5 Game Changing Strategies to Improve your Soccer Performance

Soccer is known for being a mentally and physically demanding sport. It requires high amounts of energy, endurance, and concentration from each player on the team. As many elite soccer players know, training is important, but proper nutrition is the key to optimal performance. Here are some simple, but game changing, food strategies to help all soccer players improve their performance:

1. Don’t cut out carbohydrates:

Soccer is a demanding sport, and carbohydrates are the primary fuel used to meet those demands. When soccer players don’t consume enough carbs, their muscles can’t perform optimally, and their brains can’t make quick decisions on the field. Consuming the right amounts, and types, of carbohydrates will help soccer players perform their best.

  • Here is a list of quality carbohydrates:
    • Potatoes: white and sweet potatoes
    • Brown rice
    • Whole wheat items, such as breads and pastas
    • Hot and cold cereals, such as oatmeal and any low-added sugar, bran/whole wheat varieties (for example, Raisin Bran and Shredded Wheat)
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Beans, peas, and legumes
  • Click here for more information on quality carbohydrates.

2. Eat lean protein:

Protein is needed for the growth and repair of muscles, making it an important part of a soccer player’s diet. This is especially important for younger soccer players since they have higher protein needs than non-athletes of the same age. If you’re unsure of how much protein you need, use this protein calculator from My Sports Dietitian to find out.

  • Here is a list of lean proteins:
    • Chicken or turkey breast
    • Center cut pork
    • Eggs
    • Lean steak
    • 96/4 ground beef
    • Seafood: White fish, crab meat, shrimp and other shellfish
    • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as: Cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and milk
  • Click here for more information on quality proteins.

3. Focus on healthy fats:

Fat may have a bad reputation, but it is an essential nutrient – especially for athletes. Fat is needed for the absorption of certain vitamins and the production of hormones. It’s also the most calorically-dense nutrient, containing 9 calories per gram, which can be helpful for soccer players who have high calorie needs. Fats can be broken into two main categories: Saturated fats and unsaturated fats. It’s best to choose unsaturated fats, and consume them in moderation. You can use My Sports Dietitian’s fat calculator to find how much fat you need.

  • Here is a basic list of unsaturated fats:
    • Nuts and nut butters
    • Vegetable oils
    • Seeds, including: Flax, chia, and sunflower seeds
    • Avocado
  • Click here for more information on healthy fats.

4. Stay hydrated:

Water makes up more than 50% of our body weight, and dehydration – either from excessive sweating or lack of fluid intake – has a negative impact on soccer performance. Monitoring hydration levels to avoid this is important. An easy way to monitor hydration is by viewing the color of your urine. If your urine is a dark color (like apple juice), then your body needs more water. If your urine is light to almost clear (like lemonade), then your hydration levels are fine. Another method for monitoring hydration is by counting how many times you use the bathroom. For this method, using the restroom every three hours throughout the day indicates adequate hydration. If you want to know the specific amount of water that you need, use My Sports Dietitian’s water calculator.

  • Click here for more information on the roles of water and why water is important.

5. Pay attention to nutrient timing:

It’s not only what you eat that’s important, but also when you eat it. Proper nutrient timing helps ensure that you will have the energy needed to make it through soccer practices and games.

  • Before: If you have 3 – 4 hours before a soccer game or practice, eat a well-balanced meal consisting of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and some healthy fat, since it will have time to digest. If it has been longer than 4 hours since your last meal, you should eat 1-2 hours before your practice or game. This will add to the nutrient stores already within your body, giving you the extra energy that you need
  • During: It can be hard to consume food, so drinking water or sports drinks may be best. Commercially available sports drinks vary in carbohydrate and electrolyte content, so choose which type to drink based on your needs. Avoid beverages too high in carbohydrates, though, as this can cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash in energy.
    • When timing meals and snacks, it is important to understand which nutrients will aid performance, and which nutrients will hinder performance. What you eat 1 – 2 hours before soccer practices or games should consist of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of lean protein, and minimal amounts of fat and fiber. Fat and fiber slow down digestion, and therefore do not allow for quick delivery of the nutrients needed for performance.
    • Here are some example of meals and snacks to have before soccer practices or games (what you choose, and the portion, will depend upon how much time you have before playing):
      • Oatmeal and egg whites
      • Whole wheat/bran cereal with low fat milk
      • Non-fat Greek yogurt with fruit
      • Bagel with jelly/jam and fruit
      • Sandwich/sub that consist of whole wheat bread, turkey breast/chicken breast, low fat or non fat cheese, and mustard
      • Chicken breast and potatoes (white or sweet potatoes)
      • Whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce and chicken
  • After: It’s important to replenish the nutrient stores that were used during a soccer practice or game. The best post-soccer meal or snack consists of carbohydrates, proteins, and fluid.
  • Click here for more information on nutrient timing and other ideas for pre-practice/game foods for soccer players.
  • This online course, taught by Tavis Piattoly and Ronnie Harper, co-owners of My Sports Dietitian, is a great resource to learn more about pre-game meals, hydration, and halftime nutrition. Check it out soon – it’s free for the first 50 people!

There you have it! These are some general guidelines to follow that can help soccer players perform optimally. To see more in-depth information on how to optimize your soccer performance, visit www.mysoccernutrition.com.

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Contributing Editors:

Tarryn Nettles, CPT
Facebook: http://Facebook.com/Tarryn.nettles
Email: Tarryn.nettles@yahoo.com

Laura Maydak, BS Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition
Twitter: @lmaydak
Linked In
Email: lauramaydak@gmail.com

Bob Seebohar MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS
Email: coachbob@fuel4mance.com
Sports Dietitian

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15 replies
  1. Hanna
    Hanna says:

    Great overview on proper sports nutrition for soccer athletes. I played soccer all throughout high school and finally hung up my cleats after signing to run for the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But the nutrition for both sports is essentially the same. And I liked that the suggestion to focus on quality carbohydrates is at the top of the list! With all the fad diets circulating out there (especially those that cut out carbs), I think it is important for athletes to remember that their nutrition could not be any more different than the average person. Athletes need ample calories from ALL the macronutrients, which you clearly suggest here. Great article!

  2. Hanna
    Hanna says:

    Great overview on proper sports nutrition for soccer athletes. I played soccer all throughout high school and finally hung up my cleats after signing to run for the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But the nutrition for both sports is essentially the same. And I liked that the suggestion to focus on quality carbohydrates is at the top of the list! With all the fad diets circulating out there (especially those that cut out carbs), I think it is important for athletes to remember that their nutrition could not be any more different than the average person. Athletes need ample calories from ALL the macronutrients, which you clearly suggest here. Great article!

  3. Dylan A. Bailey
    Dylan A. Bailey says:

    I am so thrilled that strategy 1 is as such. Far too often, athletes buy in to fad diets omitting whole foods or entire food groups, yet these practices may be seen as appropriate for sport performance, encouraged by uneducated family members, coaches, or fellow teammates. Athletes who simply gain dietary insight via a quick google search or through word of teammate mouth, may not even realize that their performance is suffering compounded by potential malnourishment. You would not fuel your car (to get to your soccer game) with gasoline missing certain compounds…you would not make it out of the drive way! Trust the experts like Bob! Avoid misinformation and always challenge diets which exclude, minimize, or demonize whole foods or food groups. Well done Tarryn, Laura, and Bob!

  4. Dylan A. Bailey
    Dylan A. Bailey says:

    I am so thrilled that strategy 1 is as such. Far too often, athletes buy in to fad diets omitting whole foods or entire food groups, yet these practices may be seen as appropriate for sport performance, encouraged by uneducated family members, coaches, or fellow teammates. Athletes who simply gain dietary insight via a quick google search or through word of teammate mouth, may not even realize that their performance is suffering compounded by potential malnourishment. You would not fuel your car (to get to your soccer game) with gasoline missing certain compounds…you would not make it out of the drive way! Trust the experts like Bob! Avoid misinformation and always challenge diets which exclude, minimize, or demonize whole foods or food groups. Well done Tarryn, Laura, and Bob!

  5. Nikki Jupe, MS
    Nikki Jupe, MS says:

    I have never played soccer but I am extremely excited to read this Ebook! My boyfriend is the soccer player so I can’t wait to show him this blog! The blog is so detailed and easy to understand for non-soccer players! Great work on this one!! I also agree with Dylan, number 1 is the most important for these players and the energy systems used! Great comment Dylan!

  6. Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD
    Nikki Jupe, MS, RD, LD says:

    I have never played soccer but I am extremely excited to read this Ebook! My boyfriend is the soccer player so I can’t wait to show him this blog! The blog is so detailed and easy to understand for non-soccer players! Great work on this one!! I also agree with Dylan, number 1 is the most important for these players and the energy systems used! Great comment Dylan!

  7. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    I enjoy the calculators found on this blog, many people are unsure about how much protein they should consume and having an easy to use calculator is helpful in finding an estimation. The fat and water calculators are great too!

  8. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    I enjoy the calculators found on this blog, many people are unsure about how much protein they should consume and having an easy to use calculator is helpful in finding an estimation. The fat and water calculators are great too!

  9. Katie Kissane, MS RD
    Katie Kissane, MS RD says:

    This is a great overview of nutrition for soccer. This blog post makes me excited to read the e-book. The section on nutrient timing is important because many athletes don’t eat the right kinds of foods and at the right time before, during, or after practice or a tournament. Nutrient timing could mean the difference between winning and losing.

  10. Katie Kissane, MS RD
    Katie Kissane, MS RD says:

    This is a great overview of nutrition for soccer. This blog post makes me excited to read the e-book. The section on nutrient timing is important because many athletes don’t eat the right kinds of foods and at the right time before, during, or after practice or a tournament. Nutrient timing could mean the difference between winning and losing.

  11. Ryan Turner, RD
    Ryan Turner, RD says:

    As a former collegiate soccer player I can tell you that timing of meals is the most important aspect of fueling for practice and games. It takes conscious planning especially around a busy student schedule – the strategies above are right on. The online course at the end was an excellent add on.

  12. Ryan Turner, RD
    Ryan Turner, RD says:

    As a former collegiate soccer player I can tell you that timing of meals is the most important aspect of fueling for practice and games. It takes conscious planning especially around a busy student schedule – the strategies above are right on. The online course at the end was an excellent add on.

  13. Shelly Guzman, MS, RD, CSSD
    Shelly Guzman, MS, RD, CSSD says:

    I agree with others who have commented, nutrient timing is critical. I recommend taking the suggestions outlined above and writing out a fueling timeline for your day, taking into account not only timing of soccer games or practices but also non-sport commitments. Planning ahead means that you arrive on the field well-fueled, strong, and focused.

  14. Shelly Guzman Johnson
    Shelly Guzman Johnson says:

    I agree with others who have commented, nutrient timing is critical. I recommend taking the suggestions outlined above and writing out a fueling timeline for your day, taking into account not only timing of soccer games or practices but also non-sport commitments. Planning ahead means that you arrive on the field well-fueled, strong, and focused.

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