Nutrition Advice from a soccer Olympian
— By Rachel Sovka
One of the first things Olympic soccer player Stephanie Labbé shared about her experience with nutrition was a confession that she had eaten ice cream last night.
In a way it’s reassuring when high-performance athletes make admissions like this because it leaves hope for the average athlete that you, too, can achieve your athletic goals even if you like ice cream.
And everyone does, that’s why Labbé’s message of moderation is a beacon of hope for ice cream lovers around the world.
“I like to have balanced meals,” Labbé explains. “I don't cut myself off from some foods. I enjoy treats.”
‘Everything in moderation keeps you smiling’ is her message; that way she brings her best self to the field in great physical shape without feeling restricted. She says her weakness is popcorn, but her secret is working very hard in training.
Revving the engine
“Some sports you need to aesthetically look a certain way or have a certain body type, but soccer is an endurance sport,” Labbé says. “I have to think about what I put into my body because my body is my engine; if I don’t put enough gas in the tank the car will die.”
She lets working exceptionally hard in training help guide what should comprise her diet, noting that sometimes a craving is telling you something.
“Sometimes you just want breakfast for dinner,” she says. “But for the most part every meal is about balance; I make sure to get my carbs, protein, veggies and grains in every meal.”
For example, Labbé shared what she was about to make for lunch, a little mash made of:
- Fried potatoes
- a couple eggs
“I always try to use raw food as much as possible,” she says. “And never get frozen vegetables, always get fresh.”
Paying attention & planning ahead
Labbé says she will notice it in her body when she hasn’t had as much fresh food in her diet. She tries to pay attention to the way she feels and make adjustments to her routine.
“If you're feeling hungry throughout the day, that's when you need to make changes to your meal structure,” she says. “Have a bigger or more dense meal, and plan ahead for it.”
Labbé insists that planning is a huge part of getting the right nutrients as an athlete with a busy schedule.
Ever since Labbé tried out for Canada’s U-16 team at the age of 15, she hasn’t slowed down, going on to play for Canada at the U-16, U-19, U-20, U-23 and senior levels.
Labbé turned pro in 2009 after four seasons at the University of Connecticut.
There's not a lot of downtime.
Getting the right healthy food amid a busy training schedule has to be a priority when she’s travelling all over the world to compete in cultures where certain foods might not be accessible. Labbé has played soccer around the globe including Brazil, Cyprus, Germany, China, Mexico, and Sweden, a place she says she loved for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“Sweden is similar to Canada in many ways so the transition wasn’t bad at all,” Labbé says. “The European lifestyle is so chill; they really prioritize quality of life and being happy, everything is closed on Sundays so people can relax with families.”
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Labbé wasn’t there to relax though, her busy training schedule forces her to meal plan and be prepared to avoid compromises.
“Then when you get snacky you don't grab the nearest bag of chips,” she says, “You've got nuts and an apple ready to go on busy days.”
The days are busy during the season, usually with a game each weekend. Labbé ensures her body is a well-oiled machine of nutrition.
“Game day is all about carbs and fueling the body,” she says. “When you’re filling the gas tank you should think of it by the week. Before game day, you fuel all week instead of taking a deficit or going overboard the day before so you’re ready to perform on Saturday.”
And when Saturday arrives, if you’ve followed Stephanie Labbé’s advice, you’ve practised moderation in what you consume, enjoyed a treat or two, worked hard in training, planned ahead and fuelled up with fresh raw foods.
You’ll be as ready as an Olympian for the game.