OK, I'll admit it. I've put this article off for almost two years. It's a complex issue and I wanted to make it easy to understand, but not over simplified. What triggered my urge to get it done? A good intentioned, but poorly informed, flyer put out by a grocery chain about eating right. (Targeted towards youth soccer families.)
In this flyer they were discussing the recent negative press high carb / refined / processed foods were getting. They were stressing that eating only low carb food and complex carb foods was a "good replacement" for healthy eating. After my head exploded and I put the pieces back together, I sat down to write this.
First, if your child is obese, overweight, diabetic, or has other eating / health issues, this is not for you. I am talking about the healthy competitive soccer player that trains hard several times a week. Their body is a processing machine and needs the right fuel at the right time. (Just doing the touch stations we show in the SoccerU series can burn 350 calories in 30 minutes.) I have trained soccer players at all levels of play and ages; from young 7 year olds to professional players training six days a week, twice a day. Getting this right is more important than most people know.
Next, I will not be giving you a "lifetime eating chart". I am focusing on the 24-48 hours prior to competing. REMEMBER... Long-term body development, health and growth are different from pre-game preparations.
Important Note--Kids are Weird!
Get this straight. This is not a nutrition article from the USDA. It's a real world guide for youth soccer players. While much of the same information is used for adult players, we have to understand the "mind of the child" in this formula.
One of the key issues with youth players is that they often can't overcome eating habits/tastes/phobias, for the sake of health and nutrition.
The greatest food not eaten? What if I told you about a top secret soccer drink? OK, put raw oysters, broccoli, and mushrooms into a blender, then add chicken broth and puree. Now set it in front of you child and see what happens...nothing. It might be the secret to becoming a star player but guess what? It's not going down. We have to face the reality. Younger athletes will generally eat a limited range of foods. Something simple as color, texture or smell can make them say, "No way."
Also, youth players will generally fill up faster. Making sure that they get the proper carb intake is very important since their volume of eating is generally lower. Whenever possible, eliminate all snacks just before meal time. They should come to the table hungry (after main meals, snacking is encouraged.) Also, avoid large consumptions of fluids before eating. They should drink while they eat and afterwards. Large amounts of fluids will take away hunger and fill the stomach with low-value volume.
Next, let's figure out what to eat and when.