Emily Mardell has been in sports nutrition for nearly a decade and has held the role of FC Edmonton’s performance dietitian since the team’s inaugural season. However, her passion and love for sport started long before then.
Mardell was raised in a soccer and power sports family, so when the opportunity arose to work with FC Edmonton, it seemed like a natural fit.
“I was interested in the position simply because it gave me the opportunity to educate and promote sports nutrition, support our athletes in terms of their health, well-being, injury prevention, and performance,” she told CanPL.ca.
Mardell primarily spends her time in sports and family nutrition, including work with younger athletes. She aims to create a foundation of nutrition and good practices in athletes so they can perform to the best of their ability and get the most out of their careers.
When it comes to getting players on board, Mardell discloses it doesn’t take much convincing: “Our athletes want to know what’s going to make them faster, stronger, score more goals, or get to the ball ahead of opposing players.”
Mardell’s role almost resembles that of a translator, taking evidence-based practices and relaying them to athletes in practical terms that are easy to understand. Her goal is to not only inform the players on what they should be eating, but how and why a new nutrition practice is going to enhance their game on the pitch as well.
“Food is a fuel, it’s a tool. It’s in your kit the same way you have your cleats and your barbell. Sound nutrition is a foundational piece for all that you do,” she said
Whenever a new player joins FCE, often from different walks of life all over the world, Mardell stresses it’s normal to go through an adjustment period and to take time to settle into a new environment and routine.
“I always strive to make recommendations that respect and reflect the cultures, food beliefs, values, and nutritional needs of each and every one of our players,” she said.
“There’s not one way to eat healthy. Healthy eating patterns take many different shapes and forms. Crafting what your optimal athlete eating plan is takes time and effort.
In short, there is no “one size fits all” solution to nutrition, there is a process behind finding which diet and routine works best for each player. It’s a personalized approach. Mardell often starts by getting players to self-monitor and maintain food journals on when and what they are eating. From there she works to identify areas where an athlete may be under fueling.
“We try not to overwhelm with information when we don’t need to. If we have an athlete that has good practice, we reinforce that behavior and then identify any gaps and try to fill them in” she said. “I can say that our athletes are very responsive and open to information. They’re hungry for sound knowledge to be able to use their nutrition to their benefit.”
Now more than ever, soccer players are more aware of their bodies and what they can do off the field to maximize their abilities on it. Mardell explains that they know when they’re at their best performance weight or when they’re conditioned, and it is her responsibility to filter through this information and find out how nutrition can be optimized to help them.
Her goal is to create an open and comfortable culture where players are encouraged to ask questions about nutrition. She stays accessible through call and text, and adds with a laugh that some players even call her from the grocery store seeking her advice.
Throughout the pre-season and season, Mardell often hosts meetings and presentations to provide this information to the players, but has shifted to a remote distribution system as a result of the quarantine.
“I provide general nutritional guidelines for easy, moderate, and hard training days so our athletes have a good foundational knowledge as to how they need to adjust the amount of energy on their plates” she said.
Mardell seeks this constant feedback so she can tweak the players meals as training for the season progresses.
FCE players can utilize a private portal that grants them access to a library of presentations, videos, info-graphics, and recipes that Mardell has curated or created herself so they don’t have to filter through the flood of information online on their own.
While this system has worked given the circumstances, Mardell admits there is no replacement for the face-to-face interaction at team meals where she can organically explain to players what they are eating and why.
“Having that mental shift to talk about nutrition, problem solve, or create a mini action plan for the week for them to work on that’s really when we would do that,” she said.
Being a sports dietitian, Mardell is certainly no stranger to adapting: “You have to embrace that it’s dynamic. Training conditions change: humidity, temperature, altitude. We have to make adjustments all the time for where we’re playing and what we’re doing throughout the season.”
Mardell’s relationship with the players goes both ways, and she often finds herself learning more about different foods and cuisines as athletes from all around the world make their way to Edmonton.
“Food is that great reminder that we’re a team, we’re an organization but ultimately we’re a football family,” she said.
While Mardell finds that each athlete’s game-day meal and eating plan is different, there is one commonality across all the players at FC Edmonton: a strong motivation.
“I can’t say enough about the players in terms of their respect for nutrition and their willingness to improve on every level. It’s my honour to work with them,” she said
“When you have the willingness of an athlete, which is not in any short supply here, that’s where they’re really able to reach their full performance potential.”