Soccer players cover an average of 5 to 7 miles during a match. All this sprinting, jogging and changing direction require a lot of energy. As energy levels deplete, the risk of making a bad play increases—30 percent of all goals are scored in the last 15 minutes of matches. It's critical that soccer players make their game-day nutrition a priority, so they'll have the energy to perform their best throughout the entire match.
The nutritional needs of soccer players tend to be higher than most athletes due to the constant motion and requirements of the game. Adequate consumption of all macronutrients—carbs, protein and fat—will help you maintain your performance. It's recommended that over the course of a game day, a soccer player's caloric intake should come from 55-65 percent carbohydrates, 12-15 percent protein and less than 30 percent fat. However, a recent study found that even professional soccer players often fail to hit these marks.
Pre-Game Soccer Nutrition
Soccer players spend a lot of time running up and down the field, and losing fuel in their legs contributes to "hitting the wall" during a game. Fueling properly before a game has multiple benefits:
- Prevents hypoglycemia and symptoms of light-headedness, fatigue, blurred vision and inability to make good sport-specific decisions.
- Helps settle the stomach, absorbs gastric juices and prevents you from becoming sluggish before and during exercise.
- Provides fuel for muscles and liver to obtain stored glycogen, which is used as fuel for the brain.
- Brings peace of mind knowing you have enough fuel to get through the event.
Good pre-game nutrition should occur early and often. An ideal meal is carbohydrate rich, low-glycemic for a sustained release of energy into the bloodstream, palatable and well tolerated. A pre-game meal routine might look like this:
- Eat breakfast within the first hour after waking.
- Have a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein and low-fat and fiber meal 3 to 4 hours before the game.
- Eat a snack about an hour before the opening whistle.
- 1 cup orange juice
- ¾ cup oat cereal
- Medium banana
- Wheat toast with jelly
- 1 cup low-fat yogurt
Evening Meal (if your game is at night)
- Large baked potato
- 1 tsp. trans fat-free margarine or olive oil
- 3 oz. lean turkey, chicken, fish or beef prepared with little oil
- Carrot sticks
- Fresh fruit or ½ cup fruit salad
- 1 cup low-fat milk
Snack Options (60 minutes beforehand)
- Whole grain pretzels
- Whole grain dry cereal
- Whole grain crackers
- Granola bar
- Whole grain toast
- Whole grain bagel
- Sports drink
Here's a general schedule you can follow for various game times to ensure you're fueling properly.
Early Morning Game
Eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner the night before and drink extra water throughout the previous day. Eat dry cereal, a bagel with peanut butter or oatmeal before bed. Eat your breakfast/pre-game meal between 6 and 6:30 a.m.
Eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner the night before and drink extra water throughout the previous day. Eat your breakfast/pre-game meal at 7 a.m.
Early Afternoon Game
Eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner the night before and drink extra water throughout the previous day. Eat a large high-carbohydrate breakfast with a hearty brunch or light lunch by 10 a.m.
Eat a high-carbohydrate breakfast and lunch with extra fluids. Eat dinner by 5 p.m. or a light meal between 6 and 7 p.m.
Tournament with Multiple Games
Two days before: If possible, cut back on exercise to replenish glycogen stores.
Day before: Eat a high-carbohydrate breakfast, lunch and dinner with extra fluids.
Day of: Eat a familiar high-carbohydrate breakfast. This is not a time to try new foods.
During: Consume carbohydrates every 60-90 minutes to maintain normal energy levels. High fat foods such as nuts provide sustained energy.
This is the best time to replenish your depleted energy stores and recover from intense exercise. Consume carbohydrates and protein within 30-45 minutes after a game. This is when your body is primed to easily put these nutrients to use for recovery:
- Protein provides fuel, rebuilds muscle tissue and reduces post-activity cortisol levels, which can break down muscle.
- Carbohydrate improves glycogen (i.e., stored energy) replacement and synthesis.
- Amino acids from protein help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
In general, it's best to consume 10-20 grams of protein after a game. If you're more active or seem to have trouble putting on muscle, opt for 20 grams.
Carbohydrate intake is more closely linked to your activity:
Moderate activity: 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight every hour, taken at 30-minute intervals for 4-5 hours or until you consume a full meal
Intense activity (lasting more than 90 minutes): 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight immediately after exercise, and an additional 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram two hours later.
Your post-game meal doesn't depend on the timing of your game. Whether it's in the morning, afternoon or night, refuel the exact same way.
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