For a soccer player to perform at their best, there must be an appropriate balance between training and recovery. From a recovery standpoint, a good diet helps promote adaptation to training in addition to aiding post-exercise recovery process (Meert, Hara, Tenney, Van Winckel, 2014). Often times soccer players view nutrition from the point of view that there is an appropriate quantity (calories) they should consume, ultimately forgetting that it is the quality of their diet that is of importance to their performance. Interestingly, Dr. Catherine Shanahan said, “Food should provide the raw building blocks your body needs to repair and improve its various tissues” (Shanahan, 2013).
There is no denying that soccer players need specific dietary specializations to optimize performance compared to the general population, but when developing nutritional programs for players, the foundation must revolve around sending appropriate signals to the player’s cells. The idea is that foods with the right messages immediately start making us healthy because our bodies are continually responding to what we do, and conversely, foods with the bad messages also act immediately (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2009).
Soccer players must understand that their body is a complex system that is constantly adapting to its environment, and through food their body is able to communicate with nature (Shanahan, 2013). For instance, in 1930, Professor Fred Hale performed a study in which he deprived pigs of vitamin A so that the mother would produce a litter without any eyeballs and when the mother was re-fed vitamin A, her next litter was born with normal eyeballs (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2009). Dr. Catherine Shanahan (2009) further explained the study’s results by stating,
“Vitamin A is derived from retinoids, which come from plants, which in turn depend on sunlight. So in responding to the absence of vitamin A by turning off the genes to grow eyes, it is as if DNA interpreted the lack of vitamin A as a lack of light, or a lightless environment in which eyes would be of no use.”
To highlight the importance of eating quality foods over quantity, a case study revolving around Lionel Messi will be discussed. During Pep Guardiola’s reign as the head coach of FC Barcelona, Lionel Messi only missed two weeks due to injury in the four years (2008-2012) working under Catalan coach. The Argentine had a special fitness plan that covered all aspects of his conditioning, including proper nutrition (Hayward, 2013). After Guardiola left the club (the 2013-2014 season in particular), reports said that Messi disconnected from his nutritional program and began eating more pizza (Todd, 2015). At the time, the Sporting Director of FC Barcelona said, “Before, he ate at the club and rested after. But I think last year (referring to the 2013-2014 season) Messi ate more pizza than he should have” (Todd, 2015). Perhaps it is a coincidence, however, the fact is that during the 2013-2014 season, Messi suffered four separate muscle injuries (one lasting for 8 weeks) (Hayward, 2013).
Fast forward to the 2014-2015 season, reports surfaced that one of the main contributors to Lionel Messi’s return to world class form was in part due to the nutritional program that he implemented under the guidance of Italian Doctor, Guiliano Poser (CBS Sports, 2016). The Italian doctor reported that Messi’s diet revolved around five elements consisting of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fish, and olive oil (Gadd, 2015). More so, Poser went on to say that the key to the diet is to “ensure that these ingredients are ‘free of pesticides, herbicides and so forth, as they can cause great harm to the body” (CBS Sports, 2016). To not much surprise, during the two previous seasons, Messi suffered only three muscle injuries that accumulated to a mere 24 days on the sideline (www.transfermarkt.com).
The idea is that Messi consumes foods that improve performance and recovery. For instance, according to Harvard Medical School (2015), olive oil, vegetables, fish and fruits all have anti-inflammatory properties, which aids the post-training recovery process. More so, by consuming whole grains, the Argentine is ensuring an appropriate amount of carbohydrates, which is crucial for soccer players. If a player’s diet does not include an adequate amount of carbohydrates, then the player is compromising his or her performance and recovery (Meert et al. 2014).
Eating for performance and general health can be difficult in today’s world as it is much easier to order a pizza than grill wild salmon. There will always be soccer players who do not believe in the power of quality nutrition, and to the nonbelievers, please remember that Lionel Messi earned another European Championship when he traded pizza for salmon.
Foods that fight inflammation - Harvard Health. (2015). Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Gadd, M. (2015). Lionel Messi gave up processed food in diet change that triggered Treble-winning season for Barcelona star, reveals doctor. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3118058/Lionel-Messi-gave-processed-food-diet-change-transformed-Barcelona-Argentina-ace-s-treble-winning-season-claims-renowned-nutritionist.html
Hayward, B. (2013). Four muscle problems in eight months - the reasons behind Messi's injury crisis - Goal.com. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.goal.com/en-india/news/2292/editorials/2013/11/15/4408569/four-muscle-problems-in-eight-months-the-reasons-behind
Lionel Messi - Injury history | Transfermarkt. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.transfermarkt.com/lionel-messi/verletzungen/spieler/28003
Meert, J.P., Hara, S., Tenney, D., Winckel, J.V. (2014). Nutrition. In Fitness in Soccer: The Science and Practical Application (pp. 217-252). Move Ergo Sum.
Shanahan, C. (2013). An Interview with Dr. Cate Shanahan. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.nba.com/lakers/training_staff/131203_interview_shanahan
Shanahan, C., & Shanahan, L. (2009). Deep nutrition: Why your genes need traditional food. Lawai, HI: Big Box Books.
Sports, C. (2016). Lionel Messi's nutritional secrets revealed - CBC Sports - Soccer. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/lionel-messi-diet-1.3558475
Todd, O. (2015). Lionel Messi was eating too much pizza last season at Barcelona, says sporting director Carles Rexach. Retrieved July 19, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2973465/Lionel-Messi-eating-pizza-season-Barcelona-says-sporting-director-Carles-Rexach.html