Fuel for fleet-footed footballers
RIO DE JANEIRO
YOU are what you eat when it comes to your feet.
Teams at the World Cup this year are depending on an increasingly professional squad of chefs and nutritionists who treat food as fuel, both for the body and, in the form of dishes from home, for the mind.
The Italians brought pasta, parmesan and wine; the Swiss, muesli and chocolate; and the Americans, bins of peanut butter and jelly.
At the same time, nutritionists - such as Danielle LaFata, who works with the United States team - are making sure the athletes are able to endure the sweltering heat of Brazil's soccer stadiums with foods like kiwi and bananas, to replace the potassium lost in sweat, and six bottles of water a day.
For LaFata, the menu is a constant balancing act that includes the familiar, the healthy and even a taste of Brazil.
"We do our best to kind of incorporate the culture but, at the same time, keep some familiar flavours," LaFata said. "The guys love the Brazilian beans so, for the most part, every meal now has Brazilian beans and rice."
Menus include protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats, and rely on herbs and spices with an anti-inflammatory punch instead of salt for seasoning.
Avocado is a crowd-pleaser. To fight the heat, players usually eat extra fruit and vegetables, which are 80 per cent to 90 per cent water.
This is no low-carb diet. Elite soccer players need four fistfulls of carbs a day, LaFata said, compared with just one for average people.
A field player covers 10km to 13km in a game, varying from a jog to a gut-busting sprint.
In doing that, the players need some 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day, depending on their size and how many times they train daily, said Hans Braun, a senior lecturer at the German Sport University Cologne.
That's about twice what's recommended for less-active people.
For the Germans, typical breakfasts would be bread or muesli.
Before the World Cup started, team chef Holger Stromberg told German newspapers he serves Teutonic classics like spaetzle, an egg noodle from the southern part of the country, and griessbrei, a pudding usually made for kids.
Stromberg told the Schwaebische Zeitung of a few of the players' favourite foods: Manuel Neuer, the baby-faced goalie, loves seafood salad.
Team captain Philipp Lahm is partial to Austrian beef broth with dumplings. And 2m-tall centre back Per Mertesacker eats any kind of tomato soup.
After the match, Stromberg said he uses water from the shower heads to cook pasta right in the middle of the locker room.
The Germans' southern cousins, the Swiss, banked on spaghetti in their match against Honduras this morning.
Four hours before each game, even the midday ones, head chef Emil Bolli will serve bouillon with julienned vegetables, spaghetti with veal Bolognese sauce and apple cake.
James Carter, head of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute's (GSSI's) British branch, said: "When the going gets tough, people need carbohydrates."
GSSI has been helping to develop personalised Gatorade formulas for Brazil's team, part of the PepsiCo brand's sponsorship.
Each player's drink gets a personalised carbohydrate content, electrolyte concentration and flavour in pods that click onto the bottom of a sports bottle.
Hydration is one of the most important things weekend athletes can learn from watching soccer's pros, said nutrition researcher Braun.