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Many Cornell Students and Faculty Alike Frequent the Gym

October 12, 2022

Ph.D. Fuel: What Faculty-Athletes Eat in a Day

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Busy lifestyles are not uncommon among each member of Cornell’s population: a precarious everyday balance of classes, extracurriculars, social life and a structured sleep routine that can be challenging, stressful and time-consuming takes up the lives of many. On top of this, getting plenty of exercise on a regular basis and eating balanced, nutritious meals can be even harder. 

But how do our faculty — who teach thousands, lead mind-stimulating classes and are on the forefront of innovative research  — fuel their bodies and minds amid their many responsibilities and professional careers? We will take a closer look at three regular gym-goers at Cornell who prioritize the integration of eating well and being physically active into their Ph.D. lifestyles.  

Prof. Hector Aguilar-Carreno regularly works out in the gym six days per week in the early morning before work as a Professor of Virology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and has been pushing his body and mind in the weight room for 34 years. 

Upon being asked about his diet Aguilar-Carreno responded, “I do try to eat healthy [with ] … probably more protein than an average diet” that is abundant in vegetables, raw salads, fruits, nuts and Greek yogurt. 

I was also curious how Aguilar-Carreno brings his food to work. “I meal prep. I usually cook on Sundays — I do batches of food for four people in the family. I cook usually three different protein dishes, [such as]a big salmon filet [or] something with chicken or pork. We try not to eat too much red meat … and maybe I’ll do something with carbs like rice or some potatoes.” 

A lot can change in 34 years with how someone chooses what they eat, especially with the transition from his undergraduate years. “Oh it’s way better now. Way healthier … because as an undergrad, I was eating about three times what I eat now I had a huge appetite” Aguilar-Carreno added. “And there wasn’t enough healthy food around to quench my appetite so I ended up eating a lot of whatever I could find. Now my metabolism has slowed down so I don’t need to eat as much so it’s easier to meal prep.”

Olympic-weightlifter Prof. Kyle Harms is a lecturer in Cornell’s Information Science department. His four day workout routine consists of snatches, clean-and-jerks, squats, bench press and much more that he has been following since the first year of his Ph.D. program. 

“I’m pretty big on eating all of my own food — I very rarely eat out. I also have some digestive issues which means that just cooking for yourself works better. So twice a week, I end up going to the Ithaca Farmers Market and that’s the majority of the produce I eat,” Harms told me.

Following a mostly vegetarian diet and also meal prepping enough food to feed him for every hour and a half, Harms pointed out, “I have to eat or else I’ll be hangry.” He finds making big batches of food during dinnertime and then spreading that food out over the next few days works best for his schedule. 

Finally, second-year physics Ph.D. student Darren Pereira has frequented the gym Monday through Friday since beginning his Master’s program. To accommodate his lifestyle and lack of both fridge space and containers, Pereira cooks two days worth of food at a time. 

“I tend to go with a somewhat high-protein, high-carb diet depending on whether I am cutting or bulking. I have certain calories calculated and certain macros to hit and I try to use whole foods as much as possible” Pereira explained .   

In our conversation, Pereira also wisely mentioned the saying that “Bodies are not made in the gym. They’re made in the kitchen” as a philosophy he follows with his food choices.  “I’m very intentional about everything that I’m eating because I’ve gotten a sense about what is good for my health in a number of different ways,” Pereira elaborated as our conversation on eating habits and food choices was coming to a close. 

The big takeaway from this dietary snapshot of athletic and busy individuals: plan ahead and be aware of what you consume on a daily basis. The responses of Aguilar-Carreno, Harms and Pereria highlight practical ways to balance eating right and exercising plenty in conjunction with academic, professional and social responsibilities. The next time you may be struggling with hitting your gym or dietary goals, it may not be a bad idea to look towards faculty for some inspiration on fortified habits and long-lived motivation. 

Kyle Roth is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]