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10 Tips for Improved Soccer Tournament Nutrition

Any coach who wants to succeed on the field needs to pay attention to soccer tournament nutrition. On the soccer field, raw talent and practice alone cannot guarantee success. Endurance, speed, and mental sharpness are all negatively affected if your players have not had good nutritious food throughout the tournament weekend.

The trouble is, while most tournaments have an array of food choices available to players, almost all of them are bad from a soccer tournament nutrition point of view. What’s more, as soon as the whistle blows at the end of each game, families tend to disperse and search for food options on their own. Often these are dictated by the need to quickly satisfy hungry siblings, so fast food becomes the natural choice.

Soccer Tournament Teams at End of Game A weekend-long diet of fried dough, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and soda is not going to meet a soccer team’s nutritional needs over four or five games, and could see them “running out of gas” in the second half of a critical semi-final match. Fatigue caused by poor soccer tournament nutrition choices can lead to sluggish play from your team, it may force you to sub out your star player at a critical time in the game, and it may lead to mistimed tackles that result in cards and may even cause injury.

But with a little forethought, and a few adjustments made to a player's dietary habits (not only during the tournament itself, but in the days leading up to the event), the overall capabilities of the entire team improve. Team members possess more energy, stamina, and the ability to come through during the final stretch of competition.

Diets mainly consist of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, which are responsible for supplying vital amino acids to the body, protecting nerves, packing organs, and delivering energy throughout the body. During soccer tournament time, too many players are prone to making poor nitritional choices, selecting foods that contain too much protein, "bad" carbohydrates, or fat. This often causes them to burn their energy during the first half of a game, leaving them with nothing left by the end of the match. Poor nutrition poses a disadvantage from the start that affects the overall performance of the body (especially in the muscles).

Here, then, are ten tips for improved soccer tournament nutrition.

1) Prep Parents: Alert parents to the importance of soccer tournament nutrition. Put a sheet of dietary suggestions together and encourage them to select decent meal choices between games. These include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and easily digestible foods. For example, steamed and baked chicken make better choices than breaded or deep-fried.

2) Plan Ahead: Work out before you leave just how long there is between games. If it’s just a couple of hours, there probably won’t be time for a meal, if it’s several hours, maybe there is. Also consider when your games are in relation to “normal” meal times. In fact, think less in terms of "meals" and more in terms of soccer tournament nutrition breaks. If you have games at 1:30pm and 6:00pm, plan how you’re going to work your soccer tournament nutrition break into your schedule. Do you want to eat a light early lunch at, say, 11:30am or wait until after the game and eat a fuller meal at 3:00pm? If it’s the latter, how will that affect your play in the 6 O’clock game? Then be prepared to explain your decisions to the parents.

3) Research: Do an internet search to find not just local restaurants, but local supermarkets in the area where parents can buy fresh food supplies. Printing out directions and passing them out to parents will serve as a gentle reminder that supermarkets are not only places to buy healthier foods, but are also a much cheaper alternative to eating out all weekend.

Soccer Parents With Cooler 4) Designate a Number of Soccer Tournament Nutrition Managers: Put either your team manager, or a couple of parents each day in charge of soccer tournament nutrition. Have them be responsible for purchasing picnic items like cold pasta salads, fresh fruit, nuts, and granola bars from the local supermarkets. Bring some team coolers to the fields and designate team snack times between games to ensure that all players are getting nutritious snacks throughout the day. Some teams benefit by pooling resources and setting a daily budget for team snacks. You can build the cost into the initial per-player price of the tournament.

5) Plan at Least One Team Meal: Planning a group meal for the team several hours before a key game or in the evening between game days is a great way to not only build team spirit, but also influence the selection of beneficial nutritional foods. Pick a restaurant that has nutritious food choices (don’t have your team meal at the nearest Mickey Ds) and maybe arrange beforehand a selection of three entrees for players to choose from (all, of course, chosen for their nutritional benefits as much as their taste) Again, you can figure the cost of such a meal into tournament fees.

6) Pre-Game Eating Don'ts: Create and pass out a list of foods parents should avoid when providing meals for players before a game, and during the week while training or practicing. This list should include foods that tend to sit in the stomach (hot dogs, hamburger, roast beef, steak), sugary foods (doughnuts, chocolate, soda), and processed items (potato chips).

7) No Empty Stomachs: Players who say they aren't hungry or refuse a meal should be coaxed into eating. The appetite often dulls in times of excitement and high adrenaline, causing less hunger. Young players require a bit more energy than adult players and should be fed often. Coaches should also encourage healthy eating two to four hours before playing with refreshing snacks (an apple or sports drink) during games.

8) Before Competition: As a rule of thumb, coaches should encourage players to eat a big meal (like two large bagels with peanut butter; yogurt; orange juice) four hours before a game; a light meal (deli sandwich; fruit salad; low-fat milk) two hours before a game, and snacks (medium banana; granola bar; and low-fat milk) about an hour or less before game play.

9) After Competition: After games, it is important to encourage players to immediately refuel with proper nutritional choices. High-carbohydrate foods are suggested, which helps increase the rate of game recovery. Consider whole grain waffles with fruit; grilled chicken sandwich and baked potato; roast beef sandwich on whole-grain roll; chicken and salad; turkey sub; and pasta or rice with vegetables.

10) Be a Diplomat: Telling your average soccer mom that you don’t approve of the food she is putting into her children’s stomachs is not usually a good way to win friends. Make sure you present your concerns about soccer tournament nutrition as suggestions, rather than mandates. Make these suggestions in the context of wanting what’s best for the team, and don’t forget to highlight the fact that good nutrition helps prevent injury and increases the safety of their child.

For more information on soccer tournament nutrition, and general nutrition for soccer players, Mike Grafstein has written an excellent ebook on the subject called Youth Soccer Nutrition. Healthy Eating for Active Families On the Go. It's a must read for coaches and parents of active kids.

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