You will undoubtedly have heard the phrase, 'you are what you eat', and in most cases this is true. If you stuff your face full of burgers, fries, cakes, and soda, then you can expect to add a few inches to your waistline and suffer from a lack of vitality.
If instead, you were to eat plenty of wholesome foods like lean meat, fruit, cereals, and vegetables, then not only will your weight be under control, your health will also benefit, and your energy levels will be higher.
These principles apply to every single human being, and that includes soccer players, be they professional superstars, keen amateurs, or just a bunch of friends who get together for a regular game of soccer.
Given that to play soccer you require high levels of energy, a fair degree of stamina, and a reasonable amount of flexibility, it stands to reason that what you eat before, after, and even during a soccer game, will have a huge impact on your ability to play, and your enjoyment.
Sports Nutrition - Past and Present
There was a time when soccer players, and no doubt participants in other sports, even at the professional level, paid little notice to their health and fitness.
As crazy as it may sound now, there are stories and old newsreel clips of soccer players filling up with a huge plate of fries or enjoying a beer before the match, and even partaking in a cigarette break at half-time. Back then the idea that the food you ate before a game could help you during the match was not really in the minds of players or coaches.
Thankfully, for players and fans alike, the understanding of the nutrition a human needs to be a fit, strong and healthy athlete has advanced massively in recent years. We are at the point now where most professional soccer clubs in the world employ a full-time nutritionist whose job is to oversee what the club's players eat. In some of the bigger clubs, this extends to an entire team including chefs, dietitians, nutritionists, and fitness coaches.
First Principles of a Soccer Player's Diet
When we first consider the diet of soccer players, we need to appreciate that the types of foods that they are recommended to eat will vary depending at what stage of the playing cycle they are at.
What we mean by that is what they eat before a match, after a match, and on a day to day basis between matches, will differ depending on what dietitians and nutritionists believe will give them the maximum benefit.
For example, in the hours before a match, due to the need to have as much energy as possible when playing, foods that are high in carbohydrates are recommended as these foods produce that energy. In between games players should have a more balanced array of foods so that as well as carbohydrates, they take on protein, vitamins, fiber, and minerals.
The Foods Soccer Players Should Eat
You could probably ask 100 sports nutritionists to provide a list of the sorts of foods that soccer players should eat, and it is almost certain that no two of those lists will be identical.
There will certainly be some foods which appear on every list, but as with anything to do with food and health, each expert has their own opinions and thoughts. With that being said here are the foods which will appear on most food expert's list of what to include in a soccer player's diet.
- Lean meat
- Lentils, peas, and beans
- Cereals esp. oatmeal
You have probably already noticed that list could just as easily apply to anyone who is not a soccer player, but who wishes to eat a non-fattening, healthy diet. This is true, because unlike some sports where the need is for maximum muscle as in boxing, or nimbleness, as in gymnastics, or extreme stamina levels, as in marathon running, soccer is a game which requires a bit of everything; speed, stamina, strength, agility, and strength.
This is why the sorts of foods that soccer players are advised to eat are designed to give them a balanced and healthy level of nutrition so that they benefit in all of the areas of fitness that we noted in the previous paragraph. That being said, according to sports nutritionists there is one type of food that soccer players should focus on more than any of the others in the hours leading up to a match, and that is carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates - Nature's Energy Booster
One element of a soccer player's physical conditioning that can make a huge difference in how well they play is their energy levels. A player’s energy impacts so many aspects of their play that it can mean the difference between winning and losing the match. A team that has players with plenty of energy will have more stamina, and thus they should not 'hit the wall' which is the term for when a player barely has any energy left to walk, let alone run.
High energy levels allow for quicker recovery after a sprint, the ability to jump just that little bit higher than an opponent for a header, and also helps with how a player focuses. If they're focusing on how exhausted they are, rather than where to pass the ball, their performance is hugely compromised.
Human bodies burn the carbohydrates we eat to create the energy we need. Some carbohydrates are burned and converted to energy very quickly, some are converted more slowly. The sorts of foods which provide a quick energy boost include honey, fruit juices, and bananas.
High energy bars often include some of these ingredients, along with glucose which also quickly boosts energy. This is why you will see players quickly eating an energy bar during a break in the match.
Slower burning carbs are what soccer players should be eating in their pre-match meals. A lot of the items we listed earlier will be on the menu, but a typical pre-match meal could be any of pasta, rice, noodles with lean chicken, meat or fish, and could include baked potato and vegetables such as carrots. A dessert of fruit or a cereal bar are recommended and as for a drink, either a high energy drink or low-fat milk is ideal to wash it all down.