Sitting down for dinner can be the first time a teenage soccer player takes a break during the day. Due to the rush of a busy schedule, these teens may also eat poorly at other meals. While all meals play a role in a healthy diet, dinner provides an important opportunity for teens to increase overall nutrient intake. So, what should soccer players eat for dinner?
A balanced meal will include half a plate of fruits and vegetables, about a quarter of the plate protein and a quarter of the plate grains or starchy vegetables. Soccer players will also want to drink fluids to stay hydrated. The Choose My Plate diagram offers a good outline for what a healthy dinner can look like for a soccer player.
Following this meal pattern at dinner time will help teen soccer players meet their increased needs for calories and nutrients. Continue reading to learn more about what makes a good dinner for a soccer player and why dinner is important.
Why should a soccer player eat dinner?
Dinner is an important time to refuel after a day of training or competitive play. As soccer players run from one activity to the next, the quality of breakfast and lunch meals may take a hit.
Teens may even skip these meals. While these dietary choices are not advised, they make eating a balanced dinner even more important for the health of a soccer player.
Amidst the various and often conflicting family schedules, dinner often marks the only mealtime where the entire family can sit down together. Studies demonstrate the importance of eating meals as a family. Meals eaten together as a family increase social, mental, physical and emotional health of teens.
Furthermore, muscle synthesis decreases at night. Adequate protein eaten at dinner can help increase muscle synthesis, aiding in recovery. Also, eating a balanced and appropriately sized dinner can help teenagers sleep and eat well the following day.
What are tips for taking advantage of all the benefits of dinner?
- Eat mindfully
Mindful eating involves slowing down, listening to hunger and fullness cues and focusing on enjoying the eating experience. Choosing to eat mindfully also means sitting down to eat with others.
The benefits of practicing mindful eating are plentiful. These benefits include healthier food choices, reduced risk of binging, healthy weight maintenance, better digestion and overall increased satisfaction.
- Eat throughout the day
When athletes restrict or skip meals entirely, they may struggle to eat a balanced and mindful dinner.
The rush to meet hunger needs pushes individuals to choose easy to grab foods, which often contain more sugar, sodium and saturated fats. Eating too quickly and with extreme hunger also increases the likelihood of overeating.
- Eat as a family
Studies associate a host of benefits to eating meals together as a family. These benefits include:
- Improved academic performance
- Increased self-esteem
- Decreased substance abuse and teen pregnancy
- Decreased risk of depression
- Lower risk of eating disorders
- Decreased risk of obesity
- Improved heart health
- Healthier dietary choices and behaviors
- Put away distractions
Keep those phones, laptop, screens, other electronics and even homework away from the table during dinner. Avoiding distractions while eating helps a teenager eat mindfully and with the family.
Plus, everyone benefits from a little time away from screens and social media. A distraction free dinner gives a teenager time to unwind and create connections.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime
Going to bed on an empty stomach can disrupt sleep, but certain amounts and types of food can also poorly affect sleep. Too much food right before bed may lead to gastric distress, causing poor sleep. Try to eat earlier or eat a lighter meal when eaten close to bedtime.
Research links high carbohydrate meals, especially those high in sugar, with decreased sleep quality. For those who experience heart burn, spicy, citrus, high fat and other trigger foods may also create discomfort when trying to sleep.
Look to create a balanced plate with carbohydrate, protein and fat for best quality sleep.
- Avoid caffeine or at dinner time
The average half-life of caffeine is five hours. This statistic means only half of the caffeine ingested will be eliminated from the body in five hours. As a stimulant, consuming caffeine in the evening will make it harder to fall asleep and decrease the quality of those important sleep hours.
In general teens should limit caffeine. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 100 mg for adolescents ages 12-18. This amount equals about two caffeinated sodas. If any, caffeine should be consumed earlier in the day to avoid disruption of sleep.
- Include more fruits and vegetables
According to the CDC, only 2% of teenagers meet vegetable recommendations and only about 7% meet fruit recommendations. Fruits and vegetables provide countless health benefits with the high content of vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants and fiber.
Teens will experience better current and future health through eating the suggested servings of fruits and vegetables. A teenage soccer player will want to strive for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Strive for balanced meals
A meal containing a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat gives a soccer player the proper nutrition for continued growth and development. Furthermore, a teenager should not attempt to diet or severely restrict food or food groups in any way.
In fact, enjoying a favorite treat, in moderation, along with a variety of nutrient dense foods creates a more sustainable healthy meal pattern. Completely restricting sugar, fat, carbohydrates, etc. increases the risk of disordered eating and binging. All foods can play a part in a healthy diet.
What nutrients should a soccer player include at dinner?
Nutrients help a soccer player train, perform and recover effectively. The three macro nutrients, those needed in larger amounts, include carbohydrates, protein and fats. Micronutrients, those needed in smaller amounts, include all vitamins and minerals. Eating balanced meals will assist a soccer player to meet these nutrient needs.
This macronutrient should make up 45-65% of daily calories. Carbohydrates break down to glucose, the body’s main source of energy. Inadequate intake causes a soccer player to tire easily, experience brain fog and miss out on many other nutrients associated with foods higher in carbohydrates.
Quality carbohydrate foods
- Whole grains
- Starchy vegetables
This macronutrient should make up 10-30% of daily calories. Considered the building block of the body, protein plays an essential role in tissue maintenance, building and repair, hormone production, immune system and many other essential functions of the body. Best practice involves eating 15-30g every 3-4 hours.
Quality protein foods
- Lean meat
- Dairy products
This macronutrient should make up 25-35% of daily calories. As an important source of energy and with its ability to assist with nutrient absorption and healthy body cells, fats should not be restricted.
Unsaturated fats provide more health benefits than saturated fats. Saturated fats should be enjoyed only in moderation and include solid fats found in butter, lard, tropical oils, meat, highly processed foods and desserts.
Quality unsaturated fats
Vitamins and minerals
Eating an adequate and varied diet usually ensures a soccer player meets vitamin and mineral needs. Food benefits a soccer player far more than taking a nutrition supplement.
Supplements are not well regulated and can provide inaccurate amounts and types of nutrients. Studies show that many even contain harmful substances. They also will not provide the beneficial components found in whole foods such as antioxidants, polyphenols, fibers and more.
Some nutrients of concern for teenage soccer players include iron, calcium, potassium and fiber.
High iron foods: meat, eggs, legumes, dark leafy greens, cereal
High calcium foods: dairy products, almonds, broccoli, leafy greens, beans, soy products, fortified orange juice
High potassium foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy
High fiber foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes
If for any reason a teen athlete must cut out a food group, they should talk to a healthcare professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian about possible need for supplementation.
What are some good dinner ideas for Soccer Players?
Dinner meal ideas are countless. The key to a good dinner comes from variety and balance. Try to include fruits and vegetables with each meal.
On-the-go dinner ideas:
- Heat up some leftovers
- Make a sandwich
- Fill a tortilla with protein and veggies for a quick burrito
- Blend a fruit smoothie with nut butter, cottage cheese or yogurt
- Grab some oatmeal
- Meal prep the day before
- Boiled eggs make easy to grab protein
- Low sodium canned foods
With no time restraints, the options are endless. Teens should feel unlimited in their food creativity and should try new things. When teens strive to follow the Choose My Plate pattern, dinners will appropriately fuel and satisfy a teenage soccer player.
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