Soccer Player Diet Nutrition Tips for Optimal Performance

Soccer Player Diet: Nutrition Tips for Optimal Performance

Soccer Player Diet: Nutrition Tips for Optimal Performance

It can be helpful for soccer players to know the best diet to follow to support their sports nutrition needs. Let’s take a look at the energy demands of soccer. We will then explore three sports nutrition tips for soccer players to support optimal performance.

Understanding the Energy Demands of Soccer

Soccer is a sport that requires a high amount of energy.  Players need physical endurance, speed, and agility to excel on the field.

Depending on the position played, professional soccer players run between 6-7 miles per game (1). The running is interspersed with sprints and sudden changes in directions, demanding high levels of energy.  

Based on the energy demands of the sport, it is important for soccer players to have a diet plan in place that supports their nutrition needs.

Energy Demands of Soccer

Key Components of a Soccer Player’s Diet

When building a healthy diet for soccer players, it is important to include carbohydrates, lean protein, anti-inflammatory foods, and healthy, unsaturated fats.

Soccer Player Diet: Carbohydrates for Energy on the Field

Carbohydrates provide the body with the energy needed to perform at its best. Athletes can get carbohydrates in the diet from a variety of sources, including: grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, milk, and yogurt.

Similar to gas for a car, carbohydrates provide fuel for the body to run on. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after activity is important for supporting optimal performance on the soccer field.

The carbohydrate needs of soccer players vary based upon the intensity and duration of the workout or game. Thus, soccer players need more carbohydrates (gas in their tank) on days they will be exercising more intensely or for a longer duration than on low-intensity workout days or off-days (2). 

Soccer Player Diet: Protein to Build and Repair Muscles             

Consuming lean protein throughout the day with meals and snacks is important for soccer players. Protein has many important roles in the body, including supporting athletes with building and maintaining lean muscle mass. 

To get the most benefit from protein intake, athletes are encouraged to consume protein throughout the day with meals and snacks (3).  Ideas for lean sources of protein that soccer players can add to their sports nutrition diet include:

  • Milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Chicken, turkey, seafood, pork, lean cuts of red meat
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Soy protein: Tofu, edamame, soy milk
Soccer Player Diet Protein Needs

Soccer Player Diet: Healthy, Unsaturated Fats

Soccer players should also make sure to include healthy, unsaturated fats in their diets. Dietary fat plays many important roles in the body. 

The body needs fat for the absorption, transportation, and storage of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, K).  Fat provides an energy source for the body, helps protect internal organs, and provides structure to cell walls.  Essential fatty acids are also necessary for optimal brain function. 

Ideas for healthy, unsaturated fats that soccer players can add to their sports nutrition diet include:

  • Fatty Fish: Salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel (contain omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Avocados
  • Nuts, nut butters, seeds
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Liquid vegetable oils: Canola, corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower

Soccer Player Diet: Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Finally, a well-planned sports nutrition diet for soccer players should include foods that can help reduce inflammation in the body and enhance recovery.

Consider adding the following anti-inflammatory foods to your soccer diet plan:

  • Fruit – Particularly berries and cherries
  • Leafy greens and a variety of vegetables
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Herbs and spices
Anti-Inflammatory Foods in Soccer Player Diet

Soccer Player Diet: Nutrition Tips for Optimal Performance

Now that you have an understanding of the basic components of a soccer player’s diet, let’s look at three sports nutrition tips for optimal performance.

Soccer Nutrition Tip #1: Fuel Your Activity

When it comes to optimal performance on the field, soccer players want to ensure they go into workouts and competitions well fueled.

When determining what to eat before a soccer game or practice, athletes should consider how much time they have prior to the start of the activity.

Pre-Game Meal Ideas for Soccer Players

When soccer players have 3-4 hours before the start of the activity, they should plan to eat a pre-game meal that contains a good source of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of lean protein, and is relatively low in fat and fiber.

Example meals soccer players can enjoy before a workout or competition include:

  • Pancakes topped with fresh berries, scrambled eggs
  • Bagel with nut butter, fruit smoothie
  • Turkey sub sandwich, pretzels, apple slices, low-fat milk
  • Grilled chicken, steamed rice, green beans, sliced melon, dinner rolls
  • Pasta with marinara (tomato sauce), turkey meatballs, vegetables, breadsticks
Fuel Your Activity Energy for Soccer Games

Pre-Game Snacks for Soccer Players

When soccer players have less time before the start of the game or practice, they should focus on eating easy to digest carbohydrate-rich pre-game snacks.

In the hour or two before activity, athletes can enjoy the following snacks for energy on the soccer field:

  • Small piece of fresh fruit
  • Applesauce squeeze, dried fruit
  • Mini-bagel, fig bar, low-fat granola bar
  • Pretzels, pita chips, snack crackers
  • Dry breakfast cereal, graham crackers, animal crackers
  • Sports drink, chews, or gels

Soccer Nutrition Tip #2: Recover After a Workout

Following a soccer game or practice, athletes should focus on consuming food and drinks that can support them with recovering from the activity.

Recovery nutrition is particularly important when the amount of time between workouts or soccer games is limited.  This includes soccer players who are competing in tournaments, have back-to-back days of intense workouts, or who are doing multiple workouts in a single day.

There are three key concepts soccer players should keep in mind to support recovery from activity: 

  1. Fluid and electrolytes: Rehydrate to replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
  2. Carbohydrates: Refill energy stores used during the activity
  3. Protein: Build and repair muscles
Recover After Soccer Games

Recovery Nutrition Snack Ideas for Soccer Players

If it will be several hours prior to the next meal, soccer players should plan to eat a snack following their practice or game.  Quick and easy recovery nutrition snack ideas include:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk and granola bars
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with low-fat milk
  • Greek yogurt, berries, and granola
  • Post-workout fruit smoothie
  • Ham and cheese wrap with sports drink
  • Trail mix with pretzels, dried fruit, nuts, and dry cereal with sports drink
  • Sports bar with sports drink

Recovery Nutrition Meal Ideas for Soccer Players

Soccer players should follow-up their recovery nutrition snack with a well-balanced meal in the next couple of hours.  Ideas for post-workout meals include:

  • Burrito bowl with rice, chicken, black beans, corn salsa, guacamole and a sports drink
  • Pasta with lean meat sauce, salad, breadsticks, low-fat milk
  • Grilled pork chop, brown rice, grilled asparagus, fresh sliced fruit, tart cherry juice
  • Grilled salmon, sweet potato, steamed broccoli, dinner rolls, 100% fruit juice

Importance of Sleep for Recovery

It is important for soccer players to remember that getting adequate amounts of quality sleep is a key component of recovery from activity. Lack of sleep is associated with slowed-reaction time, fatigue, decreased immune function, difficulty concentrating, and impaired athletic performance (45).

The amount of sleep soccer players needs each night varies by age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following (6, 7):

  • Youth 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep per night
  • Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours of sleep per night
  • Adults: 7 or more hours of sleep per night

Soccer Nutrition Tip #3: Hydrate

Soccer players should make hydration a daily priority, as it is important for both health and performance. 

Dehydration increases the risk of heat illness, especially when exercising in a hot and humid environment.  In addition, even mild dehydration can negatively impact aerobic sports performance and cognitive function (8).

Hydration needs of soccer players vary greatly in regard to both the amount of fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. Therefore, soccer players should visit with a sports dietitian nutritionist for help developing an individualized hydration plan for before, during, and after activity.

Focus on Hydration for Soccer

Hydration Before the Soccer Game

Going into the soccer game optimally hydrated is important for soccer players.  It is recommended to drink 5-7 mL/kg of body weight of fluid approximately 4 hours prior to the event (8). 

For most athletes, consuming approximately 2 cups (16 fl oz) of fluid with the pre-game meal can help soccer players with meeting this goal.

In the hour leading up to the soccer game, athletes should continue hydrating.  Soccer players should aim to drink another 4-8 oz of water or a sports drink during this time period. 

Hydration During the Soccer Game

Although hydration needs vary greatly for athletes, a general rule is to aim to drink ~3-8 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes (0.4-0.8 L per hour) of activity (2, 8). Drinking a big gulp of water or sports drink is equivalent to approximately 1 ounce of fluid. 

Thus, soccer players should aim for several big gulps from their water bottle every 15-20 minutes of activity or as the game allows.

Rehydrating After Soccer

Following a soccer game or practice, it is important for athletes to replace the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.  Soccer players can weigh before and after activity to help determine the amount of fluid lost in sweat.  For each pound of weight lost during the activity, soccer players should aim to drink 20-24 oz of fluid (2). 

Consuming sodium, during the recovery period can help your body replace the sodium lost in sweat.  In addition, the sodium will help your body better retain the fluid you drink after exercise (8). 

Consider the following ideas for adding salty foods to your recovery nutrition snacks and meals:

  • Soups, tomato sauce, canned vegetables
  • Deli meat, cheese, cottage cheese
  • Grilled meats, jerky
  • Pretzels, pita chips, snack crackers, bread
  • Pickles, relish, olives
  • Seasonings: Taco seasoning, garlic salt, sea salt
  • Condiments – Ketchup, mustard, soy sauce
  • Vegetable juice
  • Sports drinks

Note: Visit with a sports dietitian nutritionist or a physician regarding hydrating for sport if you have been advised to follow a low-sodium diet or restrict your fluid intake.

Soccer Player Diet: Nutrition Tips for Optimal Performance

You are now equipped with nutrition tips to support soccer players with performing at their best.  Soccer players should take time to practice these strategies before competition so they are confident on game day that they are fueled to perform at their best.

For additional sports nutrition for soccer players, check out my blog: Best Snacks for Athletes Between Games.

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About the Author

Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.  Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.

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