Fit For Life? 5 Reasons Why Former Athletes Fail To Keep Their Shape And 5 Ways To Get It Back

By Adam Arbour

May 12, 2016   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

fitnessAthletes are seen as physical specimens, dedicated to their sport, and competitive to a fault. Their bodies are machines and their focus is laser sharp on their goals. What happens when the playing days are over?
A 2014 study performed by Shawn C Sorenson came to the conclusion that “former jocks were just as likely as regular students to become couch potatoes.”

Whether you’re a former high school all-district performer or an Olympian, it has happened to many of us. As a former college athlete myself, I can confirm this finding and have seen it across many of my fellow athlete alums. Five years after my playing days I found myself 30lbs heavier, with poor eating habits, and binging on Netflix (House of Cards is so good though…). In the last year I have shed the weight, created better habits, and have energy that rivals my playing days. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

5 Reasons Athletes Pack on The Pounds

1. The “I deserve a break period”

For most athletes, you have spent the better part of your entire life involved in your sport. Practices, workouts, games, and tournaments have been your life. You’ve missed dances, parties, weddings, and family gatherings. You deserve a break from all the training and routine! This break that was supposed to last a couple weeks usually ends up turning into years. You party as hard as ever and lay around to catch up on those lost years.


Since your playing days first started you have had coaches and trainers telling you what to do. Gone are the days where kids just play pick up ball or play on the sandlot. You had a personal trainer, pitching coach, travel ball coach, and high school coach. We never had to think about what to do. When these people are gone from our daily lives we are left to be all of them for ourselves. I wasn’t prepared for this reality.

3. Eating Habits

Rarely have I seen athletes have nutrient-dense diets. Because of the amounts of activity, we go through and our younger ages we could throw anything into our mouths and still remain fit. When we were on the road for competitions we ate all the pasta and bread we could because we were supposed to “Carb load” right? When you cut out more than half of our exercise and still eat the same, the results aren’t pretty and compound over time.

4. Desk Disadvantage

Whether you are going from stud high school athlete to college, or college All American to that first job, you are transitioning from being a highly active athlete to a more sedentary desk jockey. It is said that “sitting is the new smoking” and it cuts your movement tremendously.

5. What’s my goal?

Athletes are committed to conquering goals. It could be winning the state championship or getting a scholarship, but most goals we set are outside of ourselves. We grow up having great external goals. Lifetime health is primarily an internal journey. We must learn to create better intrinsic motivation and reasons to live a healthy life. What is your “why” for becoming healthier?

5 Ways to Transition From Bottom of the Pack to Peak Performance

1. Self Awareness

The only way any of us can make a positive change in our lives is when we realize something needs to be different. With all of the distraction going on around us we need to be the expert on us. Journaling and tracking your food, exercise, and other healthy habits is one way to become an active observer of your life. Write it down!

2. Make health your #1 priority

It is said that most humans spend their first 50 years of their health on building their wealth and the next 50 years of their wealth rebuilding their health. I think we are smarter than that. If we don’t put our health as our number one priority, we can’t show up as our best selves in any other area of our lives. Take care of yourself so you can take care of everything else.

3. Learn how to make healthy whole food meals

Most of us grow up on the traditional western diet, high in processed foods and easy to make microwave dinners. The moment I learned that creating good whole food meals could be easy and taste good, my healthy journey became that much smoother. Cut up some broccoli, carrots, and place a chicken breast in the oven for an episode of Parks and Rec and you have an amazing dinner.

4. Make movement fun again

Too many of us athletes see working out and exercising as a job or a requirement. We need to shift our thought process to one of enjoyment and fulfillment when it comes to activity. Maybe what you will enjoy doing isn’t an hour session with the weights or a track workout, but there are tons of different forms of fitness waiting to be explored. From crossfit to barre there is something fun for everyone out there!

5. Create, set, and keep goals to fuel your competitive fire

Understanding that we first must become intrinsically motivated to be healthy for life, let’s set some outside goals while we are at it! Do you have a weight loss goal? Want to run a 10K or compete in an obstacle course race? Do you want to learn how to prepare a gourmet meal for your family? Set a goal that will be challenging to reach and see what kind of person you can become in the process.

The transition from athlete to former athlete can be one of the hardest transitions of your life. Our identity has been our sport for 15-20 years of our life. Growing up in a set schedule and always having teammates and coaches holding you accountable is a stroke of luck not all people receive. Learning how to create your own individual healthy lifestyle is one of the most important lessons of your life and most of us don’t get a class on this in school. Make time for yourself today. Journal about what you are currently doing for your health. You’ll be intrigued about what you learn. It’s always game time when it comes to your health!

Adam Arbour

Adam Arbour is a former college athlete, coach, and passionate about all things health and wellness. He is driven to help others find their championship health. Visit for more info!

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