How to Optimize Soccer Performance through Nutrition
Making sure you are eating at the right foods at the right times will help you perform better on the field. Athletes must view a proper diet as part of the training regimen that you have committed to as a member of SC Waukesha. New foods may be tried during the training period, but not on game days. Everyone digests foods differently and some foods could cause GI discomfort in certain players. Your body gets energy from food in three main forms: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel during physical activity. Thus, adequate carbohydrate stores within the muscles, liver and in the blood are critical for peek performance. It is better to eat adequate amounts of carbohydrates everyday instead of trying to “carb load” the night before a game. Consuming carbohydrates or “carbs” during training will help ensure stores are full. Consuming carbohydrates during activity will help improve performance, while taking in carbs after activity will replenish stores. Protein is needed for muscle growth/rebuilding and recovery after an event. Protein will slow down absorption of carbohydrates within the gut, so protein should be limited just before and during activity, or it can cause abdominal cramping. Fat is needed for energy demands of growth, development and endurance.
Hydration is also an important component to ensure top performance and fluids should be consumed before, during and after all games and practices. Water is the best source for hydration. Sports drinks should be consumed in moderation. Make sure not to consume energy drinks, carbonated beverages or caffeinated beverages for hydration in sport and rehydration purposes.
Ideally, the meal is eaten 3-4 hours prior to game. The meal should have whole grain carbohydrates and lean proteins (see list below for specific examples) and drink 17-20oz of water or sports drink. Then, have a snack 30 to 60 minutes prior to the game that has carbohydrate (30-60grams) and moderate protein along with 5-10oz of water or sports drink.
Carbohydrates should be provided for exercise lasting more than an hour. The snack should contain carbohydrates with small amounts of protein, while being low in fat and fiber. Examples include granola bars, crackers, energy bars, dry whole grain cereal, fruit, etc. On average, have 5-10oz of water or sports drinks every 15-20 minutes during play.
Have a snack within 30 minutes after the game when glycogen (sugar) stores are wide open and need to be replenished. The ideal snack should be high in carbohydrates with some lean protein. A full meal should be eaten within 2 hours after the game. The meal should have higher fiber carbohydrates, lean protein and some healthy fats. Make sure to drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
Foods/Beverages to Avoid on Game Days:
- High fat foods (high fat meats, heavy sauces/creams, fried foods, buttery foods, desserts)
- High fiber foods (whole grains extremely high in fiber, beans, cruciferous vegetables – includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, greens, etc)
- Carbonated beverages, sugary beverages and fluids containing more than 8% carbohydrate (i.e. juice, soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc)
Example Carbohydrates and Proteins to Have on Game Days:
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Bagels with low fat cream cheese
- Oatmeal, cereal
- Whole wheat bread, rolls
- Granola bars, energy bars – does contain protein
- Potatoes, pasta, rice
- Crackers, goldfish crackers, animal crackers, pretzels
- Oatmeal raisin cookies
- Fresh fruit, dried fruit
- Yogurt (and granola) – does contain protein
- Milk – does contain protein
- Eggs, turkey sausage
- Peanut butter
- Trail mix
- Chicken, turkey, trimmed pork, leaner cuts of beef, fish, etc
- Cheese, string cheese
- Lunchmeat including chicken, turkey, ham, etc
Please feel free to contact Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Nutrition Counseling Services at New Berlin if you have additional questions or want to learn more. Call (262) 432-7703 to schedule an appointment with a dietitian.
Heather J Fortin, RD, CSP, CD
Clinical Dietitian Specialist
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Kevin D Walter, MD
Program Director, Pediatric & Adolescent Primary Care Sports Medicine
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin