This goes without saying, but nutrition is important whether it’s for people who go to the gym, or people who don’t. And for college athletes, the benefits they get from nutrition are not the same.
However, there are misconceptions when it comes to nutrition in soccer. According to Beth Wolfgram, director of sports nutrition, athletes can be susceptible to fads like low-carbohydrate diets or a cleanse.
“As an athlete, they really have to look at themselves entirely different person,” Wolfgram said. “Their meals and snacks have to have a purpose for them, have a reason and be sound to them. The average person isn’t a Pac-12 athlete, so Pac-12 athletes shouldn’t be doing what the average person is doing.”
For head coach Rich Manning, nutrition isn’t only important, but it’s vital for his players. According to Manning, there has been a lot of information that has come out in the past few years that has made what the team has been eating and their overall nutrition critical, because other teams are doing it and they want to have an edge.
Wolfgram said that there are three aspects to nutrition. The first is fuel and performance. Wolfgram said that the body runs on food, which the body uses as fuel, and food fuels performance. For soccer players, carbohydrates fuel their body to allow them to continue a game for 90 minutes and then do it all over again the next day.
The second aspect of nutrition is recovery. Nutrition helps the body recover and heal from the work that is done. After a game or practice, recovery starts immediately. That’s when protein and carbohydrates need to be consumed in order to help build and repair body tissue, recover from injury, and it allows the players to play again.
Lastly, nutrition provides long-term benefits for the body. Nutrition provides vitamins and minerals, and that helps an athlete’s body to be healthy and be able to adapt to all the stress put on their body. It also keeps their immune system strong, and it allows them to perform at an optimal level.
“The key things to take away from nutrition [is how important] carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals [are], but hydration comes into play in all of those different areas,” Wolfgram said. “Hydration is important for performance and for the recovery process to building and repair tissues. Nutrition as a whole really helps as athlete perform better and improves their overall health.”
Besides keeping hydrated, getting the right foods right after a game or practice is crucial for a soccer player. The challenge with recovery is that they have a window of time — about 30 to 60 minutes — to get the carbohydrates and proteins. Most of the time, athletes go to treatment, take a shower or go to class right after practice, and by the time they get home they haven’t eaten yet.
Wolfgram advocates for soccer players to get something in their bodies immediately after a game or practice, whether that be chocolate milk or a protein shake, and then as soon as they can, they should have a solid, well-balanced meal.
For those well-balanced meals, Wolfgram laid out a visual picture of what a plate should like like for the soccer players. Depending on what position they play, each plate’s portions might be different, but overall, a soccer player’s plate should consist of carbohydrates, whether that be rice or pasta, then fruits or veggies and proteins.
For senior Katie Rogers, she takes nutrition seriously. Being one of her passions, Rogers finds nutrition an intriguing topic, because it is something that she can relate to her everyday life, and for the past couple of years, it is something Rogers has been focusing on .
“When I eat and fuel my body right, it thanks me for it,” Rogers said. “I have more energy — I’m more active and ready to go. But when I fuel it with the wrong stuff, I feel more sluggish. [The coaches] have been doing a good job fueling us before and during the game, and just making sure that we have the energy to keep going, come alive and work hard.”