While training and practice are essential for the big game, it’s far from the only way to prepare. Nutrition is a vital part of every successful soccer player’s life. While this type of care extends beyond gameday, today we’re going to discuss how to properly feed youth soccer players so that they play and feel their best.
A quick note- this post is meant as an educational resource to springboard your research into soccer nutrition. Every player is unique and will have different nutritional needs. We highly suggest that players work with a Registered Dietician (RD) for personalized nutritional guidance. TLL is fortunate to have a great RD and certified personal trainer, Kristen Richardson, available to our players. She can work out with clients, understand the demand the workouts require, and also apply the appropriate foods for recovery based on the client’s goals. Sign up to access appointments.
When to Eat?
According to Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, the best time for youth soccer players to eat a meal is 3 to 4 hours before playing. Doing this gives the body enough time to fully digest the food, which is important for optimal performance. Most players, however, don’t stop at a single meal before playing. A small meal or snack, 1-2 hours before the game, is also very beneficial. Finally, light pre-game, liquid nutrition snacks provide extra hydration and energy without slowing players down.
It is important to note, however, that proper eating should extend far beyond a single day. Healthy eating habits should help players be at their best. That doesn’t mean cutting everything out, though. Enjoying ice cream and chips on occasion is fine! Overall, however, we believe in the power of eating healthy for the players’ mental and physical benefits.
What Not to Eat?
Greasy and fast foods should be avoided, specifically on game day. These foods are tough for the body to digest, making a player lethargic or even sick. High-fiber and protein-rich foods are great for a general diet, but not so much for game day because they slow the digestive process down and cause similar feelings of being too full to play. Finally, avoid easily digested, super sugary foods like candy to circumvent “sugar crashing.”
What to Eat
Soccer players push their bodies hard, burn a lot of calories, and sweat a lot. To play their best, choosing the right foods to replace spent energy is a must. We’ve covered when to eat and what not to eat, so let’s dig into the fun part! What should youth soccer players eat?
Complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and beans, are ideal for soccer players because they break down into glucose or energy. Because it breaks down slowly, blood sugar levels stabilize, preventing energy levels from going up and down drastically. They’re also great for feeling full while also being easy for the body to digest.
On the other hand, too many processed or simple carbohydrates, such as cereal, fruit juice concentrate, and soda, will give a quick burst of energy that quickly disappears.
Protein is harder to digest, so be careful not to overdo it. That being said, protein is essential for building strong, healthy muscles. Tree nuts or plant-based proteins like peas and tofu are all great options to try.
Contrary to popular belief, some fats are required in a balanced diet! Be sure to add healthy, unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) to your diet. According to helpguide.org, healthy fats help lower the risk of heart problems and fight inflammation! They suggest adding foods like avocados, nuts, peanut butter, and various seeds to your diet.
Don’t overlook the importance of proper hydration. Water should always be the first choice before the game. However, liquids with nutritional value, like a low-sugar smoothie, can also be added and are great for the hour before the game.
Example Pre-Game Meal Plan
Meal – 3 to 4 hours Before Playing
- Lentil Soup
- Roasted vegetable quinoa bowl
- Whole wheat blueberry bagel with almond butter spread and a side of fresh fruit
- Protein pancakes with berries
Snack – 1 to 2 hours Before Playing
- Rice crackers with peanut butter
- Fresh or dried fruit
- Nuts or seeds
Snack – 30 Minutes to 15 Minutes Before Playing
- Low-sugar smoothie
- Sports drink
TLL is Committed to Soccer Nutrition
Nutrition is an essential part of our holistic, 360 approach to soccer. We work closely with our dietitian to ensure we’re providing the best quality information possible. If you would like to learn more or work with Kristen, sign up for the Train Like Legends platform. Let’s work together to become legendary.