Nutrition is essential for athletes at the most basic level because it provides an energy source required to perform the activity. Good nutrition can enhance sports performance, and it is vital not to disregard nutrition itself to create a topsport culture. Therefore, the significance of sports nutrition is emphasized in LCSFA.

To achieve this, the academy has received help from sports nutritionist, Denise van Ewijk. Denise, who graduated in Nutrition and Dietetics at The Hague University of Applied Science in the Netherlands, is the wife of LCSFA’s Head of Physiology, Mike Kerklaan. Apart from owning her own sports nutrition company, Denise has worked with countless professional athletes such as Ajax and Ado Den Haag football players.

With Mike running the medical department, Denise thought that it would be good for her to share her experiences and knowledge to the players in the academy. This opportunity will also allow her to understand the lifestyle and culture of Singaporean football players on a higher level. On that account, she has volunteered her time and made herself available to be an advisor to the players in the academy.

One step at a time

Since the Performance Department was set up last year, Mark Onderwater, Head of Performance of the academy, has planned and executed several ways for the academy to achieve it’s goals in the performance aspect.

With Denise sharing her time here in the academy as an advisor to the players, Mark and Denise are constantly working together to tackle the issue of nutrition.

Initially, Mark took frequent body measurements from the players. From that alone, he discovered that there is a major imbalance in the diet of the players here. By collecting data such as body weight, height and fat percentage, the performance department learned that the imbalance is caused by the player’s current nutritional habits.

A full investigation of the player’s data and nutritional pattern was carried out and consequently, action was taken through extensive questionnaires created for players. Denise noted that this process also allows them to determine whether a player is malnourished as the questionnaires help in attaining more individualized information from the players.

Creating personal goals

After collating the necessary information, individual talks with players are subsequently conducted. Players with special diets due to allergies or those that experience an imbalance in their BMI status are given priority when it comes to one-on-one sessions. Denise then constructs tailored nutritional plans for the players with the aim to improve their performance through a better diet. A follow-up consultation is also done to check their progress and this is paired with measuring their body mass, muscle mass, BMI, and fat percentage.

With a system put in place, both Mark and Denise hope that it will encourage players to have independence in making decisions regarding their personal nutrition intake and to make the first move in asking for guidance when it comes to nutrition, especially with Denise’s help available. Mark stated,

“Nutrition is a crucial aspect in topsport. Without the proper nutrition, we simply won’t be able to achieve our goals on and off the field. Once the performance department started working and defining LCSFA’s priorities, nutrition is definitely one of them. Sports nutrition is a specialist area. Therefore, I’m really happy to have Denise helping the academy out to make progress on this part.”

When dealing with individual sessions, Denise mentioned that the first step is to get to know a player and create a bond where they will feel safe to share their opinions and won’t shy away from asking questions that could benefit them. Through creating personal bonds, Denise creates a stronger understanding of the different characteristics of an individual. She emphasizes that it is crucial to understand the players' lifestyles and cultures to frame a specific plan for different players.

A unified learning environment

Besides catering to individual needs and goals, nutrition talks and workshops are specifically organized to cover topics like fluid intake and basic nutrition. By organising several workshops for players, it allows for the evaluation of sports nutrition knowledge that they have learnt - or lack thereof. Through these organised talks, which has been implemented in the last few weeks, it allows Denise the platform to educate the players further on the key factors of nutrition.

Collectively, the coaches do their part in ensuring that players maintain a well-balanced diet. Players are reminded not to skip their meals and minimize fast food intake. In addition, fruits are provided to players before and after training sessions.

With the supervision of coaches, players take part in internal activities like “Rate the Plate,” where players share images of their meals to compare and rate them to those of their teammates to see which is the healthiest. Exercises like this encourage players to create TopSport culture amongst themselves.

With collaborative attempts like the above, LCSFA creates an environment where players can make smart goals in terms of nutrition intake and personal behaviour.

Achieving desired outcomes

“As a sports nutritionist, I am here to guide them to be faster, stronger, and to become a better athlete. My goal, in general, is to help players to eventually become professional football players.”

Through encouragement, personal attention, and patience, the academy aims to reach its vision of creating a healthy TopSport environment.