Heading to the World Cup: Myths About Nutrition Among Soccer Players

We’re heading to Rio, and with the World Cup of Soccer in full swing, I thought I would cover some “myths” about nutrition among soccer players.

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  • Myth #1: What young athletes eat doesn’t really matter, since players will “burn off” the calories on the field

Seems common sense, but I have heard these very words more than once. Some parents really do think it’s a matter of burning the calories. Many studies have linked the quality of a an athlete’s diet to his/her athletic performance, but even as recently as 1994, a study showed that more than half of the national team in the FIFA World Cup thought food had nothing to do with their performance. I think we are starting to make the connections between a healthy diet and better performance on the field but still have work to do. So players, parents and coaches truly understand that food is fuel and that the engine runs better with cleaner fuel!

  • Myth #2: What you eat after the game does not matter

Oh how I CRINGE at the sight of pizza, cupcakes and brownies after sporting events! I have discussed this point several times in the past. Muscles need to replenish glycogen, or stored energy, after every practice and game; especially after long soccer games. The “golden window,” those 10-30 minutes immediately following exercise, is the time when the body will produce glycogen most efficiently. So this is the time to put in the GOOD fuel, not the junk food! The ideal ratio for muscle recovery and glycogen production is of 4 carbohydrates: 1 protein. A few great post-exercise snacks are chocolate milk, pretzels and hummus, yogurt parfait, dried fruits and nuts.

  • Myth #3: Young athletes MUST get plenty of protein

The “protein supplement” industry has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. However, research shows that while young athletes have a slightly higher protein need, it can easily be met with food, making extra protein supplements unnecessary and even dangerous. Our bodies are not capable of storing extra protein, so we spend a lot of energy processing extra protein, and may even damage the liver and kidneys. It is very important, however, to consume small amounts of protein with every meal, around 10-20 grams of protein, and always include some protein after workouts!

  • Myth #4: Our bodies tell us when we need to drink, so drink when thirsty!

Hydration is as important to athletic performance as food or even physical training. It is essential for young athletes to stay hydrated. By the time we are thirsty, we are 1-3% dehydrated, so DRINK ON A SCHEDULE, NOT BY THIRST! Athletes should start drinking water at least 2 hours before games and practices, every 15-20 minutes during play and as much as possible afterwards. If training intensely for over 1-2 hours, consider a sports drink without artificial colors or flavors.

Here you have it! Stay well nourished and well hydrated, and you will succeed! Now go watch some soccer!

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