For soccer fans, the start of summer 2018 can only mean one thing: the FIFA World Cup!
Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar are all set to dazzle their fans and renew their quest for the World Cup title and the Golden Ball. This year the tournament is set to take place in Russia and features 32 international soccer teams from around the world.
What better time to talk soccer nutrition than during the excitement building towards the World Cup?!
Soccer is an intermittent team-based sport, which means that players are continually stopping and starting, with a cycle of running, sprinting, and standing. Because of this cycle, soccer players usually have lean bodies – an advantage for sports that require speed.
As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, it is no surprise that athletes require higher amounts of nutrient intake than the average person. High nutrient needs are primarily to fuel elevated activity levels and repair muscle at a quick rate, but may also be to reach a specific weight or body composition required by the sport.
Different sports, as well as different positions within a sport, require different amounts of nutrients due to factors like distance covered or speed or muscle needed. Muscle glycogen is the primary energy source for athletes during a game; it is provided to the body through carbohydrate intake, which is why it’s essential that athletes consume the appropriate amount of carbs.
Daily Soccer Nutrition
Let’s take a look at what your diet should look like overall before we get into the details of training nutrition.
Most importantly, as a soccer player, you need to eat enough calories. If you don’t eat sufficiently to fuel exercise, you risk having low energy availability. As you can imagine, if you don’t have enough energy available before you hit the soccer pitch this will compromise your performance. Energy is not a good thing to get behind on when you are playing 60 matches per season – sometimes playing multiple matches a week – which doesn’t leave a lot of time for recovery.
Elite soccer players have been found to expend an average of 1107 kcal of energy during a match and as high as 3442-3824kcal training days. This is over and above what they are metabolizing at rest. You may not burn as many calories but try and eat a bit more on your more intense and longer training days and a bit less on your rest days.
Keep in mind that when playing soccer outdoors, outside temperature can also affect your calorie needs. Playing in extreme cold or heat will also necessitate an increase in energy intake.
Let’s look at specific macronutrient (“big” nutrient) needs. An elite soccer player should be consuming, daily:
- 5-10 g/kg* of their body weight in carbs
- 1.2-2.0 g/kg in protein
- Less than 20% of their total intake should be from fat
It is always important for athletes to consume enough fluid to avoid dehydration.
*Handy fact: to convert your weight from pounds to kilograms divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. For example, a 150 lb person is 68.2 kg or 150 kg/2.2=68.2 kg.
Not unlike other running sports, focus on carbs as your primary way to fuel your soccer play.
Prior to a match, consume foods that total to meet the following guidelines:
- 1-4 g/kg of your body weight in carbs
- 0.25-0.4 g/kg in protein
Avoid high-fat foods before hitting the pitch. Eating fat before exercise can cause gastrointestinal problems or stomach pains – not what you want when you’re going to be running 5 to 13 km over the course of the game, depending upon your level of play.
As a soccer player you should also pay close attention to your pre-game fluid intake:
- Drink 5-7 ml/kg of body weight of water at least 4 hours before a match and,
- Drink 3-5 ml/kg 2 hours before the game if you are at risk of dehydration.
Mid-game is when nutrition falls apart for many players. Remind yourself to fuel during games to provide sustained energy and reduce fatigue.
The need to take in carbs during the game is a function of your position and playing time. If you spend most of the time on the bench, water is enough for you. If you are on the field for much of the game and your game takes over an hour you may benefit from a mid-game snack.
Mid-game, munch a snack that contains 30-60g of carbs. This carb boost has been shown to provide beneficial effects in soccer players’ performance. Many players find sports drinks helpful. You can make your own, or rely on a commercial drink. Just make sure the fluid has a 6-8% solution of glucose, sucrose, or maltodextrin. (This amount has shown to provide just the right amount to improve at least one soccer-related skill and improve time to fatigue.)
Post-game nutrition is an excellent opportunity to eat for muscle and full body recovery.
If your team has another match to play within 72 hours, the recommendations for post-game meals are strict: 1-1.2g/kg/hour of carbs or 0.8g/kg of carbs plus 0.4g/kg/hour of protein.
If your next match is more than 72 hours after, focus on protein. Eat 0.25-0.4g/kg of protein immediately after exercise to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and eat carbs and fats as desired.
Finally, make sure to rehydrate well. Replenish all fluids and electrolytes lost during the match. But, be mindful of which fluids you choose. Alcohol can be a big part of post-game celebrations. Take a page out of the book of professional soccer teams and limit or avoid alcohol in the 24 hours after a game. This practice helps you rehydrate optimally and maximize the recovery of carbohydrate stores.
Let’s Talk Intake vs. Position
The energy you expend in soccer varies based on the position the athlete plays.
In soccer, the longest distance covered by any position is about 12-13km, which is the average amount covered by a midfielder during a match. Following midfielders are defenders, who run an average of 10km per match, and forwards who average 9km per match.
Both the distance covered and the intensity (or speed) at which it is covered predict how many calories you need. While soccer forwards run less distance they do more sprinting. As a result, forwards need to include more carbohydrates in their diet to have enough glucose in their bodies to be able to produce ATP to fuel their sprints.
What do soccer players eat in the real world? A group of researchers at Universidad de Oviedo and San Pablo-CEU University in Spain found that right-backs and left-backs, defensive midfielders, and left and right midfielders had higher carbohydrate intakes. Their intake was 3.9-6.4g/kg body weight, which is approximately 42-52% of their total energy intake. Goalkeepers and sweepers consumed fewer carbs at 2.9-5.4g/kg body weight, which is about 38-47% total energy intake. These findings are most likely due to the distance covered by these players or the differences in distance walked, run, or sprinted.
Challenge! Fuel like the Greats
Want to play like Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar? Hmmm … this may take the right genes and many years of practice. Want to eat like the greats? This is much more achievable.
Proper nutrition is important for everyone, athlete or not, but athletes risk so much by not paying close attention to making sure their energy intake is sufficient. With a low energy intake, an athlete can expect to see a decrease in athletic performance, an early onset of fatigue, and the inability for muscles to recover properly.
With a little practice and planning, you can fuel your soccer play with enough energy to prevent fatigue, with sufficient carbs to keep you quick, with protein to make you strong and with fluids to help you regulate your body temperature and prevent dehydration.
Nutritional planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one on one or group nutritional counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. Also, the Food For Thought Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!