Cleats? Check. Sneakers? Check. Bats? Check. Shin guards? Check. Frisbee? Check.
Snacks and water? Check. Breakfast? Oops.
”Food is fuel for the body,” says Walter Norton Jr., strength and conditioning coach for the Boston Breakers, the women’ professional soccer team.
”If you are not fueled properly, you are going to run out of gas,” adds Ellen Lowre, registered dietician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
That metaphor for eating right throughout the day is echoed by athletes and by their nutritionists and coaches. All also say unequivocally: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is part of a refueling process that replenishes the energy expended the previous day and jumpstarts the upcoming day. The nutrients missed by not eating breakfast are not often made up.
Experts say nutrition has to be a central concern for all athletes – amateur and pro, schoolchildren and adults, including the weekend joggers and tennis players. Episodic bouts of ”eating well” do not make for optimal performance.
”Team athletes are judged on their ability to replicate their performances,” says Norton. The Breakers’ philosophy involves practicing hard, getting rest, and eating well and enough to get their bodies back to square one.
With up to two practices daily, and multiple games weekly, these women expend so much energy during the season that 2,500-3,000 calories a day is a must to keep up their strength and refuel their bodies. (By contrast, a moderately active woman can maintain her weight with roughly 1,500-2,000 calories, depending on her weight, height, and age.)
Consistently eating well helps store energy. Meals high in carbohydrates and lean proteins and low in fat at least three hours before playing allow time for digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Tracy Ducar of Andover, the Breakers’ goalkeeper, says, ”I enjoy cooking, so this is not so hard.” She tries to eat three meals a day and snack in between with good sources of protein, and she drinks plenty of water. Her teammate, forward Allie Kemp, likes a shake of plain yogurt, milk, a banana, and 1 or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for extra protein. Ducar is lactose intolerant and gets calcium from soy milk and yogurt.
High-sugar foods or sweetened drinks can give a false rush of energy but won’t sustain you. Sugar also inhibits water absorption. Proper hydration before, during, and after a game is essential. Sixteen ounces of fluid prior to a game, 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes during intense activity, and 16 ounces of water post activity is recommended.
Joan Buchbinder, registered dietician and sports nutritionist for the Patriots, says, ”The main electrolytes lost while sweating are sodium and potassium. Replacement of these nutrients is key.” Sports drinks are popular for this reason. A diluted drink of three cups water, 1 cup juice (grape, apple, orange) with a teaspoon or two of salt is a homemade alternative.
”You repair muscles with protein and refuel with carbohydrates,” says Buchbinder.Athletes have a one-hour window to repair those muscles, says Norton. Liquids carry the needed nutrients through the body fast, so his team has a shake high in carbohydrates and protein. Lowre suggests post-game snacks such as peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat, trail mix with dried fruit,
peanut or almond butter on apple slices, and yogurt with fruit.
Assistant Coach Jorge Espinoza sets the meal plan for the New England Revolution, the men’s professional soccer team. Revolution members eat together three times a week and stay away from fried foods. Fresh fruit and water are always available. A favorite of Espinoza is pineapple, which he feels aids in digestion and has valuable nutrients. Knowing that muscles fatigue faster as one
ages, defender Ted Chronopoulos tries to replenish his lost nutrients within a half hour after the game.
Those are the professional athletes. Then there are the rest of us: T-ballers, skateboarders, joggers, and play-grounders. The same concepts apply, though. Protein bars and sports drinks have their place, but there is no substitute for good eating habits.
Still, we wonder: Do the athletes, impressive in their knowledge of nutrition, ever give into the craving for an order of large fries? Sure. Nutritionists and coaches know that banning foods is futile.
As Kemp says, ”We work so hard, we should treat ourselves and not feel deprived.”
Ducar’s weakness is the fruity, chewy candies Skittles and Starbursts. The Breakers have ”found every ice cream place in Boston,” says a teammate in the know. For Chronopolous, it’s chocolate cake.
Make-your-own sundaes is a popular dessert for the Revolutions’ after-game meals.
Tracy Ducar’s Tasty Pre-Game Chicken and Pasta (Serves 2)
1-2 cups of uncooked noodles
1 whole boneless chicken breast or 2 halves, cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red pepper, cut into small strips or chunks
1/2 yellow pepper, cut into small strips or chunks
1/2 Vidalia onion, cut into strips
3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (grape tomatoes or cherry are also good)
1/2 cup small broccoli florets
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon butter
1/2-1 cup of your favorite spaghetti sauce
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Dash of salt
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Shredded skim mozzarella cheese
Rinse chicken and pat dry. Cut off all fat and cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Roll pieces in breadcrumbs until covered. Set aside.
Start cooking the noodles.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large non-stick skillet on medium heat.
Saute chicken until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. You may need to add more oil if the pan dries out. Add it slowly and sparingly.
Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper flakes in a small bowl and sprinkle on chicken.
Cook another three minutes until center of chicken is done. Place chicken on several paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Wipe skillet clean with a moist paper towel. Add remaining olive oil and reheat pan on medium heat Saute vegetables and pine nuts for 2 minutes.
Mix noodles, chicken, vegetables, and spaghetti sauce in a large, oven-proof dish. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top.
Bake at 375 for 5 minutes to melt cheese and crisp upper noodles in the casserole.
Malcom White’s Ultimate Frisbee Trail Mix (Measurement by ”the handful.”)
Equal amounts of:
Dried fruit: cranberries, apricots, apple, dates
Mix in large bowl, and divide into individual plastic bags.
Post Game Fruit Shake (Serves 2)
1 1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 cup frozen strawberries
1-2 tablespoons powdered milk
1/2 cup ice cubes
Place pineapple juice and powdered milk in blender and blend for 30 seconds.
Add ice cubes, frozen strawberries, and banana cut in half.
Blend until smooth and frothy.