Sugary photos posted by players on social media notwithstanding, Minnesota United’s athletic trainers and dietitian have provided Loons living isolated at home this past month with workout programs and a nutrition phone app intended to keep them fit and trim during a season suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve seen some Instagram posts of cakes and things,” team dietitian Angela Bruzina said.
“I’m over here making cakes and cookies, too. It’s OK in the time we’re in. Just everything within balance is what I keep telling myself.”
Bruzina isn’t worried so much about weight gained, even after seeing those photos of treats presumably baked and eaten while players stay home separately.
“I’m actually more worried about them losing weight and losing muscle mass without being able to train the way we normally train,” said Bruzina, who worked for MLS’ FC Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati last year.
“They’re not getting the same kind of stimulus. Hopefully, we can give the guys the tools so they don’t lose weight and muscle.”
MLS has closed team training facilities and placed a moratorium on teams’ training through April 24.
Players have been instructed to stay in their team’s market unless they’re individually approved by the league to relocate by automobile.
Fitness rooms in players’ apartment buildings were shut down weeks ago.
Veteran defender Michael Boxall and others have taken to running around Minneapolis’ lakes and elsewhere while following social-distancing guidelines.
Midfielder Jan Gregus, at least for a time, ran stairs in his high-rise building.
Loons players also have been given exercises and workout routines they can do indoors at home.
“I need to stay active because if I don’t, that’s not me,” Gregus said. “I have to do something many times during the day now.”
Some Loons have kept their skills tuned by juggling a precious roll of toilet paper — or a soccer ball — with their feet. They’ve posted video to Instagram as part of a worldwide #StayAtHomeChallenge.
“They seem to have enough toilet paper to do that,” Loons head athletic trainer Stacey Hardin said. “Running is great because you don’t need any equipment. Shorter runs, longer runs, they’re all great options in a time like this.”
Hardin acknowledged anyone confined at home is susceptible to “boredom eating,” but pro athletes, particularly soccer players, are an exception.
“Our players are very mindful their bodies are a big part of their livelihood,” she said. “The longer this goes, the mind-set shifts that ‘I’m at work, this isn’t a vacation, this isn’t a trip.’ You’re more accountable and purposeful.’
As a reminder to the mindful, Bruzina uses nutrition management software — an app called Nutritics used by some English Premier League teams — that is themed every day.
There’s Kitchen-Tip Tuesdays, with recipes and videos from which players can learn how to marinate chicken, make their own spice blends and post photos of their creations.
The Wednesday video conference — better attended now that it’s 10:30 a.m. instead of 9:30 — provides advice and community for a group used to spending most every day from January to October together.
“It gives them the opportunity to see each other and have that social interaction we’d have at breakfast together every day,” Bruzina said.
In normal times, Loons players are fed lunch in the National Sports Center cafeteria every afternoon and a continental breakfast of sorts in the players lounge, set up with omelet and smoothie stations. They make their own.
“We’ve had a couple egg-burning disasters,” Bruzina said.
Veteran Kevin Molino might be the players’ best cook, true to the traditional spices of his Caribbean heritage and fond of rice, beans and chicken.
“And a lot of butter,” Bruzina said.
She’s asked him to spray a pan with a thin coating of oil instead of a glob of butter. With the addition of midfielder Robin Lod, she’s adjusting to the Finnish palate for the first time while educating and encouraging the entire roster of varying ages to be inquisitive and creative.
“Fueling yourself to perform well doesn’t have to be boring,” Bruzina said. “A lot of athletes think to perform well and eat well, you eat chicken, broccoli and rice four times a day. It doesn’t have to be that way.”