It’s only a game. And, it’s only a pick-up game at that. My friends and I, being the youngest members of the recurring cast of characters who play in this game, refer to it as the “Old Man’s Game.” There are plenty of old men who come out each week; one guy who enjoys playing right fullback, Charlie, just turned seventy. Wow, that makes him more than double my age. I hope I’m still out there playing when I’m that age.

Despite the fact that it’s only a game, my mind and body and spirit have been trained throughout the years to want to do my best when playing sports, playing “games.” Even when it is just for fun & no one really keeps score (except this wacky cultural anthropology professor who not only keeps score but also announces his statistics throughout the game), I still like to do my best and play in a way that utilizes all of my skills. Due to this desire to play well, I think about the game, consciously or in the back of my mind, throughout the day. I wonder how my legs are feeling, I stretch and warm up at home throughout the day, I arrive early to stretch and warm up some more, and, I think about what I’m putting in my body. From the time I wake up I count back the hours, adjusting my eating schedule so that I hit the pitch with an empty stomach, ready to take flight with bursts of speed and daring runs. I don’t want to feel even a lingering hint of food in my stomach, which might slow me down.

I play soccer for fun these days. I only head out twice a week, but I do enjoy it immensely. The game, unlike more structured games I’ve played, continually and constantly unfolds in new ways – no matter how much the situation seems like another one, there are an innumerable ways in which things can happen in a new way. I love this about soccer. It keeps you young at heart to always have the promise of a better game next time, some better plays on my own part, a new and unique combination of passes to set up a thrilling goal. Even though I play for fun, I cannot shake the attention to the details of preparing for the game properly. I want to have warm, loose legs. I want my stomach to be empty, but my energy to be high.

In order to keep my energy high, I know I must fuel my body properly throughout the day. It takes a lot of time and effort to know one’s body, but it can be done. Each person responds differently to calories, depending on their own metabolism. Even though I only play for fun, I know how well I eat will directly affect how well I play. Far more importantly than how I play in a soccer game is how well I function on a daily basis. I would never, ever consider eating certain things on the day of a game. Why drink a carbonated soft drink, I think. It might taste good at the moment, but it will do nothing to positively shape my play in the game. Ooh gosh, that leftover pizza from the other night looks great too! But, do I want that in my stomach when I’m sprinting across the field?

In this way, beyond a myriad of other benefits, my life spent as an athlete, whether truly competing at a high level or, simply doing it for fun and exercise, has helped shape how I fuel my body. Eating, like sports, offers a variety of benefits and opportunities. Eating a shared meal is the opportunity to enjoy the companionship of friends and family. Eating also offers the chance to try out new things, to taste a new ingredient or even an entirely new cuisine. Eating also can be a quite, solitary moment to relax during an otherwise hectic day. But, eating has evolved into something done thoughtlessly. We drive through an immense parking lot and order heavily processed foods through a squawking box, then eat with animal-like intensity as we drive down the highway. We open a box and put something in a microwave for a few minutes, then peel back the plastic to revel food that might as well be shaped from plastic itself.

Eating, like sports, can be serious or it can be fun. If you are a serious athlete, eating is a serious business. Just look at sumo wrestlers! Eating is a very important part of their sport, their life, their craft, their profession. There is nothing fun about having to eat that many calories on a daily basis for years upon years. It is one part of a profession. Eating can also be fun, such as cooking outside during the summer with friends. The food you eat is just part of a larger event, where you share stories and friendship and fun. But, whether you are eating as part of your profession or eating during a leisurely cookout with friends, eating is always serious. What we eat shapes our bodies, our minds, and our spirit. It is important to not simply reduce eating to solely the consideration of what tastes good or looks like it tastes good. We can have fun, but eating shouldn’t be a game, for our bodies are a precise system requiring proper attention and care. What one chooses to eat is a personal decision and only a daily basis characterizes the dedication one has towards leading a balanced, healthy life.

Eat what you want and have fun doing it. But, it’s important to remember that whether competing at a sport or simply trying to feel good and perform well in school or on the job or interact happily with friends and family, what you consume is directly related to how well you’ll function. What we eat and how we will then live are directly related and we must constantly keep this symbiotic relationship in perspective and on our minds, or else we fail in taking the relationship we each have with our bodies seriously enough.