June is an exciting month for soccer players and fans alike. It is the 21st FIFA World Cup held in Russia. Think you have the skills to play with the best? Or maybe just a vivid dream of joining the professionals on field? Because soccer is such a demanding sport, proper nutrition for soccer players is necessary to perform at a high level. Don’t just take my word for it. According to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), “[t]alent and dedication to training are no longer enough to achieve success in football. Good nutrition has much to offer players, including improved performance, better health, and enjoyment of a wide range of foods.”
Recommendations for Soccer Nutrition
Soccer is a very demanding, high-calorie-burning sport with players covering an average distance of 7 – 9 ½ miles per game! Players must fuel their bodies properly in order to stay strong for the entirety of the match. Practice sessions can be intense and games are long so ensuring that you eat energy-providing nutrients to fuel your training, performance, and recovery is key. Female soccer players can burn an average of 1,000 calories per game and male soccer players can burn an average of 1,500 calories per game. We will take a closer look at the recommendations for macronutrient intake specific to soccer, keeping in mind that the energy needs will vary slightly among individuals.
Carbs should be a significant portion of a soccer player’s diet. During intense practice sessions and games, a player should be consuming around 5-7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. On less intense or rest days, consumption can be closer to 3-5 grams per kilogram. High-quality carbohydrates such as whole grain bread and cereal, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, milk, and yogurt are recommended. In order to maintain optimum function, limit intake of sugary, more refined carbohydrates like cookies, cake, candy, and soda.
Protein plays an important role in muscle development and maintenance. Choosing lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and dairy is important as they will promote recovery. High-fat protein foods like burgers, sausages, and ribs can leave you feeling sluggish and with possible gastrointestinal distress. Soccer players require around 1.3-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Consuming protein in higher-than-recommended amounts will not increase muscle mass more quickly. Most athletes consume adequate amounts of protein, with vegetarian athletes paying close attention to their protein intake.
No specific recommendations exist for fat intake, however, healthy fats should be a part of every athlete’s diet. Examples of healthy fats include: olives and olive oil, avocado, nuts and nut butters, and vegetable oils. Fat contains more than double the calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein so healthy fats should be eaten in moderation.
Vitamins and Minerals
If a well-balanced diet is followed, soccer players will get all of the necessary vitamins and minerals through food sources. Athletes should have at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Easy ways to incorporate fruits and veggies into a daily routine would be to add fruit to plain yogurt, have a side salad with your main meal, load up your sandwich with veggies, or snack on fruits and veggies between meals. These strategies will help you get all of the vitamins and minerals you will need.
Female soccer players require larger amounts of iron and calcium than do male soccer players. Food sources rich in iron include: meat, fish, kidney and black beans, and fortified breakfast cereals. Food sources rich in calcium include: milk, yogurt, almonds and leafy, green vegetables.
All soccer players should be well-hydrated prior to starting exercise as there are limited opportunities to drink during a match. A player can avoid dehydration from sweat loss, even on a cool day, with proper fluid and electrolyte replacement.
For most athletes, water is the best option. If you do not like the taste of plain water, you can flavor it with slices of lemons, limes, or other citrus fruits. Plan to consume about 2 cups (16 oz.) of water 2-3 hours before a workout or match. Drink another 1 cup (8 oz.) of water 10-20 minutes before the start of the match. You should also keep a water bottle near you to sip on during short breaks.
If you are participating in an all-day tournament or long, vigorous workout, a sports drink may be a better choice. Sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade contain a good balance of carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium to combat electrolyte losses from sweat. A good rule of thumb is to follow the same drinking schedule as for water, however, you should listen to your body and drink when you are thirsty.
Just like the Liverpool soccer team, you have nutrition coaches and a dietitian at your disposal here ate Elite. If you’re training to improve your athletic performance and have questions about what nutrients you need, come see me for a complimentary nutrition consultation!Schedule a Nutrition Consultation
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.