Influence of Nutrition, Sleep and Stress on Athletic Performance

By Steve Murray, Macalester College Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

As a strength coach at Macalester College I only see our soccer players 5 to 6 hours a week during the off season.  It is even less for our soccer coaches.  During the season our influence is greater, but it is still a small amount of time compared to the hours in a week.  The decisions our athletes make away from training have a huge impact on what we do with them during training.  The most impactful decisions are the ones that involve nutrition, sleep, and stress management.  A perfect example of this came in one of my first years at Macalester College. 

I had 2 first year women’s soccer players who were lifting together in the off season.  Neither of them had ever lifted before.  At the end of the 12 week program we tested.  One of them saw great gains and the other one got worse, which was pretty bad since she had never lifted before.  After talking with both of them, I found out that they both decided to become vegetarians during the 3rd week of the program.  The difference was the one who saw gains was using supplements to get enough protein and calories in and the other one was not eating enough and not getting enough protein.  Of course genetics and other things play a factor into how someone responds to a workout, but no one should get worse.  Unfortunately this athlete became overtrained from not properly fueling her body and she did get worse.  

There is plenty of research that shows the negative impact poor decisions on nutrition, sleep, and stress management have on athletic performance.  There is also plenty of information in these areas to provide guidance to athletes and the information they need is pretty basic.  The problem comes in finding ways to create an environment in which every athlete understands that it is their responsibility to take care of their body and that these things are just as important as the training itself.

To create this environment it is important to get everyone involved and everyone on the same page.  For us this includes all of the athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, student trainers, strength staff, and athletic administration.  For younger athletes this also involves families.  Not only does everyone need to be involved, everyone needs to be thinking about it throughout the week.  This is our focus for the 15/16 academic year.  

We will be utilizing text messaging and emails to provide them with weekly information and tips.  Our coaches will expand on these communications in the start of their practices.  This information will then be reinforced in the weight room and training room.  Along with this, each athlete will fill out a weekly survey on their sleep, nutrition, and stress management.  It is a basic survey consisting of 7 questions that will address things such as the amount of sleep they are getting, water intake, and balanced diet.  There are other approaches that may work just as well or better. Whether your an athlete, parent or coach, find ways to create an environment of healthy off-field behaviors and communication techniques to reinforce these positive behaviors.

Check out the resources in the Amplified Soccer Athlete Nutrition Blog to help you  make the right decisions when it comes to your diet.