The Soccer Player's Struggle With Nutrition

The world's largest association for professionals in the exercise and sport sciences is called the American College of Sports Medicine. They hold their annual meeting after Memorial Day each year.

When I attend these meetings, the first thing I look for are presentations having to do with soccer, and there is enough to keep me happy meeting people from all over the world who share my interests.

One thing bothered me this year, though, and this bothers all my colleagues who deal with sports teams. Nearly half the presentations on soccer were either directly or peripherally related to nutrition or fluid replenishment. In each case, the studies were critical of the food or fluid selections that soccer players make.

The same decades-old mantra was expressed: too much protein and fat, too little carbohydrate to adequately fuel muscles for the physical demands of soccer. This was regardless of age and sex. Males and females, from professionals to youth they all chose the wrong foods.

My friends in other sports say the same thing. The research indicating that carbohydrate should be the bulk of caloric intake (about two-thirds of all calories) has been around for decades. The scientific community is well aware of the benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet for the competitive athlete and has been for nearly half a century.

Some sports and athletes (mostly endurance athletes like runners, cyclists, triathletes and cross-country skiers) are more conscious about nutrition and generally are pretty good about their commitment to their diet. Other sports are the worst those being aesthetic sports like figure skating, diving, gymnastics and synchronized swimming, where eating disorders are not uncommon.

An interesting interview with a quarterfinalist team in the 1994 men's World Cup revealed that half the starting-field players felt that what they ate had nothing to do with how they performed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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