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Sports Performance Nutrition

Q&A with Blaire Wolski, University of Florida Performance Dietitian

March 26, 2020


An important but often overlooked aspect of player development is performance nutrition. With the current athletic climate, we were able to catch up with University of Florida Performance Dietitian, Blaire Wolski. 

Q: Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and your background.
I appreciate you thinking about me to provide some nutrition education and tips for Cap City Athletic! I wanted to introduce myself briefly to those who may be reading. My name is Blaire Wolski, MS RD and I am currently a Performance Dietitian at the University of Florida (UF); I have been in this role for 2 years and work specifically with gymnastics, swim & dive, golf, and track. Previously, I received my masters from Kansas State University, while working as a Sports Dietitian with soccer, baseball, golf, and track. So, I have a few years of knowledge and experience with a variety of teams under my belt from across the Power 5 Conferences in D1 athletics. However, this journey all started at Michigan State University (MSU), where I played on MSU Women’s Club Soccer team for 4 years, including the 2012 National Championship team. Go Spartans! Soccer has been near and dear to me since childhood, and I am always excited to help along the next generation of passionate players!
 
Q: I think most parents have a good handle on proper basic nutrition. Why is important that we educate players/athletes and their parents and coaches about athlete or performance-specific nutrition?
There are many factors that drive training and performance – physiological, psychological, social, emotional, environmental, etc. but nutrition is a very important factor. Nutrition is a piece of the puzzle that links directly with areas of sleep, hygiene, hydration practices, growth and development, injury prevention and recovery, immune function, energy availability, and mental health. All of which can directly impact sport and performance and overall health. I educate my athletes based on a quote that I’ve stumbled upon “Nutrition can make a good athlete great, or a great athlete good” (unknown). I tell them to treat their bodies like the most important machine that they will ever operate, and in order to operate efficiently, it needs to be fueled correctly.
 
Q: Could you outline some differences in the nutritional needs of in-season and out-of-season?
The difference between in-season and out-of-season fueling is a very important distinction to make because training periodization changes. Generally speaking, when the training load decreases, the intake should decrease. Athletes should start by making small changes, like substituting chips/cookies with a piece of fruit or a nutrient-dense snack or reducing the portion of or eliminating a snack.

In the college setting, the off-season is when a dietitian would work closely with an individual athlete on any weight-based goals or with the team on nutrition education and lifestyle habits. In the youth sports setting, the adolescent athlete needs to maintain proper nutrition practices (consume enough calories) to sustain growth and development. In this case, I always preach mindfulness and intent when choosing foods to consume. I would recommend focusing more on the “what” vs. “how much” and trying to establish and trust hunger cues!
 
Q: Talk about pre-event nutrition? Are pasta parties or "Carb loading" necessary the night before an event?
Carbohydrates are necessary to consume prior to an event, but newer research is emerging on the traditional “carb load.” It is recommended to start consuming a higher carbohydrate diet 3-4 days prior to a competition to maximize glycogen stores. Best carbohydrate choices include:
  • Vegetables (a variety of colors and types; starchy vegetables include corn, peas, and potatoes)
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains (whole oats, quinoa, and brown rice)
 
Q: What about game day nutrition? We don't have much control over our schedules so could you touch on any difference in morning, afternoon, or evening games?
My first piece of advice would be to wake the athlete up in the morning for breakfast, regardless of game time. Breakfast serves many purposes in the morning – athletes are coming off of a fasting state during sleep, so food will kickstart metabolism, fill up an empty fuel tank, and top of glycogen stores used during performance. It will also promote brain function so athletes can focus on the game and task at hand. Hydration would be my next focus! Consume fluids with all meals and carry a water bottle around throughout the day. Water is best for hydration, but a sports drink (G2 or Gatorade Zero) may be beneficial in hot, humid temperatures or if your athlete is a heavy sweater. Recommendation: drink 16 oz. 2-3 hours prior to competition/workout, drink 8 oz. 10-20 mins prior to competition & drink 4 oz. every 10-20 mins during activity (as able).
Best practice would be starting with breakfast and then consuming a meal or snack every 3-4 hours. Ideally, the pre-game meal will be 3-4 hours prior to game time. Due to the unpredictable game schedule, I would recommend keeping simple, shelf-stable nutrient-dense snacks on hand (i.e. granola bars, pb&j’s, fruit, trail mix, and tuna packets to name a few) and research the area when on the road for quality food options ahead of time! If able, I would avoid fried foods because they can cause inflammation and GI distress.
 
Q: And what about recovery and post-game?
Recovery is one of my favorite topics because it is SO impactful. My first recommendation is to consume a quality protein source within an hour after competition or practice; this is your post/recovery meal. I would recommend a meal over any protein supplements because of the added nutrients consumed within a meal. A recovery meal should contain a source of protein to promote muscle protein synthesis for muscle building and recovery, a source of quality carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores, and lots of colors – fruits and veggies will provide vitamins and minerals to support bone health and immune function. Next, for adolescent athletes, I would also recommend a dairy source for the calcium content, again to promote and facilitate bone growth and health. Lastly, again hydration is so important. At this time, an athlete needs to replenish any fluid losses from competition. The general rule of hydration is ½ your body weight (lbs.) in ounces each day; however, you then need to allow for sweat losses.
 
Q: As we continue to see all of the various types of "diets" out there from vegetarian and/or vegan to ketogenic, can you touch on those as they relate to or impact young athletes?
In my opinion, I would deter any young athletes from following any particular “diet” unless for medical necessity or religious purposes. Diet has a negative connotation in society and leads down a slippery slope to distorted body image and mental health concerns. Young athletes are so impressionable, and I think it is important to promote the idea of healthy lifestyles and consistent fueling.
 
Q: Understanding that parents have extremely tight/busy schedules, do you have any tips to help them while "on the go"?
First of all, I admire all of the parents who take time out of their day to cart kids around, cook family meals, work full time or stay at home to nurture the family! Parenting is a hard job and it is not one size fits all. My biggest advice would be to find something that fits your routine – this increases the success of its application. Some ideas include meal prepping for a few days, researching recipes and building a grocery store list, determining meal menus ahead of time, ordering groceries online for pickup/delivery, or using a delivery meal service. Get your children involved with meal preparation as they are able, give them ownership and responsibility for packing their own snacks and lunches. Finally, utilize frozen and canned foods as needed for those times when you just need a break from the planning and preparation!
 
Q: Do you have any resources that we can point our parents to for help? Guides, recipes, technology?
The following are reputable resources for Sports Performance nutrition education:
  1. Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitian Association (CPSDA) has several infographics on their website - https://www.sportsrd.org/downloadable-resources/
  2. United States Olympic Committee - https://www.teamusa.org/nutrition
  3. Gatorade Sports Science Institute - https://www.gssiweb.org/en/education-resources/All
  4. Gatorade - https://performancepartner.gatorade.com/athlete-tools/nutrition
 
Additionally, if your child is interested in playing collegiately, I would recommend searching the school’s sports nutrition department on social media, if available. For example, @mgofuel, @spartan_fuel, @longhornfuel, @lsunutrition, @uncsportsnutrition, and @tcufrogfuel are among some great accounts on Instagram.
 
For recipes, I find that the number of resources can be overwhelming so I choose one source (i.e. tasty website, food blogger, allrecipes.com, recipe book, etc.) to work from. My goal is to try and find 2-3 new recipes to try each month. Currently, my favorite place to find recipes is https://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/category/main-dishes/
 
Others include:
https://www.skinnytaste.com/
https://gimmedelicious.com/recipes/
https://tasty.co/

Soccer Positions Explained: Names, Numbers And Roles

by Dan Jury, Director of Coaching and Player Development

March 20, 2020


“My kid wears #21, why is coaching telling her she is a #6?! Why does it even matter what number she is?!” Have these thoughts crossed your mind in a recent season? Or maybe you have been watching a game on TV and heard the commentators going on about this player being a #6 or that player being a #9? Well, hopefully, this article can help clear things up for you…a little.

To put it simply, the numbering system corresponds to positions on the field. We will use a 4-3-3 formation in this article to discuss the numbers, roles, and responsibilities of each number. A 4-3-3 formation is one of the most widely used in youth soccer as it is one of the best for their developmental needs. This formation utilizes four backs, three midfielders and three forwards. In this formation, for instance, the right outside back is called a “2” and the defensive midfielder is referred to a “6” and, a soccer number most people have heard of, the playmaking attacker is called a “10”, versus the more target attacker which is a “9”. You may also see this referred to as a 1-4-3-3 with the 1 being the goalkeeper. This nomenclature is en vogue right now but I'm old-school and since every formation includes a single goalkeeper, believe it can be omitted.



Position numbers in the game date back to the 1920s. So, while the concept of a numbering system is certainly not something U.S. Soccer invented, it is a teaching and communication concept that is now being formally implemented throughout coaching and player education platforms and has been filtering into the youth game over the past several years. In 2012, U.S. Soccer created a technical group with the aim of formally addressing and establishing a philosophy of soccer for the United States. One of the many results of this technical group is the numbering system. While it’s similar to other countries such as England and Germany, it’s not the same. Effective coaches are clear, concise and accurate with their communication. A standard numbering system for positions and their roles, rather than positional names, therefore, provides a common method of communicating technical information about individual and team play. For instance, there is a wing-back, a fullback, an outside back – or simply, there is a “2”.

When we start to think about the general playing characteristics associated with each number, we start to see how all of this makes sense from a coaching tactics perspective, from scouting and recruiting perspectives and from a player education perspective. Coaches can now evaluate the tactical adjustments necessary for their system of play based on the qualities of their players. While recruiting for a college or national team, coaches and scouts can set out to identify and organize the maze of players more easily. For players, they can start to identify with different roles based on their skills and abilities.

So, what are the soccer numbers as they relate to the positions and what are some basic characteristics of each?



Different formations may deploy the numbers slightly differently or may omit and double up on numbers. This is where the numbering system can really be useful as a means for players and coaches to use the same language. A 3-5-2 system may use two 9’s while omitting a 4 or 5. Since the role and attributes of a 9 are consistent across formations, this helps a player understand their role within a new formation.



Finally, different coaches will value different aspects or attributes within different roles. For example, in a 4-3-3 some coaches may deploy a more defensive strategy and want to play with the 8 more like a 6 in order to have two players protecting their backline. Therefore, they would want a more defensive-minded 8 as opposed to a more attacking-minded coach who may want their 8 to possess more of the qualities of the 10.

For a more complete profile of each position, please click here.

 “We need to stop listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves!”

by Dan Jury, Director of Coaching and Player Development

March 18, 2020


I’d love to properly attribute this quote but for the life of me, I cannot remember which book I recently read this in. It was in regards to an ultramarathoner and how he was able to push himself to complete marathons of over 100 miles. This stuck with me as I thought about the conversations I have with players. When talking to players I will typically use the example of a missed shot or other negative outcomes on the field and next time you are at the field you can listen and watch for this as well. When a player misses a shot you will often time hear their players shout things like “You’re okay”, “You’ve got the next one!”, “Keep shooting!”, or even, “Good shot! It’s okay”. But watch the body language of the player that just shot. Slumped shoulders, head down, hands on the head, or other obviously negative physical reactions. You can only imagine what is going through a player's head at that time. So the question becomes, “Why do you talk to your teammates better than you talk to yourself?”

Self-talk serves as the basis for so many things in our lives: our beliefs, our outlook, our confidence, how we interact with others, and much, much more. But, we don’t just want to talk about self-talk alone; we also want to dive into the research behind it to make sure this isn’t just another ‘positive self-talk is great’ article.



Seeing as our focus is athletes, we want to specifically look at the research of the relationship between self-talk and performance. However, we also think there is a larger issue at stake here, and one that seems to be getting worse all of the time. Our kids are growing up in a time were self-confidence is eroding and anxiety is growing. We owe it to our kids to give them the tools to combat these issues.
  • Why is self-talk so important, and how can it help?
  • Positive self-talk can improve confidence
  • Positive self-talk positively affects performance
  • Self-talk affects motor skill performance more than cognitive performance
  • Self-talk works best if scripted and practiced ahead of time
  • Research has shown that you should use different statements and different times
    • What works for each person is typically a matter of personal preference
    • Addressing yourself by name or ‘you’ is found to be more powerful than ‘I’ statements
    • Talk should focus on what you should do rather than what you should not do
As you delve into self-talk you start to realize that the language we need to teach our kids in this regard is similar to that of having a Growth Mindset, something that we covered in previous “Inside Cap City” email and was one of our featured books, “Mindset” by Dr. Carol Dweck. So what does this language look like?

Research shows there are 5 specific categories of performance-based self-talk:
  • Self-Evaluation ("That was a great pass!)
  • Instructional (“Bend your knees.”)
  • Confidence/Motivational ("I've got this!")
  • Focus (“Don’t think about anything. Just concentrate.”)
  • Arousal ("Calm Down")
As you can see, these are all quite different in when and how they can be used but all could come into play during either a game/performance, or more importantly during a test or other academic event. For example, instructional self-talk(i.e. “Elbow-up”) is most helpful for tasks requiring fine skills or for improving technique. While motivational self-talk(i.e. “Give it your all”) seems to be more effective in tasks requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence and psyching-up athletes for competition.

Need proof that self-talk is an important issue for coaches and parents to address?



With this knowledge, it is obvious that teaching athletes how and when to use positive self-talk appropriately is well worth the investment. It is a powerful, actionable tool in achieving one’s peak performance.

6 Tips for Effective, Positive Self-Talk
  • Self-talk should be practiced ahead of time (outside of competition).
  • While there are best practices, the focus should be less about negative/positive, or good/bad self-talk, and more about what is PRODUCTIVE for athletes in certain situations.
  • Individual preferences are okay.
  • Self-talk should be focused on what should be done, rather than what should be avoided.
  • Different situations might call for different types of self-talk.
  • It is difficult to turn off self-talk. For most people, self-talk is going to happen, for the good or the bad, regardless of whether you work on it. Knowing that you may as well make the monologue in your head helpful… and positive!
If left unchecked and untaught, our inner dialogue can severely impact our growth and performance. We all, our kids included, need to stop listening, and start talking…to ourselves. (But not is a crazy person sort of way!)

Additional Resources


The Destructive Nature of Negative Self Talk - Psychology Today
Mindfulness for Athletes: Self Talk is Key - Sports and The Mind
Categories of Self-Talk - Aspire Performance Coaching (Vidoe and Infographic)
Nike Pro Genius Self-Talk Tool - Video
Lewandowski Visualization - Mental Preparation for Athletes (Video)


An Open Letter to Parents: Mindfulness Supporting our Children in Youth Sport

by Stacy DeLonge, Goalkeeper Director

August 1, 2019

As summer comes to an end and the craziness of fall sports begins, it is important to be reminded of ways we can continue to positively support our children through the power of sport. From pregame pep talks and in-game encouragement, to post game car rides home, we as parents have an awesome opportunity to teach our young athletes respectful ways to approach and deal with the ups and downs of the sport they play and love.

As a young soccer player, I was thankful for the day my dad decided he was no longer competent enough to coach me at the competitive level in which I desired to play. Don’t get me wrong, my dad was an extremely talented athlete and coach, however, soccer was not such a big sport during his childhood. For many parents of my generation, it was the same. As I migrated to the competitive club scene and continued to receive high quality training in my new environment, I was lucky that my parents fully understood that their daughter knew more about soccer then they ever would. It was this reason alone that some of my fondest memories were simply the car rides to my games. For our early morning away matches, we would always stop at the local gas station, pick up our favorite donuts and orange juice, (hey, the power of nutrition was not as highly valued back then!) and rock out to the Beach Boys. The only soccer “pep” talk was my dad yelling “Nobody in your house!” at the top of his lungs before the start of the game. He was referring to the 18 yard box and having the mentality that I own every ball that came inside my area. At first, it worked like a charm. I remember at 14 years old thinking, “yeah, right on! Don’t mess with me!” As I got older, it became our thing. He continued yelling is catch phrase before my college matches, I would chuckle to myself and think, “really dad? Still?” But it reminded me, in a world of standings and stats, not to take my game so seriously, to relax and feel lucky to still be playing the sport that I love.

It is important to recognize that youth sport, especially at a club level, is a privilege and opportunity that not all are fortunate to have. As parents, we need to remind ourselves not to take the game so seriously. In the long run, a win or a loss at 13 and under means very little. If we put too much pressure on our young ones to win or perform, we might place upon them the wrong idea, that winning is everything. WRONG. Sport can offer so much more than that, for example, the ideas of teamwork, inner confidence, and problem solving to name a few.  

As a sensitive young athlete, I was always very aware of my teammates, coaches and the fans. As a goalkeeper, I heard everything. I can still hear competitive parents living through their children, opposing coaches yelling at their players and athletes talking “smack”. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was not only able to filter these comments. Until college, I did not have the mental ability to focus solely on the game in front of me. It took that long. Again, that was when I was almost 20 years old. I remember opposing team’s parents yelling at teammates of mine. I remember my team’s parents yelling at children other than their own. And heaven forbid, I remember parents yelling at referees (most of the parents did not even know the rules back then…) I was very lucky, my parents seldom got excited and raised their voices. My mom had been known to yell out “don’t hurt my baby!” on occasion (Yes, mom, I heard you too!). So in turn, I was a well-mannered athlete who did not yell back at my parents, teammates or coaches. I cannot speak the same for others. They were simply learning behavior from their adult parents. Looking back now, it is so easy to understand why this teammate acted this way and that teammate acted that way. Don’t get me wrong, I had many wonderful families and teammates that I still communicate with to this day.

Whether we have played the game before or not, we need to remember that how we act on the sidelines, in front of our children, other parents, coaches, opponents and referees is one of the most important ways we can be positive adult figures in the lives of our athletes. We are setting the example for our children. We are showing them through words and actions what is acceptable behavior. At my youth club and at this current club, we preach respect. Not just for our athletes, but our parents as well! While many of us model the behavior we love and expect at Cap City, some are not fully aware of their actions and words and how they are perceived. I challenge all of us (because I know I am going to need to be challenged in 5-6 years!), to really take an honest look at ourselves and how we act. It might be through on field coaching, yelling (at our kid, someone else’s, or referees), poor body language or demonstrative actions. Each of these sends a clear message to our kids and the one thing I know, is that they really really struggle with disappointing not only their coach, but more importantly, their parents. We know it can be tough watching your kids face the adversity from time to time. But this is how they will learn to be resilient. One of the most awesome traits our kids can utilize in this world! No one is perfect and games can get pretty darn emotional. We all slip up once in awhile. It is important to be mindful of when that happens and make a correction. Let our children know that what we said or how we acted was not appropriate, because chances are, they noticed.

The most rollercoaster emotional time of my youth career was after a match. Whether it was club games, ODP tryouts, high school matches and even college matches, I was tough to be around. I expected perfection and was single handedly my worst critic. Trust me, my parents knew this. God-bless them for trying to help however, we had a couple of #familyfails along the way. I remember after losing a U13 game, I started to cry. My dad pulled me aside and said sternly, “Stacy Renee, if you cry one more time after a loss, we are done with sports!” Of course, this sent me further down the emotional waterfall. What I missed was, “this is supposed to be fun. And when you are crying, you are not having fun”. Sports were my world and my identity. Needless to say, as I matured, I got better handling my emotions. It doesn’t mean that I was perfect. I remember my senior year of college, my sister (9 years younger) begged my parents to drive to Ohio State to watch my game. Coming from Madison, Wisconsin, this was a 10 hour drive. They executed the drive and made it to the game.  We lost in the last minute of over time and I didn’t say a word to them after the match. Looking back, this is one of my biggest regrets of my entire soccer career. Again, I was not perfect, but they still supported me. We look back now and laugh and I think about how I would have handled it differently. Hindsight is always 20/20.

As you can see, my parents were pretty cool. However, they were not perfect. During car rides home, comments were hardly about my play, as they found out quickly not to go there. But that didn’t stop them from having their own conversations in the front seat about this player and that player, and why the coach made the decision he did. Heck, after raising two division 1 athletes, they still watch my matches and question things. I remember sitting in the back seat thinking, why are they talking about my teammates and coach this way. The worst part was that sometimes it got me thinking, wow, they are right, why did he or she make that decision. Just like that, my trust in those around me started to waiver.
As a parent, you may have a plethora of questions throughout your son or daughter’s seasons. These questions might pertain to his or her coach, teammates or even your own child. We must do our best to remember that how we frame our questions or figuring out whether they should be asked at all is extremely important. Even comments such as, “I can’t believe coach did this…or played so and so. Wow, Susie struggled today” can affect the trust in which our child has for their teammates and/or coach. We will not always agree with the choices our coach, teammate or child makes, but we must be mindful of the way we react to these choices. (This is all provided that the coach, teammate and/or child never places anyone in danger or in an unsafe environment.).

As mentioned several times throughout this article, we as parents AND coaches, will never be perfect. The key is mindfulness. There will be plenty of teachable moments (for all of us!) along the way. We may get confronted by another parent, a referee or as my team knows, your coachJ It is important to take the emotion out and listen to the message. We have all been guilty and with a little self reflection, we can learn how to be an awesome supportive role model for our child. Am I worried about my behavior when our son reaches the age when he can play sports with friends?  Yes! (I mostly worry that I will embarrass my husband or even child! Sorry Eric!). But I am hoping to be surrounded by optimistic, fun-loving parents in case I need a good smack or a lollipop inserted into my mouth! Hopefully, you do too!
Best of luck this fall! (I have extra lollipops if you need them!)

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