Soccer is an exhilarating sport to both play and spectate. Being an athlete, you certainly know that your body has to be kept in tip-top shape if you want to perform optimally during matches. Since soccer demands a lot of energy, you need to fuel yourself with quality macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Otherwise, you will be puttering around the field instead of setting it ablaze.
Eating for soccer means eating to improve your muscle’s strength and endurance, your cardio, recovery, sleep, mood, and overall motivation. You need to take nutrition seriously if you want to better your performance.
Let’s have a look at what goes into the best diet for soccer players.
Nutrition Rules For Fueling Soccer Athletes
Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you start building a soccer player diet:
- Eat the rainbow. Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables of many colors to get the full spectrum of macro- and micronutrients.
- Eat clean. Limit your intake of simple carbohydrates (sugars), saturated and trans fats.
- Eat lean proteins. Get protein with every meal.
- Use healthy fats. This includes avocados, flax, chia seeds, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
- Select whole grain carbohydrates. These are full in fiber and chock-full of nutrients to enhance your sports performance.
- Never skip breakfast on training and game days. Your metabolism will get a kick-start, and you will feel much more energetic during your training sessions.
- Hydrate, always. Dehydration is dangerous and will decrease your game performance. Women need about 2.7 liters of water (or another hydrating fluid) throughout the day, while men need about 3.7 liters.
- Don’t skip meals. Plain and simple.
- Sleep well. Opt for 6-8 hours of restful sleep to fully repair your muscles.
- Recover wisely. Make sure you get some post-exercise nutrition, such as a sports drink, protein shake, or something similar.
Energy Demands In Soccer
Anyone who plays soccer will attest to the fact of how taxing it can be. A player can burn up to 1,500-2,000 calories in a single 90-minute match! Another study from Holland found that male elite soccer athletes will burn around 3,400 calories a day. This means that you need to pay special attention to your nutrition throughout the day, or else you will be burning into muscle for energy, leading to burnout and injury.
Here is how your macronutrient needs break down:
This is the single macronutrient that is capable of delivering immediate energy to the muscles. It is also the energy source that can be depleted rapidly during intense bouts of exercise. On average, humans store around 2,000 calories of carbohydrates within their bodies, but overnight fasts or low-carb diets will diminish the stockpiled carbohydrates.
You can cycle carbohydrates to meet your activity needs. For example, if you have a rest day, you don’t need to eat as many calories as you would before a match. Consider carb-loading to ensure you have enough of the macronutrient stored. Since a 175 lb (80 kg) person can hold about 1,200 grams of carbs (amounting to 4,800 calories), you can effectively load up energy to burn through during training and competition season.
To maintain muscle mass, soccer players need about 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body weight. However, research has shown that athletes, particularly athletes who engage in weight training, need a little more protein than that. If you want to gain more lean mass, top off your protein intake at about 1.5 grams per 1 pound. Anything over that can be harmful to your health.
The best sources of protein include lean animal meat, including chicken, turkey, beef, and pork. Always opt for organic or grass-fed sources, since that will include the most protein and other essential nutrients. You can also eat fish and shellfish, since tuna, shrimp, and salmon all have high levels of healthy fats, minimal cholesterol, and are high in protein. Lastly, eggs.
You might be thinking that eating fat will cause you to get fat, but that is not necessarily true. Any macronutrient that is eaten in excess may lead to fat gain, especially too many simple carbohydrates. Fats, on the other hand, are vital to your health and used for energy. If you are getting the adequate amount of fats, you will notice that you look and feel healthier, your muscles recover faster, and you will even lose some weight.
Your brain also needs fat to function—especially since most of the brain is made of fat. Fats are also required for hormone production. Without the right balance of hormones, your blood pressure might skyrocket or plummet, or you could experience inflammation and other painful issues.
Now, there are two kinds of fat: the good kind and the bad kind. Let’s introduce you to the fats that will do nothing to help you (but will clog your arteries and disrupt your hormone balance):
- Trans fatty acids. These were invented when someone took super-healthy polyunsaturated fats and decided to process them, thus giving the trans fat a longer shelf life. Now we know that trans fats are one of the most dangerous additions to food, since they can cause heart disease.
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Avoid these fats. They have been altered to have a higher melting point. Unfortunately, despite making things like Skippy super-smooth, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils will trick your body into holding onto fat and clogging your arteries.
- Omega-6 cooking oil. Another manufactured fat. Consuming excessive amounts of omega-6 oils, which are mainly used in deep frying, has been proven by science to increase the chance of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and several autoimmune diseases.
In short, avoid these fats at all costs.
Instead, eat good fats, such as the ones listed below:
- Saturated fats. Various resources will tell you to only consume 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats, but there have been indigenous tribes throughout the world who consumed up to 70% of their calories in the form of saturated fats. Plus, there is the ketogenic diet to consider. Of course, as an athlete, you do not want 50-70% of your calories coming from fat. Still you should be eating saturated fat, since it’s the best food for boosting testosterone.
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Healthy fats like omega-3 and omega-6 are necessary for joints, bones, concentration, energy, and muscles. These essential fatty acids also protect your body from free radicals and revent a range of diseases and ailments.
- Monounsaturated fats. These fats are found in things like peanut butter, pistachios, avocados, and olive oil. They help reduce bad cholesterol, aid in fat loss, and also accelerate your metabolism while promoting feelings of satiety.
The Soccer Player’s Diet
With the details of macronutrients fresh in your mind, it is time to have a look at the macro ratios you will be dealing with. In other words, the caloric ranges you will be shooting for per macronutrient.
During training and competition season, your calorie needs equal 22-24 calories times your bodyweight in pounds. So, if you are 160 pounds, your daily caloric needs will be 3,560-3,840 calories, with some added variance for men and women, age, and activity levels.
Here’s how that breaks down as macronutrients.
- Protein: Opt for 1.0-1.5 grams per 1 pound of body weight. Make about 15-20% of your intake protein.
- Carbohydrates: Aim for 55-60% of your daily calories come from complex carbohydrates.
- Fat: Aim for 20-25% fat calories per day.
A balanced meal—or a single idea for dinner—will look like this during training:
- A large serving of a whole grain, such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta
- Tomato sauce
- 4-6 oz of chicken, fish, or shellfish
- Mixed greens and vegetable salad or steamed vegetables
- Small dessert of fresh fruit (like strawberries) and 1 serving of ice cream
Now, how does that pan out during competitions? How can you time your meals and nutrition to keep you energized through matches? That’s covered next.
Hydration Needs For Soccer
As mentioned earlier, female athletes need around 2.7 liters of fluid a day, and men need 3.7 liters. During competition season, this will definitely increase, because you will be sweating and shedding a lot of electrolytes. You do not want to become dehydrated in the middle of a match, because your performance will fall rapidly. Dehydration impacts speed, agility, and decision-making skills worst of all.
Therefore, you should have a couple of water bottles nearby. Focus on drinking about 200-600mL of fluids before a match or starting a training session. Whenever you get an opportunity, grab a quick drink. Water is okay for days when you are not sweating much, but when you are playing a long game or doing a high intensity workout, you will need a sports drink to refuel your energy stores and replenish electrolytes.
Do not forget to rehydrate after training or matches, as well, since lack of hydration can lead to muscle cramping and hindered recovery.
What To Eat Before a Soccer Match
Before a game, you will need to be adequately fueled. Since every person is unique, you might have different needs; but ideally, you will want to eat some fast digesting carbohydrates and a little fat. This will help with pre-game jitters, too.
Here are some suitable pre-game snacks or meals to try:
- Spinach wrap stuffed with couscous, grilled chicken, and salad greens with dressing
- Warmed bowl of oatmeal with almond milk, fresh fruit, and some yogurt
- Beef stroganoff pasta
- Tomato or butternut squash soup with crackers or a whole grain roll and salad
- Tofu or chicken stir-fry with mixed vegetables
Eat these about 2-3 hours before the match. Then, within 1-2 hours before the game starts, have a light snack, such as a banana with nuts or apple slices with some peanut butter. Some people like toast or crackers with hummus. If you cannot each before a match, you can always drink a meal replacement shake or a small smoothie.
What To Eat and Drink During Soccer Games
Always start a match hydrated, because you will not get many chances during a game. Be sure you are producing clear urine, since that is the best indicator to how hydrated you are.
Half-time is the only chance most soccer players have to get a quick snack. Players were are within midfield usually have the most work to do and will need quick carbohydrates for energy. Granola bars, fruit salad, and energy bars, gels, and sports drinks are all excellent decisions.
Post-Match Meals For Soccer Athletes
Once the match is offering, you are not yet done with your nutrition. Recovery is critical—and nutrition is going to ensure you are giving you body what it needs to do its job. Replace your fluids with water and sports drinks.
Have a snack after the match and then try to get a meal within 2-3 hours after the game. Here are some options for recovery meals:
- Burritos with vegetables, rice, cheese, and avocado—meat optional
- Muesli with yogurt, chocolate, nuts, and fruit
- Dairy-based smoothie with greens and fruit
- Tuna or chicken salad sandwich on rye bread
- Pumpkin or squash ravioli with asparagus or peppers with a cream sauce
Again, if solid foods do not go down easily, you can always have a nutritional shake.
Wrapping Up The Soccer Player Diet
That is the basics for soccer player nutrition. With this, you should now be able to plan meals for yourself or a soccer player you know. Having the right balance of macronutrients and timing the beverages and meals correctly will give you boundless energy and boost your performance, so you can be the champion you are meant to be.
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