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Nutrition Tips For the Developing Soccer Player, Their Coaches and Parents

 

You've all heard the expression that "you are what you eat".  Well, for the accomplished athlete, understanding and providing the nutritional requirements for high performance are essential to your success.  Younger players, their parents and coaches often overlook this factor.  This article includes some suggestions of opportunities to use nutritional conditioning and "common sense practices" to sustain players during rigorous training and to excel over opponents during tournament play.  The material consists of explanations and information gathered from several articles published by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Sports Science Exchange.  As an athlete or coach, you can subscribe to this free and important information by calling the Institute at 1-800-616-4774; by sending a written request to Gatorade Sports Science Institute, 617 West Main Street, Barrington, Illinois 60010; or via the internet at www.gssiweb.com.

 

Carbohydrates

 

Carbohydrates are the primary fuels for muscle contraction and, therefore, the most important nutrient to athletic performance.  Carbohydrate stores in the body are limited and when depleted, athletes cannot exercise intensely and may experience fatigue.  The timing and quantity of carbohydrate consumption will vary with an athlete's energy expenditure (i.e., metabolic rate, and intensity of the exercise) and body size (i.e., height, weight, age, and sex).  Some general guidelines to follow are:

 

           A suggested distribution of calories is 10-15% protein, 20-30% fat and 60-70% carbohydrates.  Generally, we eat too much fat and protein during competitive periods!  In addition, excessive sugar should not be consumed within 4 hours of a game or serious training session.

 

           To maximize performance, it is beneficial to convert to a high carbohydrate meal before, during and after prolonged strenuous exercise to delay fatigue.  High carbohydrate meals "top-off" the glycogen stores in the liver and muscle.  Approximately 600 grams of carbohydrate per day should be consumed for four days before competition and another 100 grams should be consumed six hours prior to each game.  During the game "carbohydrate snacks", of approximately 24 grams for every 30 minutes and which are easily digestible, should be considered.  Sports such as soccer can result in significant muscle glycogen depletion and fatigue.  An additional 100 grams of carbohydrates, therefore, should be consumed within 30 minutes after exercise to induce rapid muscle glycogen resynthesis.  What foods should you consume to accomplish this?  Some example snack foods to consider include:

 

                        Food                            Grams of Carbohydrate

 

                        1 apple                                       20

                        1 banana                                    26

                        1 cup yogurt                               43

                        1 cup raisins                             112

                        1 frosted pop tart                       38

                        1 cup apple juice                         30

                        1 cup applesauce                        61

                        1 cup egg noodles                       37

                        1 oz. granola bar                         17

 

            My favorite and most successful "halftime snacks" have been raisins in warmer weather and Archway brand oatmeal raisin or oatmeal apple date cookies in colder weather.  The Gatorade Sports Science Institute has several great articles on the subject.  Please consult their master index for these articles: "Smart Food Choices at Fast Food Restaurants", "Carbohydrates and Athletic Performance" "Carbohydrates in Pre-Exercise Meals", “On the Road Again: How to Choose High-Performance Foods While Travelling” and “Nutritional Requirements for Soccer”.

 

Rehydration

 

During physical activity, a considerable amount of heat is generated as a byproduct of the energy metabolism that sustains active muscles.  For optimal performance, it is important to replace lost fluids and to remain well hydrated.  Rehydration with water alone will dilute the blood rapidly, removing the drive for drinking and stimulating an increase in urine output.  Rehydration will occur more rapidly when sodium, the major electrolyte lost in sweat, is replenished with fluids.  Humans have a poor ability to rehydrate after becoming dehydrated.  Some helpful tips:

 

           Start increasing you fluid intake 3 to 4 days prior to competition.  This should consist primarily of natural fruit juices, water and mild sports drinks.  Drinks should contain sodium and about 6-8% glucose or sucrose.  Avoid beverages containing carbonation, caffeine and alcohol.

 

           Drink 2-1/2 cups of fluid two hours before competition.  Drink 1-1/2 cups of fluid 15 minutes before the game and try to consume up to 1 cup of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during competition.

 

           A player should never be restricted from consuming fluids.  Personal sized water bottles can accommodate any situation during a game or training session.

 

Pre-Tournament and Travel Considerations

 

Regardless of how you plan to travel, plan to consume meals and snacks that prepare players for a tournament.  Raisins, fruits (fresh and dried), crackers, cookies, fresh vegetables, muffins, bagels, pancakes, stir fried chicken, rice, pasta and fruit juices are good choices.  Pizza with pepperoni, most fried foods, soda, potato chips and foods with excessive sugar are trouble.  On the plane or in a roadside restaurant, make sure that the food consumed is "familiar" and well prepared.  Obviously, if players get sick, they won't be able to perform.  Consider a low sugar breakfast, a high carbohydrate lunch and a moderate protein dinner.  Each player should be required to carry their own water/fluid bottle and supply of high carbohydrate snacks in their game bag.  Coaches and parents, remember to "set an example" in your choice of foods and eating habits while in the company of the players.