Food for Footy: What a Soccer Player Diet Needs to Boost Your Performance
Mar 4, 2022
Soccer players are what they eat. That’s why the best players on the planet happen to be the most cautious of their diet. If you could do a deep dive into the diets of many football legends, you’ll see that it’s full of foods you can grow and rear. Guilty pleasures are usually off the menu.
This makes sense for a sport that requires a blend of speed, endurance, power, mental toughness and cognitive agility. The body needs the right nutrients to perform at full capacity on the pitch. This post will examine what soccer players should eat, along with other nutrition factors to help them deliver their best performances.
The Soccer Player’s Diet and Nutrition Deficiencies
Let’s talk about nutrient deficiencies for a brief moment. Severe nutrient deficiencies are rare in the Western world, but they do exist and can have a negative impact on athletes. These deficiencies can happen because of inadequate nutrition/intake, overexertion or genetics that make nutrient absorption difficult. Some players may also eat certain foods or take medications that “steal” nutrients they get from other foods. Regardless of the cause, these deficiencies may cause problems.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies to Think About in Soccer
- Calcium - A calcium deficiency weakens bones and muscle contractions.
- Vitamin D - A vitamin D deficiency leads to softer bones, muscle weakness, fatigue, and reduced cognitive function.
- Iron - An iron deficiency can lead to exhaustion, weakness and even collapse, especially among female athletes.
- Magnesium - Low magnesium levels in the body can lead to muscle cramping/spasms, fatigue and slower recovery.
- Zinc - Athletes who have zinc deficiencies can have low body weight, fatigue, and slow wound healing (i.e. turf burn, cut in soccer).
- Potassium - Low potassium levels in the body can lead to dehydration, muscle cramping, weakness and irregular heart rhythms.
Deficiencies are not always noticeable or chronic. For example, female athletes may lose iron during their menstrual cycle but may not truly be deficient. And an athlete who sweats a lot may lose significant amounts of potassium but will regain it once they replace lost electrolytes.
Nevertheless, too much or too little of any nutrient in the body at any time can affect performance. That’s why a soccer nutrition program should address all of these elements so that a player is well nourished before, during and after a game.
We’re going to revisit basic nutrition, of course, keeping nutrition for soccer players in mind. As you know, there are macronutrients and micronutrients. Your macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. That’s where your calories and energy come from, hence why you need more of them daily compared to micronutrients.
On the other hand, micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals, and they are responsible for hundreds (if not thousands) of bodily processes needed to keep you healthy. The most important factor for a soccer nutrition program is to know the best food sources for macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients Food Sources for a Soccer Player Diet
We've just given you a mighty comprehensive list of food sources for your macro and micronutrients. You need to consider other factors when it comes to your food sources.
Dietary Considerations for a Soccer Nutrition Program
- Food Allergies - This is a simple and obvious one - DON'T eat anything on this list you have a known allergy to! Of course, if you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance to a food, stay away from it or consult your doctor.
- Daily Recommended Intake - Although there are guidelines for how much nutrients we need, what matters is how much YOU need. Everyone's required intake will differ. Some calculators can determine your intake based on your age, sex, height, weight and activity level. Consulting your doctor and getting evaluated can help you determine what quantity of macro and micronutrients you need precisely.
Supplementation in a Soccer Nutrition Program
There's been much debate around the usefulness and safety of nutritional supplements. For example, nutritionists told us for decades that things like multivitamins and fish oil supplements are essential. Until they told us we didn't need them.
The truth behind supplements is this: they may be helpful if you are genuinely deficient in a nutrient and can get enough from your diet. Knowing which one to take specifically boils down to knowing what you are lacking.
Again, getting a doctor's evaluation during a routine checkup is ideal since they can find deficiencies with testing. Nowadays, genetic tests can reveal what nutrients you tend to be deficient in. With that said, some nutrients are very hard to get from diet alone, which makes supplementation in a soccer nutrition program a good idea.
Vitamin and Minerals Supplements for a Soccer Player's Diet
- Vitamin D
- Whey Protein
- Creatine (Only for adult soccer players without kidney or liver problems)
You can get most other vitamins and minerals from your diet. We recommend upping your protein intake just a bit since soccer players need more to recover from strenuous workouts. As for creatine, this is a great supplement that has proven effects on muscle strength, power and mass. However, only adult players (18+) should use creatine, and they must be free of kidney and liver problems to use it.
Timing: The Essence of Nutrition for Soccer Players
What you eat isn't the only key to a successful soccer nutrition program. When you eat certain meals matters just as much. The timing of your meals (and supplements) directly impacts your performance and recovery, so you don't want to mess it up.
3-4 hours before a match, players should eat a pre-game meal. The ideal pre-game meal will contain larger amounts of carbohydrates (carbs) to provide adequate energy for the game. It should have some protein so that you're not feeling too hungry during the match.
You might even eat a light snack 1-2 hours before a match. This snack should also contain carbohydrates (slow-burning, complex carbs) to give you an energy boost.
Pre-Game Meals & Snacks for a Soccer Player Diet
- Chicken or turkey sandwich (or wrap) with a vegetable salad
- Pasta with sauce (either beef or tomato-based)
- Soup with whole wheat/whole-grain bread
- Yogurt and berries
- Banana and almonds
- Plenty of water!
Nutrition During Play
You're not going to eat much during a game since that would make you queasy. But it would help if you still had some energy and, more importantly, plenty of hydration.
For hydration, that means drinking plenty of water. Players should aim to consume 150-200mls (5 – 6.8oz) of water for every 15 minutes of playing time. You can replace water with an electrolyte drink or fruit juice that's diluted.
Soccer players can eat during half-time, but it should be very light and carb-rich. That may be a piece of fruit or veggies such as an apple or a carrot. You could also opt for a muesli or fig bar.
Your body takes a beating during games, and you're going to feel sore and wiped out after. Post-game nutrition is critical here because it helps you recover faster and better.
The critical nutrient you need for recovery is protein. Protein intake after practices and games speeds up muscle recovery and even prevents injury. You can immediately consume a light but protein-rich snack after the game. But you should still eat a protein-rich meal that also has carbs in the hours and days after the game.
Post-Game Meals & Snacks for a Soccer Player Diet
- Protein shake or bar
- Chicken/avocado sandwich with veggies
- Beef burrito with cheese, guacamole, and veggies
- Yogurt parfait with seeds and nuts
- Tuna salad
Don't Spoil a Soccer Nutrition Program
On a final note, remember that consistency is vital. Not only should you eat nutritious foods day in and day out, but you should also keep the junk out. Skip the chips, cookies and cake. Same with soda and fries.
Eating a cheat meal once or twice a month isn't going to hurt, and it can make a soccer player's diet easier to follow. But the more committed you can stay to eating the proper nutrients and foods, the more energized and prime you'll feel during games. And your body (and team) will thank you for it.