assists and holds the single season assist record with 143, set during the 2005-06 season.
By all accounts, hers was a stellar college basketball career.
Though she tried to play professionally after college, she found herself battling injuries, and never managed to get The Big Chance to go abroad.
It was time to start a new chapter in her life.
Luckily, in this case, opportunity came knocking. The former court star now works the sidelines and the strategy sessions as the assistant coach of Northeastern women’s team.
“I have been blessed to receive this opportunity to start my coaching career at not only my alma mater,” says Burrows, “but also at a Division 1 school, in a respected and competitive conference.”
The challenge of change
However, opportunities and new life stages also bring challenges.
“I think the biggest challenge for me,” says Burrows, “and probably more so mentally than physically, was transitioning from a college athlete to professional in the ‘real world.’”
For one thing, her schedule is now very busy.
- She screens days worth of game film, scouting and reviewing plays.
- She’s always on the lookout for new recruits, and hunts them down all over the country.
- She travels to games.
- She’s involved with both on- and off-court team training.
- And she has to watch her athletes like a mother hen to ensure that the young women’s academic work doesn’t suffer.
But the physical challenge of this new role is, in some ways, more challenging than the change to her workload or identity.
Collegiate athletes are in shape for most of the year, pounding the hardwood court or the running track with “hours upon hours of practicing and working out, being constantly active.”
When Burrows was in college, she was a fairly healthy eater, “as healthy as an 18-22 year old college student can be,” she quips.
But when her season ended in her senior year, all that ceased completely.
“I didn’t have to be at post season individuals on the court, I didn’t have to go to workouts, and when there are no consequences for not working out, it was much easier to take days off.
“It was always convenient to find excuses to not get up early before class to work out, when I had no other choice before.
“Even though I went through this phase, it terrified me. It is hard to simulate a three hour practice. It was hard for me to motivate myself to run sprints on my own.
“This fear also made me have an epiphany, that I had to make some life changes, and the biggest change was my diet and nutrition.
“I felt like I had to give myself another opportunity to maintain my athletic lifestyle even though I was no longer an ‘athlete.’”
Nutrition: The missing piece in athletic success
While playing college basketball, says Burrows, “I was always one of the strongest, if not the strongest, every year on my team, in terms of pushing heavy weight in the weight room.”
Though supervised by coaches, Burrows felt something was missing.
“When I trained,” recalls Burrows, “it felt more like a ‘bodybuilding mentality’: always looking to push up heavy weight, whether it was squatting, cleaning, benching and running long distances.”
Conversely, time spent on “sport-specific training, conditioning and injury prevention was non-existent and never really a strong priority.”
She realized that her performance was suffering. Luckily, Burrows found a mentor and PN.
“As I began preparing for what I hoped would be a professional career,” she remembers, “I began training with the men’s team and strength coach Art Horne, and developed an appreciation for all aspects of training; specifically nutrition and recovery and how they are intricately linked to injury prevention, strength development and most importantly my on-court performance.”
Horne introduced Burrows to the PN model and, says Burrows, “I have never looked back!”
Once she started to develop a passion for nutrition, she says, the more engrossed she found herself with PN and the website.
“I read article after article, learning about misconceptions about carbohydrates, healthy fats, sodium and sugar. I have always enjoyed cooking, so purchased Gourmet Nutrition 1 and 2, which I’ve fallen in love with.
“PN made nutrition intriguing to me. My ‘workouts’ turned into actual training and my so-called ‘healthy’ eating habits have turned into a ‘healthy lifestyle.'”
PN turned Burrows on to nutrient timing – the notion that bodies respond to certain nutrients and foods at different times throughout the day and with different training regimens. (PN members can read more at All About Nutrient Timing.)
“I was always under the impression that carbs gave you energy and I could eay them at any time,” says Burrows. “Thank goodness PN clarified this for me!”
Now, she follows PN’s take on carbohydrates — “eat them when you deserve them” – and understands the difference between “good” and “bad” carbs.
“As a college athlete, and working out like I did, I always felt like I deserved carbs. But to be honest, I didn’t back then, and certainly do not always deserve them now. If I do eat carbs, it will be within the 3 hour post workout window.”
(PN members can learn more about carbs at All About Carbohydrates.)
Burrows is also careful to eat every 2-3 hours.
Protein and veggie intake
After learning from PN that proteins are thermogenic and promote leanness, Burrows now eats “a very protein heavy diet, incorporating protein in every meal that I eat. I’ve seen results firsthand, gaining lean muscle and lowering my body fat %.”
(PN members can check out All About Protein for more.)
She also eats veggies constantly throughout the day.
For breakfast, she’ll have a protein shake, eggs with turkey or oatmeal with protein powder and blueberries.
For lunch, grilled chicken with veggies is standard, but she sometimes opts for sushi. “I always get the rice paper, filled with veggies, avocado, and shrimp.”
Dinner will be either broiled fish or grilled/baked chicken with a vegetable and usually a type of legume, either black or garbanzo beans.
For her evening snack, she likes to satisfy her sweet tooth with the chocolate peanut butter bar from Gourmet Nutrition.
She’s added a fish oil supplement to her daily diet as well: “I never knew the advantages that this supplement could provide for me and the value fish oil provides to my metabolism and overall health.” Now, she’s a believer.
The 10% rule
Burrows has adopted the 10% rule that’s outlined in PN V3.
“I think John Berardi couldn’t be more correct about failing to eat absolutely perfectly 100% of the time; it is certainly more than possible to eat well 90% of the time and still see and feel optimal results.”
Her diet stays generally the same without a lot of variation, but, she says, “I genuinely enjoy what I eat and feel great after doing so.”
Sharing the knowledge
Now as assistant coach, Burrows has another opportunity: to share good nutrition with her athletes. She’s got a big job on her hands.
All 14 athletes on her team are full scholarship athletes. They are expected to “train” year around, using a periodized schedule organized around the competition season.
In the fall and winter, the athletes’ weight room training focuses on injury prevention and maintenance in terms of both strength development and conditioning.
“We’re not looking for building muscle mass or getting stronger right now with our athletes because we are in season,” Burrows explains. “We’ll use the off-season to gain and develop muscle mass and work on pure strength.”
She feels that she missed this sport-specific conditioning and injury prevention focus in her competitive career, so she’s making sure that her athletes don’t experience the same problems.
She hasn’t stopped with her team, either. She’s spread the good word to her family as well.
“My family is from the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania,” she says. “We’re basically a meat and potato type family. There’s really no emphasis on healthy eating and or exercising.”
However, in August 2009, her stepfather had to have an open heart bypass at the age of 54, six years after his first heart attack at 48.
“I was instantly angry,” she remembers, “angry at the thought of losing someone I loved over diet, over a lax attitude on how important nutrition is for each and every one of us.”
She had a new mission, and went home to help out her mother and stepfather immediately following the surgery.
“I began to show my mother ways that she can cook that will turn her country style meals into meals that will benefit not only my stepfather, but also my mom. I raided her cabinets, pantry, freezer and refrigerator with garbage bags.” (For more on this, see All About Kitchen Makeovers.)
Perhaps fearing the nutritional wrath of a tough, strong woman in her kitchen, Burrows’ mother “was hesitant throughout the 1 hour rampage,” she knew it was best for her and her husband.
“She was scared, and that emotion has led to both of them changing their lifestyles.”
Now her stepfather is 35 lb lighter, and her mother is 22 lb lighter. Burrows is pretty pleased with her “family coaching” too.
“I would say that the two of them have definitely made nutrition and exercise a priority in their lives.
“My mother will call me for motivation, will call me to tell me that she dropped another pant size, and is more successful doing so this time around, with the help and advice through me (with my PN model advice) than she has ever been.
“Unfortunately it took a near-tragedy for my family to realize the importance of nutrition and the foods that we put in our bodies, but we are blessed we have a second chance, and I can say confidently, that we will have many more years together to make great memories, healthy memories!”
Lessons learned, and looking ahead
Burrows is philosophical about her experiences, and excited by the future.
“There are certainly misconceptions out there about nutrition and misconceptions that I believed for years, because I felt my sources were fairly credible.” Now, she sees things a lot differently.
“I have experienced immense benefits in making the lifestyle change to prioritize my nutrition in my life. I see the results in my energy level and my body, simply from making nutrition a priority.
“I was always considered a good athlete. I was always in decent shape. But I was missing the most important factor to be an elite athlete and to be great at what I did — not just good.
“I can’t go back to my collegiate career, but if I could, I certainly would do things differently. My work ethic has always been there, but I didn’t put myself in the position to be great. I left out a major piece in my success at Northeastern and my personal success: nutrition!”
Athletic success, says Burrows, is “not simply pushing numbers in the weight room.” One needs a holistic approach to the game that includes training, recovery, and good nutrition.
Now, she has some wonderful opportunities beyond starting an exciting new career: Armed with her own insight and the lessons from PN, she has the potential to change the experiences of many young athletes for the better.
As she concludes, “I am very fortunate to be where I am right now.”
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