Miner Athletes Learn Healthy Shopping Tips

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Other than a new culture, the hot weather and learning Spanish, the last thing Leonie Kijewski thought would be different when she moved from Pocking, Germany to play soccer at The University of Texas at El Paso was the fruit. 

“Apples are weird in the U.S.,” Kijewski said while browsing the produce section at a local grocery store with her teammates. “They’re super sweet. They don’t taste like they do back home.”Marilyn Rotwein, UTEP’s nutrition educator, talks to members of the UTEP Soccer Team about   healthy, high performance foods to fuel their bodies. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceMarilyn Rotwein, UTEP’s nutrition educator, talks to members of the UTEP Soccer Team about healthy, high performance foods to fuel their bodies. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Even though Kijewski is 5,000 miles away from her favorite food, she knows that she still has to eat healthfully and drink plenty of water if she wants to boost her performance playing midfield for the UTEP soccer team this season.

“I cut out fast food since last year,” said Kijewski, a freshman in the College of Science. “I eat it once in a while, but that’s every few months. I try to cook most of the time.”

Kijewski is one of 10 freshmen on the soccer team who recently joined Marilyn Rotwein, the nutrition educator at UTEP’s Student Health Center, at an off-campus grocery store where she advised them on how to shop on a budget for healthy, high performance foods to fuel their bodies.

“Soccer not only requires endurance but high intensity sprints,” said Rotwein, a board certified sports dietitian. “These student-athletes know that if they don’t stay hydrated and fuel their performance, they can’t maintain energy on the field.”

Walking through the produce, meat, snack and frozen food sections, the student-athletes read the labels on some of their favorite foods and snacks and were surprised to discover the high fat content and unfamiliar ingredients in some of the products.  

While such items as lean ground turkey, rice, flat bread and frozen vegetables made the cut, foods high in saturated fats such as hydrogenated oils, like palm oil, were left off of their grocery lists.

“We look at the list of ingredients on the label in descending order because the first ingredient is the predominate one,” Rotwein shared with the group. “If the first ingredient is sugar, it’s probably better to look at other alternatives.”

She also suggested that they choose food rich in dietary fiber and products that have fewer ingredients.

UTEP Soccer Coach Kevin Cross believes players who follow a healthy diet have a competitive edge on the field. His players track their food and fluid intake during training camp for three days to assess meal timing, quality of fuel and hydration plans.

Rotwein evaluates each individual record and makes recommendations that can help the student-athletes fuel their bodies better and gain an edge to win a crucial match, Cross said.

“Soccer is a very physically demanding sport where players are asked to sprint for 90 minutes, or up to 120 minutes if there is overtime in soccer, on a 120 by 75 yard field in 90-degree-plus temperatures,” he explained. “Fueling and hydration is a key to be successful in soccer. Most players entering college do not understand that how you eat and drink affects how you play soccer.”

So far the strategy has worked. Since kicking off the season, the Miners have won their first two matches and claimed the Fourth Annual Border Bash title on Aug. 25. They face Utah State at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at University Field.

While some healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables are obvious, others are not. 

In the snack aisle, Alexis Roberts was surprised to see that the bag of caramel popcorn she picked out had zero grams of saturated fat and was healthier than the whole wheat crackers that contained hydrogenated oils.

“I thought it was going to be the opposite because it's caramel corn,” said Roberts, who plays forward on the team. “I thought, ‘It’s not going to be that healthy,’ and it turned out that it was.”

Roberts is from Phoenix, and while she thinks that the food in El Paso is similar to what she eats back home, not all of her teammates are familiar with local flavors.

Aside from Kijewski and Roberts, one freshman is from Canada, three are from different parts of Texas, and four are from El Paso.

Heads turned when Rotwein mentioned that in El Paso when people talk about “chili” they usually refer to the green chili peppers rather than the thick stew cooked with meat and beans.

Since arriving in June, Kijewski has been craving the whole grain bread back home, which is eaten with almost every meal and is very different than what is available at the local supermarket.

“What you guys call pretzels are not pretzels,” Kijewski said with a laugh. She first traveled to El Paso in 2010 as a foreign exchange student. “But it’s definitely good to look around in an American store because I’m so used to my stuff, so it’s good to learn new things.”

Rotwein emphasized that the players don’t need to buy expensive food; they just need to have a game plan when they go shopping.

She suggests that they buy certain foods like lean ground turkey in bulk, freeze it, and split the cost with their roommates.

After shopping with Rotwein, Alexa Bain is going to pay more attention to the food labels.

“I’m probably going to be more cautious about what I eat,” said Bain, a psychology major.Nutrition is very important, especially since we burn off so much. It’s important for us to put back in what we lost.”