You practice hard and you play hard, but if you want to perform your best as a soccer player, you also need to think about what you eat. Soccer is an intense and grueling sport that burns a lot of calories. Replacing those calories with the right foods in the right amount can improve energy, speed, strength and recovery.
During a game, soccer players are in constant motion for 60 to 90 minutes and can run, walk or dribble up to 12 miles. This intense play and activity require a lot of energy. Soccer players need 20 to 27 calories per pound of body weight a day, according to Dr. Jay Williams from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. That means a 150-pound soccer player needs 3,000 to 4,050 calories a day, with the higher calorie count corresponding with those heavy practice and game days.
Carbs provide most of the energy your muscles need to get you through your practices and games. Sixty percent to 70 percent of the calories in a soccer player’s diet should come from carbs. Most of those carb calories should be from complex carbs, which include foods such as whole-wheat bread, pasta, potatoes, grains and vegetables. Complex carbs take longer to digest and help maintain a steady stream of energy. Simple carbs digest more quickly and act as a fast source of energy; these include fruit, milk, sweets and soda. For better nutrition, choose milk or fruit when looking for a quick energy pick-me-up.
Soccer players also need to make sure they get the right amounts of protein and fat. Protein is important for muscle recovery and growth, and 10 percent of your calories should come from protein. Good sources include lean meats, poultry, seafood, low-fat dairy, eggs, nuts, beans and vegetables. Fat also provides energy, and at least 20 percent of your calories should come from fat for peak performance, says Williams. But be choosy with the fats in your diet, and go for healthy sources such as oils, nuts and fatty fish, and avoid fried foods.
Soccer players need to eat frequently throughout the day to maintain energy levels. A good meal plan should include four to six small meals a day. Each meal should include carbs, protein and fat. For example, a healthy breakfast meal to start your day right might include a bowl of whole-grain cereal with a banana and low-fat milk. To maximize your nutrient intake, include a fruit or vegetable with each meal. To replenish energy stores and start muscle recovery after practice or games, eat a carb and protein snack, such as a turkey sandwich or a low-fat yogurt, as soon as you’re done.