A Quick Guide to Soccer Player’s Nutrition

Nutritional Action Planning

Identifying Foods, Groups and Their Influence

To have enough energy and muscle to perform sports, an athlete needs to consume enough energy and muscle foods. By eating enough calories from a variety of foods, you will satisfy your need for carbohydrates, proteins, fat and vitamins and minerals to create that energy. Children must work with their parents in developing a plan like this.

Different carbohydrate foods can affect your energy level in different ways. A note here is that we should beware of the idea that simple carbohydrates (quick energy foods?) are always digested rapidly and cause wide swings in blood sugar and that all complex carbohydrates (slow energy foods?) are digested more slowly and don’t cause blood sugar fluctuations.

A high-carbohydrate diet increases stores of glycogen, the energy for muscles, and improves overall athletic performance. The bulk of the day’s calories (60% to 70%) should come from carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, grains, pasta, vegetables, and fruit. This is important because if you exercise for longer than an hour, you can begin to deplete your muscles of glycogen. After a game, depleted muscle glycogen stores must be replenished, especially if the player will be exercising again within the next 8-12 hours.

Balance of Nutrients

Carefully planned nutrition must provide an energy balance and a nutrient balance.

Fats – one source of energy and important in relation to fat soluble vitamins
Vitamins – play important roles in many chemical processes in the body
Proteins – essential to growth and repair of muscle and other body tissues
Carbohydrates – our main source of energy
Minerals – inorganic elements occurring in the body and which are critical to its normal functions
Roughage – the fibrous indigestible portion of our diet essential to health of the digestive system
Water – essential to normal body function if only because 60% of the human body is water

About Fluids

Fluid intake is critically important.

If a player consumes too much water in a short period of time his body will lose an excessive amount of electrolytes (ie sodium and potassium) in urine. This change in normal levels of electrolytes and fluids in your body immediately before an event puts you at a greater risk for complications. Dehydration and electrolyte are common problems in tournaments of this nature, especially in hot and humid environments because dehydration will more often than not lead to decreased performance.

During a game, players sweat out from two to five litres of fluid per game. Even the lower figure could raise heart rate and body temperature during a match and can reduce running performance. The sports-drink-intake plan described above combined with sips of sports drink during injury time-outs can help to reduce the impact of dehydration.

Although water and carbohydrates must be taken together, players don’t need to worry about replacing electrolytes during play. Sweat is a dilute fluid with low concentrations of electrolytes, and most players can obtain enough electrolytes, including salt, from their normal diets. However, the presence of salt in a sports drink can enhance the absorption of water and glucose. Most commercial drinks have about the right concentration of sodium but if you’re making your own beverage, be sure to mix about one-third tea spoon of salt and five to six tablespoons of sugar with each quart of water.

After matches, players should ingest enough carbohydrate sports drinks to replace all the fluid they’ve lost during competition. After strenuous workouts, water should also be replaced and athletes need to eat at least 500 calories of carbohydrate during the two hours following practice in order to maximize their rates of glycogen storage.

Sample Nutritional Action Plan (NAP)

The meals are broken down into whatever shift eating habits the athlete finds suits his individual needs best (ie. 3 meals per day or as many as 6 smaller meals daily)

Pre-Competitive (2 Days Prior To Competition)

There is a NAP in place
8 – 10 glasses of water daily (based on measured pre and post workout hydration weight measurements)
As one of the building blocks for energy, food intake should consist of around 70% carbohydrates including breads, pastas, cereals, baked potatoes, rice, beans, bananas and pastries
Low fat meals
Low fat cheese
Ensure foods are solid in iron content
Cereals with low fat milk
Peanut butter sandwiches
Pasta meals with tomatoe sauces
As one of the building blocks of muscle, meals should include chicken, turkey, lean meats and beef, fish and egg whites

Competition Day

There is a NAP in place
Hydration is important and the player should consume 100 ? 200 ml of water during the game and approximately 20 ounces of fluids 2-3 hours before game time.
Have a carbohydrate breakfast in the morning. Breakfast could include cereal with low fat milk, lean meats, low fat cheese, bread, bagels and muffins
If the player drinks coffee regularly, then continued consumption could be beneficial prior to the game (be cautious)
One to two hours prior to the game, the pre-game meal could include vegetable juices or fruit juices, fruit or energy bar (with water)

Soccer players should eat and drink like marathon runners.

During a game, the average soccer player runs approximatley 10 kilometres at a fairly modest speed, sprints on average about 1,000 metres, accelerates around 50 different times and changes direction every five seconds. The connection between soccer players and long-distance endurance athletes might seem strange since soccer is a game involving sudden sprints and bursts of energy rather than continuous moderate-intensity running, but the connection doesn’t seem so out of place if you consider what happens during an actual soccer match.

Although soccer players don’t cover a full marathon (42 kilometres) during a game, the alternating fast and slow running which they utilize can easily deplete their leg-muscle glycogen stores much like a marathon runner.

For example, just six seconds of all-out sprinting can trim muscle glycogen by 15 per cent, and only 30 seconds of upscale running can reduce glycogen concentrations by 30 per cent. High performance players spend in excess of two-thirds of a typical match at 85 per cent of maximal heart rate which accelerates glycogen depletion. This, plus the time duration of a 90 minute soccer match is more than enough to empty leg muscles of most of their glycogen. Research suggests that soccer players sometimes deplete 90 per cent of their muscle glycogen during a match, more than enough to heighten fatigue and dramatically reduce running speeds.

How Much Do (Should) Players Eat

Many players are not aware of the importance of dietary carbohydrates. Studies show that large numbers of players eat only 1,200 calories of carbohydrates daily, which is far below the optimal level of 2,400-3,000 carbohydrate calories. As a result, many players begin games with glycogen levels which are sub-par. these same players who start a match with low glycogen usually have little carbohydrates left in their muscles by the time the second half starts.

This leads to “flat” or seemingly uninspired performances during the second half. Glycogen-poor soccer players usually run more slowly – by as much as 50 percent – during the second halves of matches, compared to the first. Compared to competitors with normal glycogen, low-glycogen players spend more time walking and less time sprinting as a game advances in time. In fact, the total distance covered during the second half is often reduced by 25 per cent or more in players who have low glycogen, indicating that overall quality of play deteriorates as glycogen levels head south.

Taking in carbohydrates during games or practices can pay big dividends.

Just sipping a sports drink at random before games and at half-time probably won’t do much good as players must be sure they take in adequate carbohydrates to really make a difference to their muscles. An excellent strategy is to drink about 12-14 ounces of sports drink, which usually provides about 30 grams of carbohydrate, 10-15 minutes before a match begins. It is important to remember is that through experience, trying out drinking strategies on several different occasions during games/practices will help develop comfortable intake plans for players and this will help reduce the risk of carbohydrate depletion.


Soccer players should also eat a small meal containing at least 600 calories of carbohydrates about two hours before a competition.

Players should try to ‘taper’ for a few days before matches, reducing their intensity and quantity of training in order to avoid carbohydrate depletion. During the taper and during all periods of heavy training, players should attempt to ingest 9-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight (16-18 calories per pound of body weight) each day.

Grazing (eating two to four daily high-carbohydrate snacks in addition to three regular meals) can help players carry out this high-carbo plan successfully. However, carbohydrates are not the only nutritional concern for players.