The Impor­tance of Nutri­tion for Club Teams 

Kris­ten Andrews, the Sports Per­for­mance Dietit­ian for the Los Ange­les Galaxy of Major League Soc­cer, as well as the US Men’s Nation­al Team explains why clubs should pri­or­i­tize nutri­tion with their athletes.

The Impor­tance of Nutri­tion for Club Teams 

Kris­ten Andrews, the Sports Per­for­mance Dietit­ian for the Los Ange­les Galaxy of Major League Soc­cer, as well as the US Men’s Nation­al Team explains why clubs should pri­or­i­tize nutri­tion with their athletes.

My name is Kris­ten Andrews, and I’m the Sports Per­for­mance Dietit­ian for the Los Ange­les Galaxy of Major League Soc­cer, as well as the US Men’s Nation­al Team. I’m a Reg­is­tered Dietit­ian Nutri­tion­ist by train­ing, have a Master’s degree in Nutri­tion­al Sci­ence, and am a cer­ti­fied strength and con­di­tion­ing specialist. 

As the Galaxy’s Sports Per­for­mance Dietit­ian, my main job respon­si­bil­i­ty is to over­see the club-wide sports nutri­tion pro­gram. That includes: 

  • Our large food ser­vice operation 
  • The pro­vi­sion of supplements 
  • Nutri­tion education 
  • Hydra­tion testing 
  • Body com­po­si­tion measurements 
  • Recov­ery strategies
  • and more
What you eat quite lit­er­al­ly pro­vides ener­gy for every­thing you do.”

As part of my work with all LA Galaxy teams, as well as par­tic­i­pa­tion in nutri­tion out­reach efforts with local affil­i­ate youth clubs, I’ve wit­nessed first­hand the impor­tance of dis­sem­i­nat­ing sound nutri­tion infor­ma­tion to club coaches. 

One thing has been made abun­dant­ly clear through con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had with some of our local club coach­es: many feel com­plete­ly ill-equipped to be influ­enc­ing their ath­letes’ nutri­tion­al intakes. Add the exces­sive stress we place on young ath­letes dur­ing tour­na­ments, and we have a prob­lem­at­ic sit­u­a­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most club teams lack access to sports dieti­tians to guide play­ers’ nutri­tion­al habits. The next best option is for sports dieti­tians like myself to find cre­ative ways to pro­vide coach­es with the infor­ma­tion they need to ensure their play­ers are healthy, hydrat­ed, and per­form­ing at their best.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, sports nutri­tion has inhab­it­ed a space dom­i­nat­ed by the use of pro­tein pow­ders, sports drink, and sup­ple­ments. There real­ly wasn’t much focus on well-round­ed intake of food at all. That is quick­ly chang­ing thanks to sports dieti­tians around the globe work­ing tire­less­ly to teach ath­letes and coach­es that the food they eat real­ly does make a dif­fer­ence in the long haul. Pro­fes­sion­al teams from every sport are begin­ning to rec­og­nize the role of chron­i­cal­ly-sound nutri­tion in improv­ing a mul­ti­tude of per­for­mance indi­ca­tors. This devel­op­ment should trick­le down to club direc­tors and coaches.

A pop­u­lar visu­al used to explain the impor­tance of nutri­tion is an emp­ty gas tank accom­pa­nied by the say­ing Food is Fuel. It’s a sim­ple yet effec­tive visu­al to get to the root of why ath­letes, coach­es, and par­ents should care about what they put in their bod­ies. What you eat quite lit­er­al­ly pro­vides ener­gy for every­thing you do. Nutri­tion has an impact on an athlete’s abil­i­ty to recov­er, avoid injury, build mus­cle, lose body fat, gain strength, increase agili­ty, strength­en their immune sys­tem, increase adap­tive respons­es to exer­cise, train their gut for opti­mal nutri­ent absorp­tion, and short­en the return to play after injury. 

What ulti­mate­ly mat­ters most for ath­letes is how they perform.”

I’ve worked close­ly with many pro­fes­sion­al soc­cer play­ers who come to me sur­prised to notice that they feel bet­ter out on the field after work­ing hard to improve their diets. And that is per­haps the most impor­tant point. See­ing improve­ments in body com­po­si­tion is nice, as is increas­ing your one-rep max in the back squat. But what ulti­mate­ly mat­ters most for ath­letes is how they per­form, and I don’t know of a bet­ter way to improve per­for­mance than to help ath­letes learn how to con­sis­tent­ly feel on top of their game — a fac­tor that is hard to quan­ti­fy and yet decid­ed­ly influ­enced by all the pre­vi­ous­ly-men­tioned (nutri­tion depen­dent) markers.

Devel­op­ing new nutri­tion habits is not easy. In fact, many of the ath­letes I work with require con­stant feed­back to pro­mote good deci­sion mak­ing. Edu­cat­ing ath­letes about the impor­tance of nutri­tion when they are young is the most effec­tive way to cre­ate last­ing behav­ior change. 

When I work with the Galaxy acad­e­my play­ers on devel­op­ing a nutri­tion­al knowl­edge base, I know that by the time they work their way up to our first team, their nutri­tion­al foun­da­tion will be heads and shoul­ders above some of our cur­rent play­ers (who have unfor­tu­nate­ly lacked access to nutri­tion­al guid­ance through­out their careers). This invest­ment will make them health­i­er ath­letes, more reli­able per­form­ers, and bet­ter pro­fes­sion­als in the future — a win for the ath­letes, their par­ents, and the club. This same pos­i­tive out­come is pos­si­ble for clubs across the coun­try who decide to pri­or­i­tize pro­vid­ing nutri­tion edu­ca­tion to their young athletes.

Max­i­miz­ing nutri­tion is one of the ways club direc­tors and coach­es can ensure their ath­letes have every oppor­tu­ni­ty to be successful.”

Okay, so you under­stand just how impor­tant nutri­tion is for the devel­op­ment of ath­letes. Now what? How do you go about pro­vid­ing this much need­ed infor­ma­tion when you’re not an expert your­self? Good news! There are reg­is­tered dieti­tians, and more specif­i­cal­ly, sports dieti­tians (who hold a spe­cial­ized cre­den­tial in sports nutri­tion), across the coun­try who are able and will­ing to help. 

Club direc­tors and coach­es should not hes­i­tate to con­tact sports dieti­tians to vis­it their teams and deliv­er nutri­tion talks. These nutri­tion pro­fes­sion­als have nutri­tion­al hand­outs, infor­ma­tion on how to nav­i­gate nutri­tion dur­ing tour­na­ments, and they can help you cre­ate a plan to ensure that play­ers are fuel­ing prop­er­ly, hydrat­ing, and recov­er­ing. One way to iden­ti­fy sports dieti­tians in your area is to vis­it the Sports, Car­dio­vas­cu­lar, and Well­ness Nutri­tion dietet­ic prac­tice group web­site, where you can browse through a reg­istry of sports dieti­tians and find the one that meets your needs. 

The bot­tom line is that in today’s world of com­pet­i­tive sports, it takes more than just tal­ent to make it to the top. Max­i­miz­ing nutri­tion is one of the ways club direc­tors and coach­es can ensure their ath­letes have every oppor­tu­ni­ty to be suc­cess­ful. Here’s the best part — you are not alone in this pur­suit, and sports dieti­tians are here to help offer guid­ance. All you have to do is ask.