Soccer Nutrition: 6 Key Areas to Consider
Change your mindset around what is the purpose of food. Most people think of food as something they eat because they are hungry and they make their choices based on what tastes good. For an athlete, food is fuel. Change your thought pattern of I eat what I want and when I want it to a mindset of my body is a state-of-the-art machine that needs the proper fuel to help me perform on the field and in the weight room while recovering quickly off of the field.
If becoming better at soccer is important to you, then you need to give yourself any big or small advantage that you possibly can. This article is all about gaining an advantage over your opponents by doing what it takes in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Let's face it, most athletes don't take their eating too seriously, which makes this easy for you to perfect your to gain an advantage over your competition. Use the fuels that get your body to max out its performance. However, keep in mind that there comes an order of importance. From most important to least necessary for quality performance on the field are:
1. Overall calorie consumption
Overall calorie consumption is critical because you need to correct amount of calories to provide the fuel to allow you to perform on the field. Calories are units of energy, which are converted by your body into a good performance or a bad performance. Quality calories (fruits, vegetables, lean meats, eggs, healthy oils [fish, avocado, grapeseed, walnut, coconut, olive,…], quality grains [sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa,…] will lead to better performances. Poor quality calories (cake, candy, pop, brownies, cookies, white bread,…) will lead to lesser performances. Now, will one lousy meal ruin the goals of a person that eats healthily or will one quality meal make it so that you are now incredibly healthy? Absolutely not! We both know that. Soccer Nutrition is about being consistent with good food to ensure that you are fueling your body. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the average person eat 2,000 calories a day. However, we are soccer players. We are athletes that are looking to perform in a sport that you run a lot. As such, consult your physician before trying any new diets, but eating more than 2,000 calories will probably be beneficial for you, assuming you are at least 14 years old and do not play goalie.
Water is super important! Your body is about 60% water, so most of your drinks should be what? Yep, you guessed it! WATER. Water is key to staying hydrated. In fact, consuming the correct amount of water makes it feel like you have more energy. Also, it is essential because it helps to keep your skin, hair, joints, and brain healthy. Consider getting reverse osmosis filtered water and putting them in your glass containers to ensure that you have extremely high-quality H20.
Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. As soccer players, consume carbohydrates before a game or practice. (However, if you have multiple games or practices that day, then eat carbs before the first on and in between each performance. Protein is excellent at all times of the day. It provides amino acids to help repair muscles so that they grow back stronger. Protein and fats tend to keep you feeling full a lot longer. Carbohydrates tend to be faster-digesting foods like bananas, watermelon, rice, potatoes... These are great to ensure you have enough glycogen (blood sugar) to fuel your performance. Fats tend to be slower digesting and are often best consumed later in the day, after any practices or games. That is not to say that you should not put olive oil on your salad earlier in the day, it just is better to eat more of your fats (oils, healthy nut butter [no...peanuts are technically not nuts], avocados...) later in the day. Fats keep you feeling full allowing you to avoid those late-night urges for food. Fats help slow the digestion of your food during the night to have quality nutrition to feed your body and muscles for most of the night.
Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, antioxidants,… These play a crucial role in maintaining good health and playing for years to come. Quality micronutrients also lead to healthier skin, hair, teeth, nails, brain functioning, joints,… Now, many people think that a taking a vitamin will cover all of your bases. If only this were true, then people that took their vitamins would look as radiant and as healthy as those that eat non-genetically modified and organic foods providing quality macronutrients and micronutrients. More often than not, vitamins only get partially digested. They get better absorbed when consumed with food, but much of each vitamin you take ends up going out of your body in the bathroom. Therefore, eating higher quality foods will be more micronutrient rich and cover the bases that your vitamin misses.
5. Meal Timing/Meal Frequency
In recent years, the myth of many meals a day has been starting to get busted. Having a few meals a day is essential, but keep in mind that making sure your water intake and the number of calories you consume is correct is more important than the number of meals per day. Therefore, don't give too much of the time, effort, and money to the areas that won't produce significant results by themselves. Eating a few meals a day is good, as it spreads out your nutrition to allow a steady flow of calories, vitamins, minerals,… to be used by your body. However, get the items above this down first before worrying too much about if you should eat 4 or 6 meals per day.
If you read any bodybuilding magazine, they will have you thinking supplements are the most important. That is because their advertisers are supplement companies that want you to buy their products. Many of which can be very good to use, such as healthy pre-workouts before games, or slower digesting protein, such as casein protein before bed. Keep in mind though that supplements fill gaps in a meal plan, they are not themselves the meal plan. Eat your fruits, veggies, and lean meats first while filling in any lacking areas with supplements to complete a well-balanced nutrition plan for a top performing soccer player.
When you have decided on taking your soccer playing seriously, each thing you do will only make a small difference, but add up a lot of little good things, and you will get a big good thing. Add up many lousy nutrition habits, and you will get a soccer player that has so much more potential.
P.S. A good night's sleep, though not technically not a part of a nutrition plan, is critical too.
Check out the book Soccer Nutrition to read more on how to improve your meal plan and to eat like Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo.