There are many different ways to help better your performance as a soccer player. Such ways include physical, mental and nutritional elements for your game.
All elements are vitally important as each other, however, nutrition is pivotal for supplying the energy you need to run for 90 minutes and also help you recover after training and match days to ensure you remain at optimal performance capacity every time you play or train. However, what should we eat before a soccer match to perform at peak levels? Let’s delve into some useful tips and pre-game research to help answer this question better.
Macronutrients: What Are They?
Macronutrients, or macros for short, are the three most important suppliers of nutrients that the body needs to absorb to help fuel for specific energy and recovery demands. These are called carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Now, this is where it gets more specific as not everybody will require the same amounts of macros. This is due to individuals who have different energy demands from one another.
An example of this would be that a bodybuilder would require significantly more protein than a soccer player due to their break down in muscle tissue and demand to grow more muscle. However, a soccer player would be heavily reliant on carbohydrates, the main source of energy that is provided to us, as opposed to the amount of protein and carbohydrates that a bodybuilder may need, in order to fuel them to run for 90-minute matches.
We burn said macros at different rates as they provide benefits at varied but important bouts, please see the below table for more information:
|Macronutrient And Exercise Intensity|
|Fats||Fat stores are typically utilised first out of all 3 macros and are usually consumed for high-intensity bursts, e.g. 100m sprinting.|
|Carbohydrates||Carbohydrates are generally considered the most important macro as it helps us store energy days in advance in aid of helping us release it for prolonged use of fuel, e.g. football or marathon running.|
|Protein||Proteins supply little energy usage. The body will only tap into protein stores for energy under very depleted circumstances if there are no fats or carbs to fuel from. Protein still plays a vital role in recovering from intense exercise, helps provide strength to our muscles and should be utilised in every diet, however, the uptake is generally higher for strength building athletes, e.g. bodybuilders.|
Carb-Loading: Preparation Days For Match Week
Soccer players who train and perform competitively may benefit from something called carbohydrate loading. Carbohydrate loading is something that is done a few days before a match where a player would typically eat a large number of carbohydrates (around 7-10g per kg of body weight per day).
This is done in the same period where the intensity of training and duration levels are decreased and will help lead to higher levels of muscle glycogen stores within 2-3 days, thus enabling the body to have more energy to burn during match day.
Below is an example of a one-day carb-loading diet which provides 500g of carbohydrates (FIFA, 2010):
|Example or one day of a carbohydrate loading diet providing 630g of carbohydrate* (i.e. to provide 9g/kg carbohydrate for a player weighing 70kg).|
|Early AM||20g = 2 cups cereal with milk + 250ml fruit juice + 1 banana + 2 thick slices toast + thick spread of jam|
|Late AM||50g = 500 ml soft drink or 750ml sports drink|
|Midday||150g = 1 large bread roll + 1 medium muffin + fruit smoothie|
|Snack||50g = 200g flavoured yoghurt + 250ml fruit juice|
|Dinner||200g = 3 cups cooked pasta + 2 cups fruit salad + 2 scoops ice cream + 500ml sports drink|
|Snack 2||30g = 50g chocolate|
It should be quick to mention that the above information can differ significantly if the intensity of exercise is either light or very high. Below is a table for daily carbohydrate needs for fuelling and recovering (Burke et al., 2011):
Protein: Consumption Leading To Match Week
Another important macronutrient that professional soccer players must consume is protein. Protein helps the body by creating new tissue within the body, including muscle, and the repair of old or damaged tissue. Please see below information on protein as supplied by FIFA (2010):
Protein Rich Foods – 10g Protein is Provided by
A Few Words About Hydration
Hydration is super-important for athletic performance as well. Dehydration by 5% of body weight could lead to a 30% decrease in one’s physical capacity!
The general rule of thumb for daily water intake is to drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces. So if you weigh 130 pounds, you’d want to drink at least 65 ounces of water a day.
With that said, how much water you should drink depends on a wide array of variables, such as level of physical activity or rate of sweating. You will need to figure out for yourself the correct amount of water for peak performance on the field.
To ensure proper hydration, drink two glasses of water in the morning and then consume 1 to 2 glasses every 2 hours. Alternatively, you may keep a bottle of water around and slowly sip from it throughout the day.
Match Day Nutrition
Matchday nutrition is pinnacle for all soccer players. An afternoon kick-off will usually involve the same type of foods that an individual will keep within their diet regime throughout the week but instead the timing of the meal and amounts of macros in the meal will differ.
As previously mentioned above by Burke et al., (2011) it is important to consume around 6-12g per kg of body weight for carbohydrates on match day that will involve an extreme commitment to moderate and high-intensity exercise. This meal should be consumed around 3-4 hours before the game to allow your body to appropriately digest the pre-game meal and allow your glycogen (energy) reserves to be maintained effectively in preparation for the match ahead. It should also be noted to keep protein and fat to a small amount as this will help avoid carrying a ‘heavy stomach’ and debilitating performance.
If the match is an earlier kick-off then an important aspect of your nutrition will come from your dinner the night before. Ensure to consume extra portions of carbohydrates such as pasta, rice or bread. Additionally, breakfast on the day of the game should be your most vital meal which should be light and low in fats and carbohydrates should be the predominant macro.
What to keep in mind for match-day nutrition?
Match-day nutrition requires very careful attention and balancing of nutrients. All in all, here’s what your goals should be with your meals on the day of the match:
- Replenished glycogen, potassium, and amino acids.
- Hydration (which was covered earlier).
Why are these points important, and how do you eat with them in mind? Let’s have a look at each component more in-depth (except for hydration since I talked about it already) to answer those questions.
Our body stores carbohydrates – and thus, energy – in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is reserved for intensive, powerful, and short-term bursts of effort. Given how frequent such bursts are on the field, you want to have your glycogen fully replenished on match day.
Muscles contain about 300 to 400 grams of carbohydrates – practice typically uses up half of that amount.
Glycogen refueling requires some amount of planning. You don’t want to replenish your entire stores of glycogen on game day. Carb loading could cause blood sugar to spike and then drop sharply, negatively affecting your performance.
This means that your diet throughout the several days before the match should be well-balanced so that you get a steady amount of glycogen each day.
Since you are likely doing some light training and follow a proper nutrition plan during the run-up to the game, your glycogen storage should be fine.
If your diet on the days leading to the match has been balanced, you won’t have to consume too many carbohydrates on event day. This is important because you should:
- Be recovered energetically.
- Be light during the game (more on this later).
- Not have to deal with blood sugar level spikes.
Among the best sources of carbohydrates for a match-day breakfast are:
- Spinach and kale. These are filled with nutrients and fiber, as well as digest slowly, meaning that your body (hopefully) won’t be processing food during the game.
- Bananas. Bananas are high in fiber, potassium, and glucose for energy.
- Cinnamon. Cinnamon is great since it reduces blood sugar response.
Potassium and other
The point of consuming potassium is to avoid muscle cramps. Aside from potassium, you should also ensure proper hydration and proper sodium intake.
Bananas are among the most high-quality and most accessible sources of potassium. One-two bananas plus plenty of water should be enough to keep you going through the match.
Amino acids are necessary for proper muscle recovery. If your body needs amino acids but doesn’t have a sufficient amino acid intake, it is going to start breaking down your muscles to retrieve them. You obviously do not want this.
Eggs are optimal for a last meal before the game because they are fairly light yet contain everything you need. Among the nutrients you’d get from eggs are protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B2, and iodine.
2 to 4 eggs in the morning of match day should be enough to supply your body with amino acids.
About 2 hours before the game, you may also consume BCAAs (branched chained amino acids). Being pure amino acids, these are easy to digest and can be taken close to the match. But do keep in mind that some leagues, associations, or schools forbid the consumption of BCAA before matches.
Avoid big foods right before the game to stay light. Your last meal should ideally be 3 to 4 hours before the game, although you may experiment with your schedule and see what works best for you.
If you consume a lot of food before the game, your body will dedicate resources to its digestion. If this happens, you’ll feel sick and weak during the match – certainly not what you want.
Aside from timing, also try to limit yourself to lighter foods, like bananas, fruits, vegetables, or sources of protein like eggs.
Example of a pre-match nutrition plan
To give you some perspective as to how to organize your nutrition on match day, let’s have a look at one meal example.
Suppose that your match is set at 2 PM. Following the points I’ve covered earlier, here’s how your meal plan should look:
- Upon waking. 1-2 glasses of water shortly after waking.
- 10 AM (4 hours before the match). 2-4 scrambled eggs with vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, kyle, onions, or mushrooms. You may add fruit, oats, berries, and raisins to restore glycogen. Also consume a few glasses of water.
- 1 PM ( right before warmups). You may eat a banana and 10mg of BCAAs, if they are allowed by your league or association. Continue drinking water to stay hydrated.
This was a really simple example that you may try on yourself. See how it works and try to experiment by removing/adding food items to find a good plan for your specific needs.
The Extra Time
So, there we have it, what to eat before a soccer game to help enhance your performance. Try and experiment with the nutritional tips mentioned above, see if it shows a vast difference to your game, and most importantly, share your experience with us in the comments below!