Nutrition like anything else can be as complicated or as simple as you make it. From a soccer sense, the foods you eat are like your soccer skills: fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and so on are like dribbling, passing, receiving, shooting, and so on. You practice and get good enough at those skills you’re a good soccer player, and if you eat enough of the right kinds of foods you have a good nutrition plan. If you understand the basics of nutrition, you’ll make good food choices just like if you understand the basics of soccer, you’ll make good decisions in the game – it’s that simple. That being said, here some basic nutrition knowledge and recommendations for Soccer Players.
Nutrition recommendations for athletic (soccer) performance are very similar to general nutrition recommendations for health and wellness, with just added attention to nutrient timing around practices and games so the athletes have adequate fuels in their system to perform properly while avoiding any stomach issues. For example, you don’t want to eat a big meal before practice or games because having a lot of food in your belly while running around may induce upset stomachs and vomiting. Additional emphasis may be put on consuming additional protein to sustain muscle work and recovery, having enough carbs for sustained energy output, and proper hydration in and around practices and games. Below are some basic and practical nutrition recommendations for Youth Soccer Players.
Rule number 1- Eat healthy, well-balanced food and meals on a daily basis (as a habit), not just on practice and game days. The only difference is timing of food on those days.
Rule number 2- Get most of your energy from well-balanced, healthy regular meals and foods, not from snacks or supplements. Supplements may be necessary in special cases like a meal replacement shake when a regular meal is not available; at high growth rates and activities; deficient in some nutrients; or following a specific diet like being a vegan. If you’re deficient in anything, talk to a physician or dietician about that.
Overall, nutrition comes down to drinking enough fluids (water) to stay hydrated, and eating enough on a daily basis (daily caloric intake) from nutritious foods made of adequate proportions of carbs, lipids/fats, and protein, aka the 3 macronutrients. Carbs are usually divided into complex carbs like pasta, rice, corn, and simple carbs like honey, snack chips, sugar- aim to get most of your energy from complex carbs. Fats are also divided into saturated fat like margarine or butter, and unsaturated fat plant, vegetable and fish oils, nuts- get your fats mainly from oils. Protein are usually animal products like eggs, fish, and meats. Note most foods are made of a combination of carbs, fats, and protein- the proportions determine what a food is mainly considered. For example, meats are higher in protein low in carbs, so they’re mainly considered proteins. Also, some foods fall in multiple categories, like some nuts and almonds, which are considered good fats and protein. Below are the recommended ranges for the macros, but there’s even an easier way to make sure you’re eating the right stuff, which we’ll talk about afterwards (hint: MyPlate and food groups).
The general recommendations are as follows:
Carbs: 45-65% of daily caloric intakes.
Fats: 20-30% of daily caloric intakes.
Protein: 10-25% of daily caloric intakes.
For example, if a soccer player was eating 1800 calories a day on a 60/20/20 macronutrients split (this is a good ratio for soccer players by the way), he/she would want to get about 1080 cals from carbs, 360 cals from fats, and 360 cals from protein. Knowing how much calories to eat in one day can be fairly simple; you just have to use an online metabolic calculator and plug in some info like age, gender, activity level, and it will generate one for you. Knowing the macronutrient make-up of your food can be a tricky, tedious process though. It normally requires entering what you’re eating into a diet tracker software (app) like MyFitness Pal or something similar. But practically you should not have to do that (unless you’re following a specific diet for some reason). You simply have to eat enough from the different food groups- Enter the MyPlate Template.
MyPlate is a revised and better concept of the old MyPyramid Food Groups. It’s a visual representation of what a healthy, well-balanced meal looks like, containing adequate proportions of fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, dairy, and so forth. The idea is if you eat enough well-balanced meals from the different food groups, you should be able to get all your nutrients for health and athletic performance. And as a cheat code, let’s say you had a great meal, but didn’t have any fruits with it- in that case just eat some fruits at some other point of the day. Some general food sources for the food groups and macronutrients will be provided below. However, I highly encourage you to visit choosemyplate.gov for additional information and resources.
The main food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and Dairy. Fruits and vegetables are obvious and need no explanations- note you can also get them from dried and frozen options as well as their natural states. Grains are things like rice, wheat, oats, cornmeal, etc- and usually make things like pasta, pancakes, cereals, and so forth. Proteins are mainly animal meats, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, etc. Note some foods like beans and lentils are also considered vegetables. Dairy are things like yogurt, cheese, milk, etc. Oils are not a food group, but consider having enough for health reasons. If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or follow certain diet, understand extra steps may need to be taken to meet certain food groups like protein which are normally animal products. In this case adequate combinations of grains, and possibly supplementations may be needed. Talk to a doctor or Registered Dietician about that.
-Once you’re eating enough, and eating the right kinds of foods, all you have to do is tweak the TIMING on days you have practices and games. Here’s a simple guideline:
*Drink enough water on a regular basis. Research shows athletes are usually dehydrated before they step on the field, not just as a result of performance. Rule of thumb is to drink plenty of water before, during, and after practices and games. Having typical sports drinks like a Gatorade or Powerade in and around activities is also good for fluid and electrolyte replenishments. Generally speaking, 6-8 cups of fluid daily is recommended, but this varies based on individual size, age, activity level, etc.
*Food- regular meals containing enough carbs, protein, and fats 1-3 hours before activity to provide enough time for digestion and prevent upset stomachs; light snacks and drinks within an hour prior and during activities. The best representation of a typical, healthy, well-balanced meal is provided by the MyPlate template.
*After practices and games, be sure to replenish. A regular meal containing a combination of complex carbs and protein is best as a post meal preferably within 2 hours. Within 30 minutes is optimal for some recovery snacks even if you don’t have a full meal yet. Proper proportions of carbs and protein is also recommended for post-game snacks- chocolate milk is very good healthy option (if you’re not lactose intolerant).
*Note this is just an example, if there’s anything you don’t like, allergic to, or have any medical reason not to have, be sure you don’t have it. For more individualized diets, talk to your doctor or registered dietician.
This summary was written by Coach Noel. Coach Noel is CCSF’s strength and conditioning coach, and has his education in Exercise and Nutrition Science. These recommendations are based on the current scientific literature from various organizations like the U.S Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and position statements from the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You are encouraged to visit their respective websites for additional information. Most importantly, please see a Registered Dietician for any individualized diet plans that will take into account food allergies, nutrient deficiencies, metabolic illnesses, specific eating patterns like veganism, ketogenic, and so forth.