As Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger once said: “Food is like kerosene. If you put the wrong one in your car, it’s not as quick as it should be”.
Soccer is a fast paced, intense, competitive sport, and the demands on a players’ body can be incredible. During a game, a player is in constant motion for 25 to 45 minutes each half. The average soccer player can travel up to 20 kilometers per game at various speeds. To perform consistently at an optimal level nutrition needs to be a priority.
Proper nutrition not only benefits an athlete physically, but also mentally. If the brain is not well fed, then the player will not play to the best of their ability. Without the right food, a player can suffer from the inability to concentrate, can be lethargic, have visual problems and muscle cramps.
Fluid replacement is also of high concern for a soccer player. Body fluids are lost through the skin as sweat as well as through the lungs when breathing. It is best to drink before, during and after a game or training session. Avoid drinking too much at once because this can make you bloated and put you at risk of getting an upset stomach. Taking on small amounts of fluids on a regular basis is key.
What to eat: The most important thing to remember when developing a proper diet is that it must be well balanced. Soccer players need energy for performance, therefore the proportion of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and vitamins they eat is very important.
- Energy is most commonly found in complex carbohydrates. This should account for up to 70% of a soccer player’s diet, which many fail to realize. Foods containing complex carbohydrates include: rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals and fruit.
- Energy is also found in fats, but fatty foods can slow down digestion so avoid them before and after a game.
- Athletes do not need a huge daily intake of protein. About 10 to 15% of total calories is sufficient. Some good sources of protein include fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, dairy and peanut butter.
- Make sure to always include vitamins and minerals in every meal which you can find in lean red meats, grains and vegetables.
- Finally calcium helps build strong bones, which prevents injuries. Low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium.
What to Eat Before a Match: The meal before the match should consist of carbohydrates with just a little protein because proteins might cause difficulties with digestion.
You have to try and maintain glucose in the blood by giving it some carbohydrates like in pasta or rice and always in combination with vegetables and a small amount of protein, and as free from fat as possible. Fish, rice/pasta and vegetables would be the perfect meal before a match.
When to Eat: It is recommended that players eat at least 2 to 3 hours prior to games or practice. Studies have shown that when there is food in the stomach, the heart pumps large volumes of blood to the stomach to aid in digestion. When an athlete goes into a game with food in their stomach the heart will feed the working muscles, stopping the digestive process and this can cause stomach pain and cramping.
Also keep in mind that good carbohydrate intake can be achieved by snacking throughout the day, rather than three regular meals.
What to Eat After a Match
It is particularly beneficial to refuel just after practice or a game to replenish the energy stores in muscles.When the match has finished it is recommended to eat within 30 minutes after the final whistle. The reason for trying to eat as soon as possible after a match is because there is a window of recovery for the body where you can feed it with carbohydrates and protein for up to 45 minutes after physical exercise. At the end of the game, the muscles of the player are completely exhausted so in this phase you have to recover glucose and carbohydrates and you also have to restore the player’s damaged protein balance so the player is fit again for physical exercise the day after and does not suffer from muscular problems.
A cold pasta salad with tuna, eggs and chicken after the game will give a player the proteins and carbohydrates needed to rebalance their bodies.
Sources: American College of Sports Medicine at www.acsm.org, Stewart Coggin-About Sports