Below is an article written by University of Guelph-Humber Internship Student Andre Orlando (who is presently completing an internship with Soccer Fitness Inc.) and edited by me. The article discusses “macro” nutrition, or nutrition at the macro (nutrient) level, for soccer players, with an emphasis on pre-, during-, and post- training/game nutrient intake. Any soccer player, parent, or coach should find this information useful. Below is the article, including references. As an aside, I have to advise any person considering making changes to their diet, to first consult with a physician and/or registered dietician.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.
Soccer is a unique and complicated sport that requires multiple energy systems dominating throughout the game. The games usually last 90-95 minutes, with a 15 minute break at half time. One would assume that soccer is mostly dominated by aerobic fitness and the aerobic energy system, but it is not. Soccer consists of short bursts of speed and strength followed by a long chase or battle with opponents, all of which are performed by the anaerobic energy system. Other soccer movements include quicker bursts of power to jump up and win a header or (for goalkeepers) to the side to make a save and in these movements the anaerobic ATP-CP system dominates. All of these different movements occur in several combinations lasting 90+ minutes, so they can also take a toll on the body’s aerobic energy system, which must provide the body with sufficient energy to recover. With all three of the body’s energy systems working at once, how does one prepare for optimal performance during a game, and for optimal recovery afterwards? An elite soccer player cannot just eat like a sprinter, or a marathon runner, or even a hockey player because the energy requirements for a soccer player can be much more diverse. A balanced diet focusing on all the essential macronutrients is very important for soccer player’s performance and recovery after a game.
Pre-game or Pre-training nutrition:
On game or training day the player will need to store up optimal energy for optimal performance. If the player eats too little they will fatigue a lot faster and performance will decrease. If a player eats too much they can feel bloated and sluggish and performance will decrease. But if the player has the right meal with at the right time they will perform optimally.
Carbohydrates are a very important macronutrient for soccer players. Once ingested, they are broken down into glucose which is used in glycolysis (anaerobic energy system) or stored as glycogen for later energy use. The recommended amount of carbohydrates for elite soccer players is 200-300g 3-4 hours before exercise or 3-5g CHO/kg of body weight (1). This will provide enough time and carbohydrates to maximize maintenance of blood glucose (1). Protein is another important macronutrient for soccer a player that forms the building blocks for muscle tissue. The recommended amount of protein is 20-30 grams of lean protein 3-4 hours before exercise (2). Fat, the third main macronutrient, contains a lot of energy but can cause gastric distress and bloating if consumed close to exercise. It is recommended that the consumption of fat and fiber is low during the pre game or training meal to minimize bloating and gastric distress. Also it is important to note that all pre game meals should be familiar to the athlete, and in general athletes should avoid new or exotic meals before training/playing. Lastly the meal should be accompanied by enough fluid to keep the athlete hydrated and satisfy their thirst, preferably water.
Post-game or Post-training recovery:
It is arguable that post-game nutrition is even more important than pre game nutrition. The post-training/game time period is where all the work done in training and during the game is transferred into actual physical results. The body is broken down during exercise and after exercise it needs to recover and build back up. A primary key to recovery is proper rest and nutrition. After an intense bout of exercise, muscle glycogen is depleted and needs to be refueled. This muscle glycogen is what the muscles use to create energy during exercise when there is no immediate access to glucose. To refuel this depleted muscle glycogen carbohydrate ingestion post-exercise are recommended. It is recommended to consume 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight of carbohydrates to optimally replenish glycogen storages post exercise (3). Protein is also key post exercise to optimize muscle protein synthesis. During strenuous exercise muscle tissue is damaged and needs to be repaired. Protein holds the building blocks (amino acids) for this repair of muscle tissue. To optimize muscle protein synthesis it is recommended to intake 20 grams of protein post exercise in three hour intervals up to 24 hours post exercise or until daily protein requirements are reached (4). Fat intake is not crucial post exercise as long as the daily recommendations are met. It is very important to rehydrate the athlete and make sure they consume enough water so that they do not feel thirsty.
Daily Macronutrient Requirements for Soccer players
Throughout the day an elite soccer player should have multiple smaller meals, rather than three big meals. These meals should include fruits and vegetables and meet the full requirements of a soccer player’s daily recommended macronutrient intake. The daily recommended carbohydrate intake for elite soccer players on none training days is 5-7 grams per kg of body weight (5). On training and game days 7-10 grams per kg of body weight of carbohydrates is needed to provide optimal energy and maintain or replenish blood glucose and muscle glycogen storages (5). Recommended daily protein intake for soccer players is 1.4 grams per kg per day (6). This will allow for optimal muscle protein synthesis and reduce the risk of muscle break down. Fat consumption is very important for a soccer player as well, because it is required to transport and store fat soluble vitamins throughout the body. Fat is also a high energy source used by endurance athletes. Fat oxidation provides more energy than any other substrate, and fat is also used for long term energy production (aerobic energy system). The recommended amount of fat is 20-25% of your daily caloric intake (7). Preferably, athletes should consume healthy fats, such as unsaturated omega-3 and 6 fats. It is also important to note that hydration throughout the day is also very important, and any athlete should be consuming as much water as possible to maintain optimal hydration.
1. Potgieter, S. (2013). Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition.South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26(1), 6-16.
2. Boisseau, N., Vermorel, M., Rance, M., Duché, P., & Patureau-Mirand, P. (2007). Protein requirements in male adolescent soccer players.European journal of applied physiology, 100(1), 27-33.
3. Van Loon, L. J., Saris, W. H., Kruijshoop, M., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2000). Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures.The American journal of clinical nutrition, 72(1), 106-111.
4. Moore, D. R., Areta, J., Coffey, V. G., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Burke, L. M., . & Hawley, J. A. (2012). Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males.Nutr Metab (Lond), 9(1), 91.
5. Burke, L. M., Cox, G. R., Cummings, N. K., & Desbrow, B. (2001). Guidelines for daily carbohydrate intake.Sports medicine, 31(4), 267-299.
6. Boisseau, N., Vermorel, M., Rance, M., Duché, P., & Patureau-Mirand, P. (2007). Protein requirements in male adolescent soccer players.European journal of applied physiology, 100(1), 27-33.
7. Burke, L. M., Kiens, B., & Ivy, J. L. (2004). Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery.Journal of sports sciences, 22(1), 15-30.