Nutrition is Crucial for Athletes—Here’s How ACFC Players Fuel up

Katelyn Best | Editor,

Think about the life of a professional athlete, and you probably envision lots of hard training sessions, technical drills, and strength and conditioning workouts. But as important as training is, it only makes up a couple hours of an athlete’s day.

What’s at least as crucial is how players use the rest of their time to maximize their recovery and, by extension, their performance. A major component of recovery is how they’re fueling up to train and play.

That’s why it’s fitting that one of the first people players see when they get to practice in the morning is Gary Arteaga, who serves the two meals the club provides on training days.

“In the morning, I do all the cooking here onsite for breakfast,” Arteaga explains. “And then any cold stuff for lunch, like the salads, the fruit, any side stuff like toppings for tacos and things like that, I prep in the morning. Then the hot food comes from our Moorpark facility, which I pick up and bring back here for lunch.”

Arteaga, a former DJ, also keeps the tunes bumping in the kitchen and buffet room.

The meals are a team effort, and Arteaga is just one piece of the puzzle. His coworkers at Command Performance Catering, the club’s catering contractor, do a lot of the prep and cooking; his manager, Maya Chrestensen, plans the menus; and Krysten McCaughey, Angel City’s nutritionist, in partnership with the club’s medical staff, helps guide the whole process.

Elite athletes’ nutritional needs are different from the population as a whole. “There’s so many nutrients that athletes need a lot more of than the general population,” McCaughey says. “Probably the two most well-known ones are carbs and sodium. So for example, the governmental recommendation for sodium is very low, because it can contribute to high blood pressure.” 

Athletes, on the other hand, need more salt to replace what they lose to sweat.

“Same with carbs,” McCaughey continues. “The general population, even if people are working out, has a much lower activity level. So their needs are lower in terms of both overall calories and also carbs and proteins.”

McCaughey collaborates with the technical staff, including Head Athletic Trainer Manny De Alba, Head of Medical Sarah Smith, and Head of Sports Science Dan Jones, to determine specific needs. She then goes over the menus to make sure they’ll allow the athletes to meet those needs.

Rather than counting calories or macronutrients, McCaughey’s approach is largely educational. One tool she uses is an illustration of a plate, showing different proportions of different food groups depending on the meal. Before training, for instance, athletes need lots of readily available energy in the form of carbohydrates; after training, they need more protein to start rebuilding the muscles they just worked.

With players at all different stages of their careers on the team, different levels of education are called for. “With newer players, there’s so much room for education because a lot of times they haven’t had it before, which is great,” says McCaughey. “But on the flip side, younger athletes recover a lot quicker, so they don’t always recognize the importance of nutrition.”

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