The Holiday Season is here, and if you are a youth soccer player, this means a few weeks off school, and probably off of soccer as well. In my previous post, I commented that the winter / Holiday break should be treated only as a break from soccer (and not from all forms of exercise) and gave some exercise reconsiderations for players to maintain their aerobic fitness during the time off.
In this post, I will be discussing the Holiday “diet.” For professionals in the health and fitness industry, a common practice during Christmas time is to bombard the public with information and tips about how to eat healthy during the Holidays, to avoid the dreaded weight gain that typically accompanies a 2-3 week period of over-eating foods that re high in fat and sugar. While I can see the rationale for advising the general population (non-athletes) to avoid eating unhealthy foods over the Holidays, I just don’t see the point in expecting the same of trained athletes.
Any competitive soccer season (whether it is in a club/academy, college/university, or professional environment) presents a significant amount of physical and mental stress on a player. The Holiday break is the perfect time for well trained soccer players to recover both physically and mentally from this stress. In my opinion, one of the best ways to achieve optimal off-season recovery is to eat food that tastes good, even if it may be high in fat and/or sugar. When I worked with the Canadian Women’s U17 National teams, we always ended stressful 10-14 day training camps with one “unhealthy” but popular meal (hamburgers and fries, pizza, cheesecake, etc..). The players loved it and they would always return home happy and motivated to work harder in between camps. Of course, eating a balanced diet, high in fibre, fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, and lean protein over the course of the year is advisable for any competitive athlete. But the pleasure that comes from rewarding yourself for a hard season of training by indulging in some “comfort food” is undeniable.
If athletes are trained properly, they will likely finish the season is excellent aerobic shape, and have relatively low body fat percentages. As mentioned above, an athlete can and should use the time off over the Holiday season to perform at least 3 days per week of some form of aerobic exercise, combined with some form of resistance or strength training. So long as this maintenance training is done consistently, the positive outcomes of eating a few days’ worth of high fat/sugar foods outweigh any potential (and minimal) weight gain and increases in body fat percentage that may occur. In the long run, soccer players who train hard and eat right throughout the season, but treat themselves over the Holiday break, will lead happier and healthier careers.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.