We start with a food first philosophy when it comes to fueling athletes – informed choices and a well-designed nutrition plan can meet the nutritional needs of most healthy athletes. However, it is often challenging for athletes to design and put into action a complete fueling plan. Time constraints, access to fresh, whole foods and grocery stores, culinary and nutritional knowledge, underestimating the additional demands of sport, recovery, and growth, are all factors that lead many athletes to fall short of the recommended levels of nutrients. We believe with proper education and safeguards such as NSF Certified for Sport, supplements can be an option when food is not available.
1. Ward E. Addressing nutrition gaps with multivitamin and mineral supplements. Nutr J 2014;13:72.
2. Moore LV, Thompson FE. Adults meeting fruit and vegetable Intake recommendations – United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2015 Jul 10;64(26):709-713.
An individual’s nutritional needs are as unique as his or her fingerprints, so understanding what causes nutritional needs to be different can help a person choose the best combination of foods and supplements to best meet his or her needs.
Factors influencing energy needs include exercise, recovery, illness, and metabolism, all of which can impact an individual’s calorie prescription. Stress levels, hormone fluctuations, and even environmental pollutants can all alter one’s specific nutrition needs.
Paying careful attention to the nutrient density of daily calories can help identify gaps in nutrient intake, and in these cases, nutritional supplements can be used to complement the diet.
Additionally, there are subsets of athletes that may require supplementation to meet needs that are inadequate for reasons such as health conditions and allergies, religious guidelines, or dietary practices.
The timing and pace of certain sports make in-competition fueling with whole foods to be impossible or improbable; supplemental electrolytes and fuel sources may be preferable in these situations. Other nutrients, such as Vitamin D, are not easily obtained through the diet in adequate amounts. Consequently, taste and food behaviors of athletes tend to make probiotics and fish oil a convenient, and thus more highly acquired source of nutrients than eating adequate amounts of yogurt and omega-3 containing foods.
Due to the state of the current food supply and because very few Americans eat the recommended five daily servings of health-giving fruits and vegetables, many nutrition experts agree that a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement taken daily could help fill the nutrition gap.1
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans do not typically eat a diet that will provide them with all the nutrients they need. By their definition, Americans should be eating 1.5-2 cups of fruit daily and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily.
In 2013, a CDC survey conducted on a state-by-state basis showed that only 13.1 percent of the entire U.S. population met sufficient fruit intake. In this same survey, only 8.9 percent of adults met the recommended daily vegetable intake.
COMMON VITAMIN AND MINERAL DEFICIENCIES IN THE UNITED STATES
A recent report from the CDC revealed some shocking statistics about the nutrient status of Americans. Some of the highlights of the report are:
Consider the following head-to-toe assessment to help identify and mend gaps in your current fueling routine to ensure your ritual is complete.
The brain requires a lot of energy and nutrients to perform the tasks required of it. Supporting the brain and the nervous system with the necessary nutrients to perform and recover is often overlooked.
Stress comes in many forms – physical (training), environmental (chaotic or loud work environments), metabolic, or emotional. Be aware of sources of stress, the demands it places on your body, how your body responds, and what you can do about it.
With a busy schedule, sleep is often suboptimal as a result of poor time management. Travel to and from competition can disrupt normal sleep patterns. While reliance on sleep aids and sedatives is not recommended, science supports strategies to help promote normal sleep and night time recovery. Strategies include protein before bed, limiting electronic screen time, and non-sedative supplements like melatonin when travel or schedule changes disrupt normal sleep schedules.
Before anything else, basic human needs must be met. Are you meeting your energy (calories), hydration, and essential vitamin and mineral needs? Take time to assess your total calorie needs and whether your current food choices meet your baseline nutrient needs.
Are you omitting large food groups from your diet, such as meat, dairy, vegetables, nuts, or grains? Identify which nutrients the missing group contains and then identify other sources of these nutrients.
“You are what you eat” can be modified to, “ You are what you eat – and what you can absorb.” Support healthy digestion with “good bacteria” from food or probiotics and enzymes that aid in the break down of food.
As activity increases, the demand for energy and certain nutrients increase. So make sure you account for the extra calories and nutrients to help you maximize your efforts.
The more you know about you, the more personal your nutrition and supplement regimen becomes.
A smart supplementation plan can counteract suboptimal food intake, improve your health, reduce injury duration, and promote your quality of life.* Arming yourself with data and information that is personal to you will allow you to truly make sure your fueling regimen is “one size fits one.”
The Solution to Nutritional Gaps: Navigating the Supplement World
When food choices or behavior change is not possible, supplements are a solution to fill a nutritional gap, there are several factors to consider. It has become obvious the last few years that the quality control of nutrition supplements is sometimes very poor and a
consumer may therefore not always get everything for which they think they are paying. For those players who compete at a level where drug testing is involved, there is another risk to consider when taking supplements: a positive test due to supplement contamination. We believe non-drug tested athletes should also have access to supplements free of banned substances. Taking all this information into account, a careful, cost-benefit analysis needs to be performed by anyone taking a supplement. If supplementation is a consideration, we recommend speaking to your physician, registered dietitian, or a sports medicine professional.
Factors to look for when choosing a supplement company that is making high-quality, safe, and efficacious products:
Be Aware of Pseudo-Science
Companies often use phrases – such as “clinically proven” – that imply there’s science behind their product. Many of these claims are not always backed by actual research. Be cautious of products claiming ancient formulas, cutting-edge science, miracle cures, or guarantees. A reputable and honest company will have contact information you can use to request further information for the research behind their claims.
Take the Lead from Sports
Be aware of ingredients banned in sports by agencies like the World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Anti-Doping Agency. While these ingredients are not always prohibited for general consumption, these organizations see a problem with the ingredients, which should be a red flag to you as a regular consumer. Do your research to see if you should ban these ingredients from your nutritional game plan.
Watch Out for Warnings
Be wary of supplements with a long list of warnings or contraindications listed on the product label. Any serious adverse effects reported to a supplement company must be reported to the FDA by the supplement company.
Be an Educated Consumer
Registered dietitians are trained to evaluate the need for, the effectiveness of, and safety of nutritional supplements. Always consult a health-care practitioner before starting a supplement regimen. The National Institutes of Health and the United States Anti-Doping Agency offer resources to help educate you on the supplement before using them. Always be sure to do the necessary homework on your supplement company before taking their products.
Third Party Testing
Nutritional supplement brands can, and should, retain outside, independent companies to audit their manufacturing processes and test their products to ensure the FDA’s cGMP’s are being complied with, thus ensuring that the company’s products contain the ingredients listed on the label in the amounts listed and don’t contain any harmful ingredients. Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMPs) are a set of regulations that are enforced by the US Food and Drug Administration and provide guidelines that assure proper design, monitoring, and control of supplement manufacturing processes and the facilities they are made in.
NSF International has created an advanced certification program for supplements geared toward elite athletes. NSF International’s Certified for Sport® program tests products for more than 200 substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Anti-Doping Agency. A supplement product that bears the Certified for Sport seal ensures that the product contains exactly what the label claims it does, in the amounts listed, and nothing else.
Realize There is No Cure-All
It is illegal for a supplement company to claim that any of its products prevent, cure, or treat any medical condition. Supplements are intended to complement the diet and to support overall health and well-being. Any express or implied claims that a product will prevent, cure, or treat a medical condition is a red flag that the manufacturer is not in compliance with the FDA’s labeling regulations for nutritional supplements.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER - THE NUTRITION ROUTINE
Establishing a well thought out nutrition routine can lead to better compliance and best support the needs of the athlete. When considering the number of different variables that can influence a soccer player’s needs, an individual approach to both food choices and supplement choices is recommended. An individual’s nutritional needs are as unique as his or her fingerprints, so understanding what causes nutritional needs to be different can help a person choose the best combination of foods and supplements to best meet his or her needs.
U.S. Soccer has partnered with Thorne Research as the Presenting Partner of Recognize to Recover, and U.S. Soccer’s Official Nutritional Supplement Partner. Thorne is a personalized health solutions company dedicated to improving individual outcomes through science and technology. For 30 years, Thorne has led the nutritional supplement industry in providing researched-based, high-quality natural products, including foundational vitamins and minerals and therapeutic-focused nutritional supplements, many of which are third party tested to be free of banned substances.*
When people think about being a good soccer player, they tend to talk about an individual’s abilities. Can he or she dribble well? Is he or she fast? Do they have a knack for scoring goals? What most people forget is that for any individual at any level, being a good soccer player starts with being healthy and eating right.
Soccer is a demanding sport that requires both endurance and sprint ability, and those high-intensity efforts result in a high- energy demand. Especially during periods with many matches or a lot of training, nutrition is important to recover and protect against overuse injuries. A good diet and the right nutrition can support intensive training while limiting the risks of illness or injury and are also important in the preparation for games and speeding up recovery afterwards.
Soccer is also demanding because it is a brain sport, too. It requires agility, concentration, quick processing of information and decision making. Making sure that the brain is functioning well is an important factor when optimizing performance, and there is increasing evidence that the brain responds to certain foods.
So, we can all agree that making the right choices to get the best nutrition is important for soccer players at all levels. But what is the right nutrition? And how do you know what is good and not good? The truth is there is no easy answer to this and the solution will be different for every player, but a good place to start is the basics.
Food, nutrition and healthy eating are constantly spoken about in the media, in homes and by top athletes. However, before trying the latest diet or super food it is extremely important to know the basics. The basics of eating right will provide you with a great starting point to live a healthy and active lifestyle, and will allow you to investigate any specific needs you may require.
Energy Storage - The body is very clever and when it has enough energy it begins to save and store energy across the body for use in times when it might need it in the future, such as playing soccer. If you did not have energy stored, then playing and training for soccer would not be possible and you would get very tired and slow. However, if you continue to consume high amounts of energy without using it, your body will continue to store it every day, week, month and year and this is when individuals can gain excess weight. Simply put, if you eat more than you work off you will put on additional weight.
Why do I need it? - Energy is required by the body for all sorts of functions such as growth, development and repair. The most important energy function for soccer players is its use in muscle contraction that allows players to kick, jump, run and tackle. Without energy in the body all these functions – and many more – would not be possible, and whether it’s a 90-minute soccer game or a three-second sprint the body uses the same energy source. However, the body does not have unlimited storage space for energy and therefore must continually make and replace energy that is being used up by the person and the activity they are doing.
What is a calorie? - The word calorie is a widely used term and can be found on the front of almost all food packaging. We use the term calorie to help us understand the amount of energy a food source possesses. If you look to the right you can see the calories available from 1g of each of the main three food sources.
As you can see, you get more than 100 percent of calories from fat than you do from carbohydrate and protein. That is why if your diet is made up of mainly fat you would probably have excessive energy intake, which could lead to weight gain and health issues.
The U.S. government recommends that the average male should consume around 2,700 calories per day and the average female around 2,200. However, this is individual and dependent on weight, height and of course physical activity levels. For example, research has shown that soccer players can use around 300 calories for every 30 minutes of training or playing.
What are they and why are the important? - You may hear the word nutrient used to describe food and its content. The term nutrient is a way of describing a substance that provides nourishment essential for the growth and maintenance of life. There are six categories of nutrients that are essential to keep us alive that we must take in from food because the body does not have the ability to produce them on its own. We will go into more depth about some of these later.
A micro-nutrient is something the body requires in smaller amounts for maintaining health, growth and development of all its functions. While small in quantity, these are essential for living a healthy active life. Micro-nutrients include vitamins and minerals.
A macro-nutrient is something the body requires in large quantity to provide all the energy needed to function. Macro-nutrients include: carbohydrate, protein and fats.
What does it do? - When you eat carbohydrate rich food, the body goes to work breaking it down into easy to use energy (glucose). This glucose is absorbed by the body in the small intestine and then carried to the liver where it is changed to glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose. The liver can hold around 2,000 calories of glycogen, while the muscles can hold a small amount as well; however, anything above this will be stored as fat to be broken down later when needed. As soon as your body requires energy to perform a function or exercise, the glycogen that the body has stored acts as a quick release and is broken back down into glucose to support the energy needs of the muscles.
What is it? - Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred method of receiving food and turning it into energy. While many diets try to suggest restricting the intake of carbohydrates, it is actually an important source of food for the body and should make up 55 percent of your diet. The reason why people often try to reduce carbohydrate is because if the body does not use the energy it will transform the carbohydrate into fat to store for another day. However, soccer players live active lifestyles and should be eating well-balanced diets; therefore, this should never become an issue.
What foods should I eat to get carbs? - Carbohydrate can be found in a lot of food that you eat, but it is really important to know the form of carbohydrate you are eating as it makes a difference. You may have heard carbohydrates referred to as “simple” or “complex” but it might be easier to consider them as “whole” or “refined” instead. A whole carbohydrate is something that has not gone through processing and is found in the natural environment and contains fiber (important for health and digestion), while refined carbohydrates have often been processed and have all the natural fiber taken out. The best approach is to stick to whole carbohydrate and avoid refined carbohydrates. If it is a single ingredient food it is probably a whole food and a good choice. A multi-ingredient food is often refined and is a bad choice.
You should try to avoid refined carbohydrates. The process of making refined carbohydrate food products often takes away and removes any of the essential nutrients we talked about earlier. Instead, refined foods provide the body with a quick sugar spike that it can not handle or helpfully utilize. Also, long term abuse of these products can lead to health problems including obesity and diabetes.
Bad carbohydrate choices:
Whole carbohydrate products can be best for us even when they get a bad reputation for being related to the refined products. Whole carbohydrates are packed with essential life nutrients and fiber that the body can slowly breakdown and decide how to use, these products do not cause sudden swings in blood sugar levels.
Good carbohydrate choices:
What is it? - Proteins are the building blocks (think Legos) for the human body and are important for every single area. Human hair and nails are mostly made of protein, but more importantly, the body uses protein to produce hormones and chemicals that help support the overall function of the body, such as building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. All in all, protein is a pretty great thing for ourbodies. Protein is a macro-nutrient, but unlike carbohydrates and fats, the body has no way of storing protein and therefore the body does not have the ability to draw on it when it might need to. About 25 percent of your diet should be made up from a protein source.
What does it do? - When people exercise – whether it is playing soccer or lifting weights in the gym – the muscles on your body get damaged from the activity. This is why, after a heavy workout, your muscles hurt and feel painful to move. The body is clever, and to try and prevent the damage from occurring again, it decides to build the muscle stronger in case it is asked to do the same exercise again. Protein is hugely important and required for the body to repair this muscle, and without it the body would not be able to recover and get stronger. That is why after playing soccer it is a good idea to have a protein rich meal to ensure the body has a source to start the rebuilding process.
Bad protein choices:
• Processed Meats (turkey, ham, chicken, sausages and burgers)
Good protein choices:
What is it? - Fat gets a very bad reputation because it is strongly linked to obesity and chronic health issues. However, fat is one of the three essential nutrients we discussed earlier that the body requires for energy and health. Fat is essential for the proper functioning of the body, and provides fatty acids which are not made by the body and must be obtained from the food we eat. These essential fatty acids help control inflammation, blood clotting and brain development. Fat also helps provide people with healthy skin and hair, as well as supporting and delivering vitamin A, D, E and K through the bloodstream.
When we consume more calories than required, the body stores these as fat, which serves as energy storage, insulation and protection of vital organs. When we use all the quick energy storage of carbohydrate (around 20 minutes of exercise) the body needs an energy source, and this is when the fat storage becomes crucial in maintaining function and exercise. The body breaks down the fat stored and then uses it as an energy source.
While the importance of fat is noted above, there is also serious side effects if over consumption of high fatty foods is regularly consumed. Too much fat in the diet increases the risk of heart disease because of its high calorie content, which also increases the chance of becoming obese (which in turn leads to other health complications).
The fats you should avoid and reduce from your diets are saturated fats and trans fatty acids (trans fat). Simply put, these fats are not good for your body and increase cholesterol levels, clog arteries, increase risk of heart disease and can increase the rates of cancer. The aim for all people, including athletes, should be to remove this from your diet and make better choices when integrating fat within the diet.
Bad Fat Choices:
The good fats are known as unsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing blood cholesterol levels as well as reducing the risk of heart disease. A specific polyunsaturated fat know as omega-3 fatty acids has had positive results on decreasing the risk of coronary artery disease, reducing blood pressure and guarding against irregular heartbeats. The take home message is when introducing fat into your diet make sure it is the good fat and not the bad fat.
Good Fat Choices:
Whether you are a junior athlete, professional athlete, or don’t take part in any sport, it is important to make sure you are getting the proper energy, nutrients, and minerals daily. While a food first mentality is the preferred source of nutrients, when nutrients are lacking, supplementation is an option in your nutrition routine. If choosing supplements make sure to consult a health care practitioner and look for supplements labeled NSF-Certified for Sport.
WHAT SHOULD MY MEAL LOOK LIKE?
Each meal will contain different amounts of carbohydrate (55%), protein (25%) and fat (20%).
When the clock stops or practice ends, players must focus on helping their bodies recover from physical activity and nutrition plays a central role. U.S. Soccer's Recognize to Recover program offers these tips to nutritional recovery: Rehydrate, Refuel and Rebuild.
Rehydration begins as soon as play ends. Players should not stop drinking water when practice or a game ends. In fact, this is a very important time to drink because the body is no longer sweating and losing fluids as rapidly as during play. When a player is dehydrated, it affects his or her performance and the ability to regulate body temperature.
Players should consider these tips for recovering proper hydration levels:
The body refuels with carbohydrates. Muscles burn through fuel quickly during the strenuous activity of a game or practice. In order to replenish the body’s high-performance fuel — carbohydrates — it is important to eat foods that are good sources of carbs. To do this quickly, eat these foods within an hour after the game or practice, because muscles refill carbs fastest immediately after exercise.
To calculate how many grams of carbohydrates a player needs for speeding recovery in the hour after a game, divide their weight by two. The number equals how many grams of carbs they should eat, i.e.: 160 pound player = 80 grams of carbs
Good carbohydrate food sources:
Banana = 20-30g
Energy/Cereal Bar = 20-40g
Bowl of Oatmeal = 25-30g
Bowl of Cereal = 20-30g
Tuna Sandwich = 20-30g
Chicken Sandwich = 20-30g
The body rebuilds with protein. Muscles are mostly made of protein. During exercise, muscles get fatigued and damaged. Replacing proteins is imperative to allow muscles to rebuild themselves. Eating more protein also gives undamaged muscles more building material, helping them become stronger over time. Healthy foods contain all the protein anyone needs without adding specialty protein shakes to their diet.
High protein food sources:
Milk (one cup, low fat) = 13g
Soy Milk (one cup) = 13g
Greek Yogurt (non-fat) = 6-8g
Eggs = 6g
Nuts (handful) = 6-8g
Tuna Sandwich = 25-30g
Chicken Sandwich = 25-30g
Here are two tips to make sure there is enough protein on a player’s dinner plate: