Nutrition in Soccer and other sports
Nutrition is very important for health and football performance. In fact the quality of your diet is the second biggest determinant of football performance, second only to football training.
The Food Pyramid
Half of your diet should be made up of bread, rolls, bagels, pasta, rice, cereals. These foods contain carbohydrate, the main source of energy your body uses while playing soccer. Make sure that around half of every meal is made up of the bottom of the pyramid. You should be eating at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. These contain vitamins that help you produce energy during sports or soccer.
Fact- A glass of fruit juice counts as one piece of fruit.
Milk, yogurt or cheese should be eaten 3 times a day. These foods contain protein and calcium, which helps build strong muscle and bone. Try eating a handful of nuts each day. Meat, chicken or fish should be eaten twice daily. Red meat should be eaten once or twice a week to make sure you get enough Iron. Iron helps carry oxygen in the blood. Oxygen is important for making energy. Chocolate/sweets/ice-cream etc should be eaten rarely (Treats). Instead eat an extra piece of fruit.
- When you are well hydrated (drink enough fluids) you can control your body temperature and can produce energy more efficiently. When you do not drink enough fluids your performance decreases.
- Carrying a bottle everywhere you go helps to increase fluid intake. Try to drink at least 2 and a half litres of fluid a day. Preferably water and other options include Milk, juice can count towards your fluid intake.
Meals before Training/Matches
Eating before a match or training is very important and effects how well you play. When playing football your body uses mostly carbohydrates for energy. Your body has a limited store of carbohydrate, which it keeps in the muscles. The more carbohydrate stores in your muscle the longer you can keep up sprinting/ jumping maximally and concentrating in training and matches.
By eating Pre-match meals you top up your carbohydrate stores helping you to out perform your opponents. Pre-match meals should be eaten roughly 3-4 hours before kickoff
- If you find it difficult to eat before a match try eating liquid foods such as smoothies or even water
- Sample a few exercise meals and decide which ones are best for you
- Snacks before Training/Matches
- You should try to eat a snack 60-90 minutes before kick-off. This further tops up your carbohydrate stores. For examples of pre match snacks see Table 1.
- When playing away games and long journeys make sure to bring a snack with you.
- If you get stomach cramps or are uncomfortable eating so close to training/matches, experiment with different eating times, and liquid snacks such as some sports drinks (See post on Sports drinks), home made one preferably.
- Foods from Table 2 are best but if unavailable choose foods from either table.
- To make sure you are hydrated drink 500ml of fluid 2 hours before training/kick-off.
- Drink a further 200-400ml over the course of the last 10 minutes before training/kick-off.
- If it is uncomfortable or there is fluid sloshing around in you’re your stomach stop drinking.
- During the match make sure to drink at least two full mouthfuls every 15-20 minutes, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Thirst is a very bad indication of when your body needs water. Leave water bottles around the pitch for easy access and grab a drink whenever you can. Try not to leave it until half time to start drinking.
Hydrating After a training or a game
- After the match or training it is important to restore the fluids you lost through sweating. If you do not do this it can affect your performance in the next match or training session. (Especially if in a tournament)
- Weigh yourself before and after each training session and match (only wear a pair of shorts). When you sweat during exercise you lose water weight. This needs to be replaced. Drink 1.5 litres of fluid for each kilogram you have lost.
- Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and can help you maintain your performance throughout training or matches. (Sports drinks are not suitable for kids)
Home Made Sports Drinks
- Homemade sports drinks are just as good if not better than commercial sports drinks
- To make a homemade sports drink, mix equal amounts of fruit juice and water. Then add a pinch of salt (one pinch for every 500ml) and shake well.
- Make enough for the whole match and for afterwards (at least 2 litres).
- You can use fruit cordial instead just make sure the ratio of water to cordial to water is around 1:8. Remember the pinch of salt.
- Milk and water can all be used to replace sweat losses after training or a match. Chocolate Milk is also great.
Eating After Training
- It is important to eat early after training, within 2 hours. Eating early speeds up recovery and replaces your muscle carbohydrate stores.
- At least part of meals after training or matches should include foods from Table 3.
- If you do not feel like eating a lot straight after training or matches, eat snacks and try liquid snacks such as smoothies or yogurt drinks. Eat a meal as soon as you can.
Pre-match meals should be eaten roughly 3-4 hours before kickoff
Food Tables 1, 2 and 3
- For examples of Pre exercise Meals see Table 1
- List of certain foods that are best eaten Pre training and matches also see Table 1.
- For a list of Pre Match Foods See Table 2
- For a list of After Match Foods See Table 2
Table 2 is a Pre match Food list Click here → Table 1 & 2 – Pre Match Meals, Snacks & Food
Table 3 is a After Match Food list Click Here → Table 3 – After Match Foods
The Food Groups
Your diet will need to be high in complex carbohydrates. It will need to have moderate amounts of protein, salt, sugars, and sodium. It should be low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
All this may sound quite complicated. Yet in fact it is quite simple. You can easily follow the guidelines by eating in a balanced way, including a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups that nutritionists recognise Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk and Meat.
Carbohydrates: Active, soccer-player should get around 50 to 60% of their total calories in the form of carbohydrates. They are the fuel that makes your muscles go. That means around 3.0 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Carbohydrates should be the largest part of your meals both before training or a game and after. You should even plan to boost your carbohydrate intake during a game with a drink, which is also important for rehydration.
The best type of carbohydrates are rich in nutrients and obtained from complex (Starchy) carbohydrates found in Vegetables, Breads, Cereals, Pasta, and Rice, Rather than the simple (sweet) carbohydrates found in Milk and Fruits.
Protein: Many people mistakenly think that a diet rich in the protein found in milk and meat helps build muscle and physical performance. In fact a well balanced diet has only 10 to 15% of its calories in the form of protein. Excess protein will stress the Kidneys and lead to dehydration and calcium loss. Muscle size is dependent on sufficient calories from a balanced diet, physical maturity, genetics and training.
Fat: Fat in moderation remains an important part of a balanced diet for a soccer player, and around 20 to 30% of your calories should come from fat. Fat is important for many of your functions. It is a secondary source of energy to fuel your muscles and is essential for brain and nerve function. Fat provides essential vitamins A, E, D, K and omega 3 fatty acids which help you recover quickly by reducing inflammation and swelling when you get injured.
Tips on eating and drinking before and after a game:
Build up your calorie intake in the days leading up to a game to ensure your muscles contain a good store of glycogen the agent that powers you. On the day of a game remember that soccer is a stop and go sport that requires fluids and carbohydrates throughout the day of the game.
The night before and 2-3 hours before a game focus on carbohydrates, moderate protein, low fat foods and fluids (pasta with vegetables and chicken, fruit, skimmed milk, cereal, yoghurt, toast, juice (See Table 1). Help your muscles recover fast eat and/or drink a high Carb Snack within 30 minutes after the game.
Young people have different fluid needs to an adult and are more likely to get overheated when playing in hot weather, although fluid loss should also be replenished during cold weather.
You should drink around 150ml to 300ml of a suitable fluid every 20 minutes or so during a game or during training, and keep drinking after exercise even if you do not feel thirsty.
Note: The above is based on various books and research and is only a guide.