How is your nutritional training going? Wait..... you may be thinking right now "Did he just say "nutritional training"? I thought I should be mentally and physically training myself for soccer? So how do I nutritionally train myself and why should I care?" In this QTSD© Training Ground article, we are going to talk about why you should be keenly aware of your nutrition and why it can affect every aspect of your training and gameplay!
The sport of soccer is a sport that requires players to exert their bodies for an average of 60-90 minutes (depending on age) all while sprinting, changing direction, executing skill movements and making split second decisions constantly. That is a lot for the body and mind to handle effectively. Now think about trying accomplish all of those aspects ...... while being tired, sluggish and with a lack of focus. That is what improper fueling can lead to! Many soccer players put a strong focus on their physical development; practicing technical and tactical exercises to learn more about the game. The problem is that many players do not consider the amount and type of fuel their body needs to accomplish those training goals!
When players take to the field, they should be properly fueled for the activity they are about to participate in. The problem is trying to figure out what you should be eating and why! Many professional players have entire sports nutritional specifically designed for them but amateur/youth athletes need help to figure out what they should be consuming to fuel their bodies for the best possible performance! While there are many constantly changing studies out there for nutrition, we will talk about a couple primary Sports Nutrition Rules that players can follow to help get them started for this upcoming season:
BEFORE A GAME:
WHAT TO EAT - Complex Carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are time released energy for your body to break down over the course of a given time. This allows your body to be constantly be fueled as the exercise takes it's toll on the body. Complex carbohydrates are time released so the body needs time to start breaking them down about 1-2 hours before a match. The more complex the carbohydrates, the longer it takes to digest them. For example a whole grain granola bar is likely an hour before play while pasta is the night before a match. Pre-match smoothies (low sugar) are a great option as well! A couple examples of complex carbohydrates - whole grain cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, brown pasta, potatoes, leafy greens (to slow the release of energy to become constant), etc.
WHAT NOT TO EAT - Simple Carbohydrates aka sugary foods. Sports nutritionists from every sport constantly mention simple carbohydrates as an "evil" towards towards athletes. Why? Simple carbohydrates are digested by your body quickly giving it quick energy. Why is that a problem? Simple carbohydrates raise your sugar levels releasing insulin which removes it completely from your bloodstream. This results in a "crash" within 10-15 minutes into the game or training. Have you ever seen someone on a sugar high only to become slow and unfocused later? This is the same thing; only your soccer player loses focus for the game! The scariest part? If your body needs carbohydrates to perform but your body has none left, it will then start to strip your muscle to convert to sugar! If you are going to eat simple carbohydrates, eat them after a game to re-raise your low blood sugar levels. A couple examples of simple carbohydrates - refined sugar, cookies, corn flakes, refined breads, pop, etc.
Halftime Snacks - During matches and training, sometimes players can exhaust their supply of carbohydrate and energy. Players must refuel properly or they run the risk of dehydration, muscles cramps or injury! A couple great options for mid-game refuel are orange slices, apple slices, bananas, fig bars. It is important to replace electrolytes lost during game-play (potassium, sodium, etc.). Some sports drinks contain those electrolytes (but be warned on the high sugar content as well as artificial ingredients in most Gatorade/Powerade). A great liquid alternative is coconut water, chocolate milk or 50/50 fruit juice. More in next week's article on Hydration but if it comes down to Gatorade, at least mix a 50/50 mix of water/Gatorade.
What To Eat Afterwards - Protein & Carbs for recovery. The post-exercise meal should be consumed within 2 hours of exercise for best glycogen restoration. Focus the meal on carbohydrates, but combine the carbohydrates with a lean protein (lean meat, chicken, turkey etc). Consuming protein with carbohydrate post-exercise will help build, maintain, and repair muscle. Adding 7-10 grams of protein with the carbohydrate within 30 minutes of exercise will stimulate protein synthesis (aka repairing the muscles broken down during game play). This meal's goal is build back your carbohydrate stores as well as repair the damaged muscles cells!
DURING THE WEEK:
Protein - Players should look to include healthy portions of lean protein such as lean red meat, chicken, tuna to help rebuild muscle during the week. Players can look to plant based protein but must be careful about balancing the minerals that may be lost from not eating animal based protein.
Eat a variety of foods. Because different foods have different nutrients, you should eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need to stay in peak condition. For example, oranges provide vitamin C and carbohydrates, but not iron or protein. A piece of grilled chicken provides iron and protein, but not vitamin C or carbohydrates.
Eat regular meals and snacks. Skipping meals will hurt your performance. Eating regular meals and healthy snacks is the best way to fuel your body for athletic events.
Eat enough calories. Calories fuel your body for exercise and replace energy that is used up during sports performance. Cutting calories keeps you from performing your best. As exercise and athletic training demands energy above and beyond your body’s day-to-day needs, it is essential to meet these needs in order to compete at full strength and recover quickly after a workout.
Natural Sugar vs. Refined Sugar - Natural sugar comes in nature's best package; fruits, vegetables, etc. This sugar is also important because they contain additional nutrients for the body. A couple great examples of this are: 100% fruit juice, apples, oranges, blueberries, etc. Refined sugar has no value as it does not include any nutritional value. It will drive blood sugar levels and insulin will remove it from your system; causing a "crash". There are multiple forms of refined sugar but High Fructose Corn Sugar is a common one found in many products. AVOID THIS if possible!
There are many different opinions on what foods to eat (organic vs. non- organic, animal vs. plant protein, etc.) but the bigger picture is finding out what works for you. Players do not have to go crazy about what they eat but you should care about what fuels your game-play. To quote USMNT Landon Donovan on eating to maintain your performance - "It’s about having the right balance. You can’t eat perfectly 100 per cent of the time – if you try doing that, you’ll just go crazy. Sometimes you have to treat yourself a bit." That being said, players must respect the impact that proper nutrition can have on training/game performance. If you eat a lot of junk, your potential on the field will drop but if you put the proper fuel in your body, your potential will increase! Basically......you truly are what you eat!