Players and parents wants to know: what should I buy or do to make sure the body recovers quickly and efficiently? What’s the best recovery tool for youth soccer players and how often should I use it?
A young soccer player’s body goes through a lot. Practices, games, tournaments, cross-training, strength & conditioning, private coaching… players need to recover or their bodies will fail them.
So, what’s the best way to recover?
Ignore the Distractions
There are a lot of products and recovery regimens on the market that have one goal: to make money!
If a product or recovery regimen is worth your time, you’ll easily find legitimate research to back up its claims. Many products and recovery regimens have no high-quality evidence (or they have high-quality evidence that negates their claims), yet they’re still on the market because people still buy them.
The truth is that there are a lot of distractions out there that have motives other than health & wellness.
If I type in “What’s the best recovery tool for young athletes” to Google, the first thing I see is a row of products that are sold online to aid in recovery. I see a myriad of sport supplements, a lung mucous remover for about $60, and a bilateral-leg compression ice sleeve for $700. (You might get slightly different results depending on your location.)
Those products are placed at the top of the page because they are primary things people look for to answer that question. They’re also there to distract you from the next result, which actually gave a good answer.
The best recovery tools and methods have nothing to do with specific products or supplements. Instead, they are based on basic foundational human needs.
Don’t forget about the basics!
Don’t Sleep on the Answers
Did I give it away? 🙂
Sleep and nutrition are the best recovery tools. Period. Let’s talk about sleep first.
During vigorous exercise, your body goes through wear and tear, but in a good way. Muscles build when itty-bitty microtears occur during exercise. The body has a natural inflammatory response to this and builds the muscle back up, this time bigger and better.
Side thought: The body needs that inflammation to heal. Cold will delay inflammation. If I want that inflammation to happen, should I take that ice bath? In many cases, science is starting to say no. (4)
Your body’s best chance to respond and rebuild is during sleep. If you’re not getting adequate “deep” sleep, you’re not rebuilding. That means naps are mostly inadequate because you don’t reach that “deep” sleep. In fact, it can even hinder performance. (2)
This also applies to bone remodeling. Wolff’s Law states that bones become stronger and thicker when stress is applied to them. However, new bone develops only if the body has a chance to rebuild during sleep. An article that studied the occurrence in stress fractures in high school athletes showed that inadequate sleep is directly linked to higher occurrence of stress fractures – that includes shin splints. (6)
Adequate sleep also improves mood and soreness (I think we can all agree that a lot of soreness makes us a bit moody). In 2018, an article by Watson and Brickson (7) that studied 65 female athletes between 13-18 years old found a link between sleep, self-reported mood and fatigue, and perceived soreness. It found that girls with inadequate sleep and high training volume reported poorer mood, increased fatigue, and increased soreness.
Bottom line? Sleep is the best recovery tool for youth soccer players. It is one vital action that helps everything, the ultimate all-in-one recovery method. And… it’s free!
How Much Sleep is Enough?
According to Sleep Foundation, children and adolescents need more than your average adult. Adults can get away with 7-9 hours, but…
- Ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours
- Ages 14-17 need 8-10 hours
How many young athletes are hitting these target amounts? The research labs at Gatorade say only half. They studied that most youth athletes report they sleep an adequate amount, when in reality, only 50% are meeting the minimum 8 hour requirement some of the time. (1) Yikes.
How Can Nutrition Optimize My Sleep?
Remember how I mentioned nutrition?
I’ll mention it again, briefly scraping the surface on the topic. There are entire databases of scientific articles dedicated to this realm.
When I mention nutrition, I’m not talking about supplemental vitamins and minerals. I’m talking about holistic vitamins and minerals, proteins, carbs, and fats all found in actual food.
At the risk of delving into a highly controversial territory, I’ll quickly step on my soap box (followed by references, of course): young athletes should not rely on supplements to fill gaps in nutrition unless they have been advised by a dietician or nutritionist.(3)(5)
Buell et al.: “Proper nutrition and changes in the athlete’s habitual diet should be considered first when improved performance is the goal. Athletes need to understand the level of regulation (or lack thereof) governing the dietary supplement industry at the international, federal, state, and individual sport-participation levels. Athletes should not assume a product is safe simply because it is marketed over the counter.”(3)
Gibson et al.: “Everyone needs a balanced diet and this is even more important for athletes. No supplement will correct for a poor diet. Supplements are meant to provide nutrients they are not complete food sources. Athletes with poor nutritional habits will not reach full potential.”(5)
If you feel that you need electrolytes, drink coconut water or eat a banana. If you need protein, find some meat or legumes.
Your body absorbs basic nutrients best when they are consumed with complementing nutrients naturally found in foods.
Compare it to juicing fruits and veggies. The juicing fad died after nutritionists stated that removing the fruit juice from its fiber creates “free sugars” that are basically just… sugar. In reaction to the claims, some companies have made products that keep it all together. But isn’t that just blending? Asking for a friend.
There are exceptions. Whey and casein proteins have proven to be one of the very few successful supplements on the market because of the branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) they offer, which are the “bricks” needed for muscle building. Just watch for brands with additives.
*Steps off soapbox*
Once the body has all the nutrients it needs from real foods, it can use these building blocks during the remodeling process that occurs in deep sleep.
So, count proper nutrition as the best recovery tool for youth soccer players as well.
It’s easy to discount the best recovery tools for soccer players: adequate sleep and nutrition. That’s especially true if your schedule is hectic.
Foam rolling, massage, and stretching are great… but don’t get distracted from your fundamental needs. Recovery does not have to get fancy or expensive for it to be effective.
Happy recovery, soccer players!
- Anderson ML, Reale RJ. Discrepancies between self-reported current and ideal sleep behaviors of adolescent athletes. Sleep Sci. 2020 Jan-Mar;13(1):18-24. doi: 10.5935/1984-0063.20190122.
- Biggins M, Cahalan R, Comyns T, Purtill H, O’Sullivan K. Poor sleep is related to lower general health, increased stress and increased confusion in elite Gaelic athletes. Phys Sportsmed. 2018 Feb; 46(1):14-20. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2018.1416258.
- Buell JL, Franks R, Ransone J, Powers ME, Laquale KM, Carlson-Phillips A; National Athletic Trainers’ Association. National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: evaluation of dietary supplements for performance nutrition. J Athl Train. 2013 Jan-Feb;48(1):124-36. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-48.1.16.
- Fuchs, C.J., Kouw, I.W.K., Churchward-Venne, T.A., Smeets, J.S.J., Senden, J.M., Lichtenbelt, W.D.v.M., Verdijk, L.B. and van Loon, L.J.C. (2020), Postexercise cooling impairs muscle protein synthesis rates in recreational athletes. J Physiol, 598: 755-772. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP278996
- Gibson, M. E., Schultz, J., & Glover, D. (2016). To Supplement or Not. Missouri medicine, 113(4), 305–309.
- Gupta L, Morgan K, Gilchrist S. Does Elite Sport Degrade Sleep Quality? A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2017 Jul; 47(7):1317-1333. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0650-6.
- Watson, A. & Brickson, S. (2018). Impaired Sleep Mediates the Negative Effects of Training Load on Subjective Well-Being in Female Youth Athletes. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 10 (3), 244-249. doi: 10.1177/1941738118757422.