In honor of a long-standing tradition, the White House hosted the winners of this year's College Football Playoff National Championship, the Clemson Tigers, in a celebratory dinner this week which includes a meet-and-greet with the President.
However, the White House said that because the current government shutdown — now the longest running in history — has resulted in the loss of non-essential workers, the bulk of the White House's kitchen staff who would normally prepare the catering for the affair are furloughed. Notably missing from news reports or announcements from the administration: The U.S. Navy runs and staffs the White House Mess, the staff take-out spot and cabinet member restaurant on White House grounds, which it seats 50 and is still running because the military has not been furloughed.
Still, even if the administration didn't feel that the cooks of the U.S. Navy and the white tablecloths and White House china were an appropriate meal for the visiting Clemson players, the president also didn't ask the staff at his hotel — just a few blocks away from the White House, where it has done quite well catering a wide variety of events in Washington since the owner became president — to help pick up the slack.
Instead, the chief resident of the White House, a well-documented lover of junky fast food, decided to pay for the cheapest and most hyper-processed food he could get his hands on: a spread of McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King and Domino’s Pizza.
And thus, whereas the last administration sought to encourage healthy nutrition by way of promoting eating your veggies, the current president laid out a spread of some of the most unhealthy food America has to offer — and did so photographed with open arms.
In an administration where the U.S. Department of Agriculture sought to change the regulations surrounding school food because they believed that it was better to serve blood pressure-spiking foods in favor of healthier fare, it should surprise no one that the president wouldn't think twice of serving world-class championship athletes the very kinds of foods that would likely make the three staff nutritionists feel faint.
The reason that nutritionists for elite athletic programs exist — and probably cringe at the thought of the president of the United States encouraging their players to eat these kinds of meals — is because these players need prime nutrition at every meal, not the high-salt, high-sugar, cholesterol-raising diabetes-risking fare you’ll find in fast food joints. And several players gleefully took several extra burgers or nuggets home with them, which effectively turns the fast food buffet into several meals for student-athletes who are being asked to learn and stick to healthier eating habits for their own health, safety and performance.
Elite athletes, nutritionists and doctors know, run a larger risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or "enlarged heart," because push their bodies harder than even their bodies are sometimes capable; it’s a side-effect of rigorous training. The heart works overtime to ensure that enough oxygen gets where it needs to go, and that’s already difficult when you’re a linebacker’s size and moving that fast that often. Anything that makes it harder for an athlete's heart to work — like a sub-optimal diet of heavily processed fried foods — increases that risk.
This isn't just ideological nutritional purity at this point: We have lost some of our greatest athletes to heart failure at young ages related to this condition, and lost too many to count before their legacies could be fully developed. It’s already hard to drive the point about nutrition being important home for a young athlete, and help encourage them to stay dedicated to their regimen, when they’re being enticed by the president to veer off the course set by the specialists in their lives.
To make matters worse, I cannot imagine how many student athletes across the country are now pulling up to their practices, training equipment in one hand and a carton of nuggets in the other, prepared to tell their coaches, But President Trump and the Clemson team eat it! (If you are one of those coaches or parents reading this, assure them that no, they most certainly don’t. One of the Clemson players was overheard by a reporter during the event saying, “Our nutritionist must be having a fit!”)
Now, don’t get me wrong: There are some athletes who get their fuel through quantities of less-than-stellar foods that would send many of us flying to the emergency room. U.S. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has a noted history of both six-pack abs and a diet that makes my blood pressure rise simply by rattling it off: A pound of pasta, a five-egg omelette, an entire pizza.
Clearly, elite athletes are remarkable beings with extraordinary needs to fuel an incredible skill.
But this dinner is about more than that. An athlete requires a lot more than just skill to succeed, and a team like Clemson certainly knows it. And, sure, a single meal isn’t necessarily going to ruin year’s worth of dedication to their craft — though eating cheap junk food for the calories is almost assuredly a addiction their trainers have worked hard to help them break — nor does it sully a championship win. But we have to remember that our athletes have to be handled carefully and, for that, a table full of Big Macs with sauce packets in the gravy boats simply doesn’t cut the mustard.