Red, White and Blood: U.S. Soccer Uses Testing to Gain an Edge

The goal, said Dr. George Chiampas, the chief medical officer for the federation, is to educate players with real-time information about their health and nutrition in the hope “that the more they know about themselves, the more engaged and committed they’re going to be on their side.”

Change within soccer can still be met with suspicion, however, and even resistance. Only recently, for example, has the game begun to employ instant replay technologies that have long been used in other sports. But soccer has more eagerly embraced other areas of data-driven sports science.

Player movement is seemingly tracked by every device but bloodhounds, like heart rate monitors, GPS units, accelerometers and gyroscopes. In preparation for a World Cup qualifying match at an altitude of 7,300 feet last month in Mexico City, members of the men’s national team drank beet juice (a blood-flow enhancer) and tart cherry juice (a sleep enhancer) and took supplemental iron to increase production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

And as part of a long-term health and performance strategy, the team’s medical staff and players have begun to examine everything from bone health to triglycerides.

Participation in the blood analysis is voluntary, Chiampas said, adding that the program adheres to privacy laws protecting the confidentiality of players’ health care information. If, as planned, U.S. Soccer extends the program to its youth national teams, parental consent will be sought for players younger than 18, he said.

“We don’t mandate that anybody do anything,” Chiampas said.

Chiampas said more research is needed into the efficacy of micronutrients — vitamins and minerals needed in trace amounts — in improving performance. And the United States Anti-Doping Agency has long cautioned athletes that the supplement business is loosely regulated and that product labels can be “notoriously unreliable.”

It is difficult, too, to…

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