BEFORE NUTRITIONIST Danielle LaFata began advising the USMNT in 2012, its training table salad bars were stocked with creamy dressings, and the menu of pregame snack choices read like a soccer mom's grocery list: fruit gummies, pretzels and Twizzlers. "That's all O.K.," LaFata says, "but not optimal for performance."
The registered dietician—she was hired after J√ºrgen Klinsmann took over as coach, part of his holistic training approach—swapped the ranch for balsamic vinaigrette and introduced healthy snacks like homemade peanut butter balls (far right). "And they can't get enough," she says. "My goal is to offer a new approach, teaching guys to view food as an energy source for performance and recovery."
Kyle Beckerman (left) has taken the cue. "What you put into your body translates to what you get out of it," says the 32-year-old midfielder, who also plays for MLS's Real Salt Lake. "I've learned that."
LaFata's training table is attractive and informative; sprinkled among the fruits, vegetables and whole grains are note cards highlighting power foods. (Next to the dried cherries: Rich in melatonin to help regulate sleep and battle jet lag. Also great for reducing inflammation and pain associated with muscle soreness.) To speed recovery, LaFata blends custom shakes to be consumed within 30 minutes of a workout, a prime window to rebuild muscle. The shakes feature 25 to 30 grams of protein and either double or triple that in carbohydrates, depending on the workout's intensity and a player's body mass.
In April, LaFata and the team chef, Bryson Billapando (another Klinsmann addition), embarked on a seven-day, five-city tour of group-stage hotels and training facilities in Brazil to ensure they could find and prepare the foods the team needs. (During training camp they plowed through 50 to 60 avocados a day.) She doesn't mind if the players still eat the occasional Twizzler, but she's not supplying them.
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PEANUT BUTTER BALLS
All natural peanut butter, honey, ground flax seeds and shredded coconut scooped into 120-calorie bites.
LaFata considers it a point of pride that no U.S. player cramped up during last July's CONCACAF Gold Cup. That run of perfection will be challenged in Brazil, where the U.S. will travel nearly 9,000 miles in the group stage, playing in sticky environments. Here's how the team stays hydrated.
EDGE PRESENTED BY EAS SPORTS NUTRITION
Leading up to a game, players consume one half to one ounce of liquid a day per pound of body weight. (A 170-pound person should drink 85 to 170 ounces a day.)
Eat fresh fruits, a natural source of water. Normally LaFata avoids produce in tropical countries for fear of illness. "But three weeks is too long without it," she says.
Keep it basic. Sports drinks are fine to have during and around games and training sessions to replenish electrolytes, but LaFata suggests drinking water or unsweetened tea the rest of the day.
"Trust your body," says Beckerman. "If you sweat a lot, that means you're going to need to drink more tomorrow." Try to limit weight lost during training to 2% of body weight (3.4 pounds for a 170-pound person).
To replenish, consume 150% of body weight lost (3.4 pounds lost requires 82 ounces of water). If more than 2% has been lost, include 20 to 40 ounces of a sports drink with at least 200 mg of sodium and 200 mg of potassium.