What to Eat Before a Game of Soccer
It is important athletes know what to eat before a game of soccer to fuel them for the upcoming match. Let’s take a look at the energy demands of soccer. Then we will explore the best pre-game meals and snacks for soccer players.
Energy Demands of Soccer
Soccer is a sport that requires athletes to have both physical endurance as well as speed. Professional soccer players run between 6-7 miles per game depending on the position played (1). The running is interspersed with sprints and sudden changes in directions, demanding high levels of energy. To excel on the field, soccer players need quickness and agility as well as endurance and stamina.
Based on the energy demands of the sport, having a plan for what to eat before a soccer game is key to optimal performance on the field.
What to Eat Before a Game of Soccer: Pre-Game Meal
When determining what to eat before a game of soccer it is important to consider how much time you have until the match. Eating too much food, too close to the game, may result in an upset stomach during the competition.
When possible, it is best to schedule your pre-game meal 3-4 hours prior to the start of the competition. This allows time for your body to digest the meal and to go to the bathroom, if needed, before the game starts.
The pre-game meal should include a good source of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of lean protein, and be low in saturated fat.
Carbohydrates with the Meal Before a Soccer Game
The foundation of a soccer player’s pre-game meal should be carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide athletes with the energy needed to perform at their best. Soccer players rely on carbohydrates stored in working muscles for energy during competition (2). Thus, building a pre-game meal centered around carbohydrates can help ensure soccer players are well fueled for the upcoming game.
Athletes can add carbohydrates to their pre-game meal from the following food groups:
- Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried, canned in natural juices, applesauce
- Starchy Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, green peas
- Grains: Rice, pasta, quinoa, bread, oatmeal, breakfast cereal
- Milk, yogurt
If you are a soccer player following a gluten-free diet, check out my blog: Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Athletes.
Protein with the Meal Before a Soccer Game
With the meal before a soccer game, athletes can include a moderate amount of lean protein. Potential sources of protein to enjoy with the pre-game meal include:
- Seafood, poultry (without skin), pork, lean red meat
- Deli meat
- Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese
- Nuts and nut butters
Since soccer players should limit foods high in saturated fat before a game, avoid foods that are deep-fried or that contain heavy cream or butter sauces.
Example Meals to Eat Before a Soccer Game
Here are a variety of ideas for meals to eat before a soccer game that provide both carbohydrates and lean protein.
- Pancakes, scrambled eggs, and fresh sliced fruit
- Fruit smoothie, bagel with nut butter and honey
- English muffin with egg and ham, Greek yogurt and fruit parfait
- Turkey sub sandwich, pretzels, apple slices
- Grilled salmon, steamed rice, green beans, dinner rolls
- Pasta with marinara, sliced chicken, and vegetables, breadsticks
- Roasted chicken breast, baked sweet potato, fresh mixed berries, dinner roll
What to Eat Before a Game of Soccer: Pre-Game Snacks
In the hour or two prior to competition, soccer players can continue fueling with a pre-game snack. Consuming an easy to digest carbohydrate-rich snack or liquid before the start of the game can provide an extra boost of energy for the upcoming match.
Ideas for snacks to eat before a game of soccer include:
- Applesauce squeeze
- Dried fruit
- Banana, apple slices, grapes, orange wedges
- Pretzels, pita chips
- Mini-bagels, roll
- Fig bar, low-fat granola bar
- Sports drinks, chews, gels
Food to Limit Before a Game of Soccer
Soccer players should limit foods that are high in fat, fiber, and/or protein in the hour or two before a match. Consuming these foods too close to the start of the game may lead to GI distress during the competition (3).
Examples of foods to limit close to the start of a game include:
- Heavy cream, cheese, or buttery sauces
- Fried or greasy foods
- Dessert foods (ice cream, brownies, fudge)
- Whole grains (high-fiber)
- High-fiber vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)
- Beans and legumes
Don’t Overdo the Pre-Game Snack
In the hour before a soccer game, athletes don’t want to overdo the pre-game snack. Consuming too much carbohydrates immediately before the soccer game may lead to an upset stomach or GI concerns during the match.
This may occur when athletes consume multiple carbohydrate-based sport foods at once. For example, consuming gels, chews, and a sports drink all together right before a competition may result in GI discomfort.
Consuming concentrated forms of carbohydrates, such as sugary drinks (soda) or fruit juice right before a soccer game may similarly lead to GI distress during the match (4).
Since each athlete is unique, soccer players should try out different snack options during practice. This allows the athlete to find the snack that he/she feels the best competing on.
What to Eat Before a Game of Soccer: Pre-Game Hydration
When planning what to eat before a game of soccer, don’t forget about the importance of hydration. Dehydration can negatively impact performance and increase your risk of heat illness. Therefore, starting the game in an optimally hydrated state is important.
Although hydration needs vary amongst athletes, there are some general pre-event guidelines soccer players can follow. Approximately 4 hours prior to the event, it is recommended that athletes drink 5-7 mL of fluid per kg of body weight (5).
For a 175-pound athlete, this calculates to be ~13 – 18 fluid ounces. Thus, in general, consuming approximately 2 cups of fluid (16 fl oz) with the pre-game meal can assist soccer players with meeting this goal.
In the hour leading up to the event, soccer players should continue hydrating, aiming to drink around 8 oz of fluid during this time period.
What to Eat Before a Game of Soccer
You are now set with a variety of ideas for what to eat before a game of soccer to ensure you are fueled to perform at your best. Take time to practice your pre-game meals and snacks prior to competition to ensure you have found the foods and beverages that work best for you.
For additional sports nutrition tips for soccer players, check out my blog: Your Guide to Game Day Nutrition. If you desire an individualized meal plan or have further questions, consider consulting with a sports dietitian nutritionist.
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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.