Your nutrition can make you or break you. This is particularly true as a soccer player, since the fuel and nutrients (or lack thereof) in your diet has a direct impact on your performance. Just as training, sleep/rest, mental preparation etc. all help prepare you for maximal playing, good nutrition is a key part of your effort. Yet optimal nutrition, and hydration, are a commonly overlooked part of a player’s regimen. It is especially important to be attentive to this topic since the nutritional needs of soccer players are high as you are constantly moving (and focusing) for up to 90 minutes at a time.
At Techne, a major theme is to take ownership over your own development. We call it being intentional, or deliberate. Taking ownership over your nutrition is a crucial part of that. The purpose of this blog is not to dispense comprehensive nutritional advice, but to encourage intentional (deliberate) nutrition. There are many excellent resources online and experts in the field to explain the specifics of sports- and soccer-specific diet and nutrition. Our goal here is general: to emphasize the importance of maximizing eating and hydrating for your performance, recovery, and your overall health.
Some Things to Consider
When examining your nutrition, consider the following:
- Food is fuel. Are you getting enough, and is it properly distributed throughout your daily routine? By the time you feel very hungry or thirsty, you have probably waited too long.
- What phase of the season are you in? Whether it’s preseason, offseason, a training day, or game day, that will directly impact how you fuel, and the timing of your intake. The higher the volume of work you’re doing, the more you’ll need to consume.
- Hydration is key. Consuming the right amount of water and/or sports drinks is a vital part of the nutrition equation. Some foods also have high water content, and can help with this. One thing to consider here is the absorption of fluids. Electrolytes or some salt in your food can help with that.
- There’s no universal, “right” meal plan. When it comes to a dietary regimen, it’s not “one size fits all.” Everyone’s body and preparation are different, so there is no magic food or drink that is necessarily right or desirable for everyone.
- It’s a process. All athletes need to learn what they need to perform at their best. It can take some trial and error. What you eat, how much, and the timing of your meals will be something you are constantly adjusting throughout your playing career based on your age, preferences, work load, and the situation you’re in (e.g. living at home with your parents, in college, playing as a pro overseas, etc.).
- Stick to what works for you. Avoid making significant changes to your diet on game days without testing first, such as in training. You’ll learn what gives you enough energy without upsetting your stomach or potentially making you feel lethargic. Take note of what you’ve eaten and how your body reacts.
- Don’t get caught hungry or thirsty. Prepare ahead of time by bringing all your food and drink to training/games. Proper nutrition takes planning. It’s also good to understand suitable substitute food and drinks for situations in which you may be away from home or not have your meals and snacks packed to bring.
- Fuel throughout. Nutrition isn’t just something to focus on before you get to the field. Pack a post-game snack, and maintain your energy during a game by consuming a halftime snack or sports drink.
- Don’t miss the recovery window. Replenish with a hefty snack or meal within 30 minutes of a workout or game, which will allow your body to maximize recovery for the next session.
Below are two examples of game day meals from professional soccer players based on a 7 p.m. game time. These examples illustrate that everyone’s preparation can be different. Each player will have their own nutrition style. For example, some athletes have allergies or restrictions, and others just personal preferences that are unique to them and their performance. The common thread is that all top athletes are very intentional about what they eat, and when. These are the food choices that got these players to the top, and keep them there. You, too, should be deliberate about your nutrition, whatever style of a balanced diet you consume.
Mark McKenzie, defender, Philadelphia Union (MLS)
U.S. international; 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year Award nominee
9-10:30 a.m. Breakfast
3-5 eggs (scrambled)
A carb (waffle, pancakes, bagel, or biscuit usually)
12-1:30 p.m. Lunch/Snack
Cold cut sandwich with pepper jack cheese and a little bit of mayo
Fruit parfait or yogurt and granola
3:30-4:30 p.m. Pre-Game Meal
Chicken parm with pasta
Hydration throughout the day: water and electrolyte drinks
Nicole Barnhart, goalkeeper, Utah Royals (NWSL)
2x Olympic Gold Medalist, Techne GK Coach (Gluten free diet)
7-8 a.m. Breakfast
Avocado on 2 slices gluten-free toast topped w/poached egg, spinach & salsa, bacon, fruit
11:30-1:00 p.m. Lunch/Snack
Coconut yogurt with gluten-free granola, cinnamon, banana, berries, honey
3-4 p.m. Pre-Game Meal
Gluten-free toast w/hummus, avocado, grilled or roasted chicken & spinach/veggies, fruit, sweet potato crackers
Hydration throughout the day: Water and/or coconut water
Pre/post warmup & halftime: Coconut water