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Last year I decided to do an experiment. I was curious to see what impact healthy eating/fitness had on my success and energy levels at tournaments. The results were pretty crazy. I found that eating lean and healthy keeps me energized, optimistic, and “on my game” at tournaments, without relying on Starbucks or artificial energizers.

The Experiment:

It started at the North Carolina National Open. I woke up in the morning to a large Caramel Macchiato to “wake me up”. By the time I started to crash around lunch, I’d eat a bunch of fatty foods and fill up on caffeine through soft drinks. I did the same thing for dinner. Not to mention, when the tournament ended at night I didn’t go to bed. We go to tournaments for fun, right? Why not stay up until Midnight and wake up at 5:30? I remember trying to give my speech and not remembering a single thing. I was coughing, distracted, and trying not to fall asleep every time I walked in front of a judge. I didn’t break in debate nor get a speaker award because half the time I was debating I was stumbling over my words because I was on too much caffeine to think. After 5 years of competition I usually broke in at least one or two of my events.  It was the first time in 4 years that I didn’t break in anything. You could call that a humbling experience.

To say the least, I was embarrassed. Thankfully, I was smart enough to realize that my unhealthy habits played a role in the disappointing tournament. I started a “diet” called the Whole 30 designed to take everything that could possibly be affecting your productivity, energy, emotions, etc out of your diet (more about that later on). At the next tournament I ate only Whole 30 approved foods (which means no Starbucks unless you like it black). I was shockingly energized. My debate rounds and speeches were smooth and passionate. My partner and I broke to Semis, I got 2nd place TP speaks, 2nd place Apologetics, 4th Place informative and 2nd place sweepstakes. Of course since the tournament was in my city, people assumed it was a home state advantage. I tried it again at Nationals. Whole 30 diet, at least 7 hours of sleep a night, and hard physical activity before bed. I was on a roll. Instead of waking up tired, I woke up energized. Instead of crashing halfway through the day, I remained energized for almost every round. My partner and I placed 13th in debate and I won speaks.

Obviously eating healthy isn’t my ticket to success. The research, the practice, my incredible partner, the experience all brought me success. The healthy habits helped all of that practice and experience be delivered in the best possible way.

Interested in taking debate to the next level? Here are the 3 steps that I learned from my experiment to help me stay energized.

  1. Health

I encourage you to look into the Whole 30. The Whole 30 cuts out grains, sugar, dairy, and legumes for 30 days. After 30 days you gradually add those food groups back in to see what affects you. I found that dairy had a huge impact on my energy, something I never knew before. Now I don’t eat dairy around tournaments. (“It Starts With Food” is an awesome book to read on this subject)

Maybe you don’t want to do the Whole 30, but I do encourage you to eat lean. Stick to the basics. Meat, Veggies, Fruit, and maybe even grains if they don’t affect you (they make me tired).

Here are some suggestions for healthy tournament food (Email me for more ideas: I’m becoming a pro at this)

– Grilled chicken

– Smoothies/juice (I live on these at tournaments)

– Nuts (Cashews are my favorite)

– Baby Carrots

– Apples

– Oranges

  1. Fitness

At Nationals I used to run at night after my rounds. Nothing crazy, maybe a mile at most. I found that it helped me calm down at the end of a long day. It tired me out and helped me get a good night’s rest. You don’t have to do a full P90x video to tire you out. If you’re not a runner, do some calisthenics in your hotel room.


– 1 mile or less on the treadmill or track

– 10-15 minutes at most of pushups, squats, sit-ups, etc.  

Warning: Don’t go all out and be sore the next day. Especially girls wearing heels. It’s miserable when you’re sore and you have to walk all across campus in heels.

  1. Sleep

Tournaments are exciting and it’s great to see your friends but… GO TO BED! To be productive on a normal day, I need at least 8 hours of sleep. That’s impossible at a tournament. Think about it, you have to wake up after walking/talking/thinking all day and do it all again. Most the time you have to start with a debate round. Morning rounds and late rounds are the easiest to lose. The more sleep you get the more concentration and energy you’ll have throughout the day.

I suggest getting 7 hours of sleep if at all possible.


This isn’t a bullet proof strategy. At my last tournament I crashed right before an out-round. And we didn’t do as well as I wanted to do. (Keep your eye out for a future post on what to do when everything goes wrong) Creating healthier habits at a tournament will keep you energized. You’ll thank me when you wake up at your next tournament and it doesn’t feel like you’ve been hit by a bus.

Grab a couple friends and try out my theory. There’s nothing better than eating healthy with friends at a tournament. At least you won’t be the only one eating an apple when everyone else it eating Ice cream! And at least you won’t be the only one who’s going to bed when your friends leave for a late night run to McDonald’s.  Oh yeah… that’s another thing. This isn’t easy at all. You’re going to be tempted to cave in after a bad round or a bad day. Remind yourself that eating healthy, working out, and sleeping gives you more energy in the long run. When your friends show up to a tournament exhausted smile inside knowing that you’re going to rock that day.

I’d love to hear your stories! Email me and tell me all about them: abigail.m.lovett@gmail.com


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