These Two Plant-Based Foods Are Key to World Cup Win—Soccer Nutritionist

A former Major League Soccer nutritionist said that two of the best foods the U.S. Men’s National Team should be eating at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar are plant-based.

The Persian Gulf state’s national dish is machbūs, which consists of rice, meat and vegetables, but sports nutrition expert Roxana Ehsani, who is based in Miami, told Newsweek the U.S. soccer team should be consuming particular foods and juices to combat the heat and dryness in Qatar.

With temperatures averaging around 86 degrees, hydration is key. “Soccer is a high-intensity activity,” she said. “Players need to make sure they are refueling and rehydrating after each practice and game time, which as a professional athlete can be challenging to do.

“There are many obstacles to staying well hydrated and well fueled, such as players may be engaging in long and high-intensity practices each day, multiple practices per day, traveling frequently and competing frequently,” she said.

Noting Qatar’s desert-like climate, Ehsani said that players are being exposed to hot and dry conditions that some may not be used to training or competing in.

USMNT soccer
The U.S. Men’s National Team train ahead of their last group game at the FIFA World Cup knowing that a win against Iran would take them through to the last 16 of the tournament.
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“In dry climates, athletes may not be sweating as much, as during humid ones. Paying attention to hydration needs is so important as an elite athlete, as losing as little as 2 percent body weight can hinder their athletic performance,” she said.

Ehsani said there is a perfect juice to ensure the players get all the right nutrients to support their fitness in the heat. “One drink that athletes love to stay hydrated with is 100 percent pomegranate juice, which can be found in the Middle East as well as sold in the U.S,” she said.

Each 8-ounce serving of the juice has as much potassium as your average banana, an important electrolyte for healthy muscle function, and 700 milligrams of polyphenol antioxidants.

The antioxidants in pomegranate juice are an athlete’s best offense and defense all year long and may help increase nitric oxide bioavailability by protecting it from breaking down. Nitric oxide helps your body get the oxygen and nutrients it needs for exercise.

A stock image shows pomegranates. A nutrition expert says 100 percent pomegranate juice is the ideal drink to stay hydrated in Qatar during the FIFA World Cup.
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It’s important for athletes to not only choose water to hydrate with, Ehsani said. They should also consume a mixture of beverages and foods high in water content to stay hydrated all day long—before, during and after post-training and competition time.

Ehsani said that being in an unfamiliar country can often lead to changes in the players’ usual routine, so it is important that they eat foods familiar to them.

“Playing in a foreign country, athletes may not be familiar with certain food choices being offered, which could lead to an upset stomach or cause them to undereat, especially if they don’t like what they are being served, which could lead to poor performance,” she said.

“It’s best for athletes to stick to foods and dishes they are familiar and used to eating,” she continued. “A lot of soccer players love their carbs post-training and pre-game time, like rice and bread, which they likely can find in Qatar. Especially the rice and bread are two popular staples in the Middle East.”

Pistachio nuts are considered a good source of nutrition for athletes who are looking for a snack to accompany their diets.
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Ehsani also said that pistachios can be an essential snack, as they tick off all the boxes for athletes.

“Players are also always looking for snacks that are healthy, taste delicious and can be carried with them on the go. One of their favorite snacks is pistachios, which you can find readily in the Middle East as well,” she said. “Pistachios are one of the highest-protein snack nuts, providing 6 grams of complete protein and 3 grams of dietary fiber and all nine essential amino acids.”

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