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Soccer is a very demanding sport; running around the pitch for 90 minutes is hard to do when you’re unfit.
Due to how rigorous the popular sport is, nutrition has always been a big deal. Everyone – from soccer moms to professional coaches – asks these questions.
What foods will enhance performance on the field? What foods will give the players a great energy boost?
Foods like whole-grain bread, whole-grain cereals, bananas, and chicken are great options for pre-game meals because of their high-carb content. Carbohydrates give the body a high energy boost, which is important in soccer. Meat and fish also come in handy because proteins help to build and repair muscles.
As an avid fan of the sport, as well as a former Sunday league player, I have been fascinated with nutrition in sports since before my college days.
Many times, I learned about poor nutrition by making drastic mistakes like eating a cheeseburger before a game! I did all that so you wouldn’t have to.
Keep reading to gain valuable insights into nutrition, why it’s so important to soccer players like you, and tips on improving your performance on the pitch through your meals.
What Should You Eat Before Soccer Practice
“Do not try anything new on race day” is a very popular saying among athletes, and they’re right! The days you get to try a lot of new ideas are soccer practice days. So you can use those days to test different foods and see what works best for you.
Why is this important? Well, because people are different. You might have allergies to certain foods. Some foods could even go against your religious beliefs. So, find out at soccer practice what you can and can’t eat, and stick to the best options on match day.
So, what type of food should you eat before practice? According to the USADA, “a diet rich in carbohydrates increases both endurance and intermittent high-intensity performance…”
Essentially, pack up on carbs! Carb-rich foods will give your body the calories it needs to get on that pitch and wow the coach!
If you’re having practice first thing on Saturday morning, try a quick plate of oatmeal with fruit. Low-sugar whole-grain cereal also works wonders.
A peanut butter toast sandwich would also hit the right spots. If soccer practice is usually in the evenings, then you can plan a high-carb lunch.
Pasta is always a brilliant option for carbs. You can pair up your pasta with lean meat (like chicken) and some salad. Turkey or ham sandwiches – with some fruit – would make for a great lunch as well.
As a side note, you can have a small snack for an added energy burst an hour before practice starts. Granola bars are a great go-to. Fruits like bananas or apples are also great. If you prefer liquid, you can go for a sports drink instead.
Now, your pre-practice meal serves two important purposes. It keeps you from feeling hungry before and during practice. It also maintains optimal levels of energy for your muscles.
So, aim to eat 3-4 hours before playing soccer so your food can digest. Eat too early, and you might feel hungry during practice. Eat too late, and you could be that person who vomits on another player!
During my college years, I made the mistake of eating a full meal right before joining a soccer game. I didn’t last 7 minutes on the field, and it was horrible! Throwing up your lunch isn’t a great way to become popular in college!
What Should You Not Eat Before Soccer Practice?
Ice cream was the go-to energy boost for me when I was a kid. In some ways, it made sense to me at the time. Taking lots of sugar gives me a lot of energy, which should help me with sports. Right? Well, I was wrong.
According to the Sugar Nutrition Resource Center, consuming sugar before a sporting activity can cause a dip in blood sugar levels. This results in athletes experiencing fatigue and shakiness.
Why does blood sugar dip to begin with? Well, that’s because sweet foods like ice cream can cause spikes in blood sugar.
That’s why soft drinks and coffee can make you feel euphoric or happier for a short time. That feeling doesn’t last, and you can find yourself feeling sluggish afterward. Imagine feeling sluggish on the soccer pitch!
It seems easy, but you need to steer clear of any high-fat foods. This includes everything fried! French fries, fried chicken, onion rings.
Hamburgers and bacon need to go as well. That triple-decker cheeseburger should be a thing of the past if you’re serious about soccer!
Excess protein needs to go! Did you note the word ‘excess’? Protein sounds good, and it does play an important role in a soccer player’s diet.
Yet, it’s bad in large quantities, especially before practice sessions. So, stay away from protein shakes and the likes. You can find a good amount of pre-practice protein in beans, eggs, and lean meat.
Do your best to stay away from artificial sweeteners. They can mess with your stomach and digestion. Remember, the last thing anyone wants during a game is an upset stomach!
Watch what you drink! Soft drinks and coffee will give you temporary highs that can crash during games. Also, avoid alcohol. Chugging down three beers isn’t going to do you any good during practice.
No matter how healthy they are, it’s important to avoid spicy foods. These could affect your digestion and give you trouble on the field.
Avoid high-fiber foods and flatulent vegetables (broccoli, artichokes, cauliflower). They can influence your digestion as well.
What Do Professional Soccer Players Eat Before a Game?
Do you know Arsene Wenger? The popular soccer manager achieved great success with Arsenal in England before retiring in 2018. That success was born from the rigorous changes Wenger made to the team’s diet back in 1996.
He banned the players from drinking alcohol. He discouraged them from smoking and eating junk food.
He also added pasta to the team’s pre-game meals, alongside boiled chicken instead of red meat. Within 7 years, Wenger guided Arsenal to seven major trophies!
Today, it’s rare to see professional soccer players smoke, or drink alcohol and soft drinks. In June 2021, Cristiano Ronaldo removed two bottles of Coca-Cola from his table at a press conference.
His gesture wiped $4 billion off Coke’s market value! It goes to show how big of a deal diet is to professional soccer players.
Professional soccer players don’t always follow the same diet plans. Their meals can vary based on personal tastes, cultural differences, and how their bodies react.
Nutrition expert Julie Neville works with professional soccer players in Britain. She provides the players with bananas and nuts, instead of chips and sweets for snack time.
Her husband – former professional player Phil Neville – always began the day with eggs.
Another former professional Diego Forlan shared his breakfast routine on game days. He takes fresh pineapple, brown bread, and yogurt for breakfast.
He also adds an omelet to increase protein intake. Wayne Rooney shared his pre-game regimen as well. A bowl of cereal and a banana before a morning game. He’ll top that off with cereal bars and energy gels at the stadium.
As you can see, diets can differ across each player or team, but the underlying principles are the same.
Healthy carbs, some protein, and very little fat. Players do have fiber in their diet, but not on game days.
What Should You Eat Before a Soccer Game
You’ve worked hard in training, run the extra mile, and now it’s time for the big game! What should you eat?
Well, the straightforward answer is: whatever you ate that worked well during practice sessions. Do not try anything new on race day!
Keep in mind that no dieting plan fits every player. It’s important to continue testing. What worked for me during my college playing years might not work for you. The only way you can figure it out is by experimenting with different foods.
Every time you try a new meal and go for soccer practice, track your body. Use how your body feels during the game as feedback.
Did you get weak faster? Were you able to run more miles compared to yesterday? This is the best way to improve our pre-game nutrition effectively.
Now, let’s take a look at some beneficial foods that you could make your pick from. Remember, you’re looking for carbs that digest quickly, some protein, and no fats or fiber.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t food! And I agree. However, hydrating your body is paramount to top performance on the field.
That’s why even professional soccer players tend to have water bottles nearby, even during the game.
According to the American Council on Exercise, you should be consuming 17 to 20 ounces of water around 2-3 hours before playing sport. 30 minutes to the game, drink another 8 ounces to fully hydrate yourself.
Sports drinks also come in handy as well. They do the important job of refilling fluids lost via sweat, and they add a carb-boost too.
2. Energy bars
I don’t think I can accurately count how many types of energy bars exist at your local mart. So how do you pick the right bar?
Well, keep an eye out for energy bars that contain 30-60 grams of carbohydrates. And there’s a reason for this too.
Short exercise bursts, like a 100m dash, won’t deplete your energy reserves. A small energy bar with 20 grams of carbohydrates would be quite fine.
However, as a soccer player, you’re going to spend 45 minutes running around before half-time. So you should go for that extra energy because your reserves will rapidly deplete in time.
Surprise! Something you would enjoy! Eating yogurt can provide you with a healthy and beneficial breakfast before the match.
It’s also a dairy product: a good source of calcium. Calcium is very important for your bone and muscle strength, so that’s an added advantage.
There’s a quick note of warning here though: Keep away from sugary yogurts! Make sure the yogurt you’re consuming has low sugar and low additives too.
To spice things up, blend some fruit with your yogurt for a fantastic mix of nutrients and taste.
Non-fried chicken is one of the healthiest meats you can consume. It’s high in vitamins and minerals, and it’s also low in fat.
That makes for a perfect meal when you’re preparing your body for a game.
Chicken is packed full of protein, and it can be eaten and prepared in a variety of ways. You can grill it, you can boil it, and you can cook it in a pasta dish.
It’s easy to add some chicken to your favorite meals. That way, you can get a full meal three hours before the game.
This is an amazing source of carbohydrates. Brown or long-grain white rice is easy to prepare and goes well with other foods. Rice, chicken, and some veggies will give you a perfect pre-game meal.
Quick tip here: It can be tempting to eat a lot of rice, but you should be moderate with your portions.
If you take in too many carbs before a match, your digestive system will remain active during the game.
This amazing Italian dish is extremely popular with top-level athletes worldwide, and for good reason too! I remember getting myself a large serving of pasta the night before a big inter-school soccer game. Boy, that was fun!
Pasta is filled with healthy carbs; the kind that digests quickly and gives you energy steadily. This is much better than the quick soft drink burst that suddenly falls during the game and leaves you in the lurch.
Remember that portion control is important. As with rice, don’t eat too much pasta like me!
These are the perfect protein source. They’re beneficial to you before the game, and you can add them to nearly any breakfast you’re having.
Omelets or scrambled eggs are a fun option to go with your toast and beans. Mix them in with some carbs to get that balance of protein and carbohydrates you need for the game.
Another great source of protein is fish. Because proteins are important for building and repairing muscle, they can be very useful in the hours before your game.
Another key element with fish is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Yes, this is one of those very healthy oils! Omega-3 is vital to the body, and it helps fight fatigue and improve circulation.
9. Baked beans
Everyone (including me) loves beans on toast. It’s a fantastic delicacy outside the world of sports, and it’s one you can have for breakfast on match day!
Beans come packed with protein and contain very little fat. This makes them a great side for your carb diet. They’re also tasty and affordable; a perfect combination!
Try not to add too many proteins to your match day breakfast though. Remember you want mainly carbs for the energy boost when the game starts.
10. Whole-grain toast
I’ve mentioned toast a couple of times in this article, and that’s because people love toast. However, you have to make sure you’re eating whole-grain toast.
Whole-grain bread contains all the goodness that has been removed from white bread! The B vitamins, magnesium, fiber, iron…
All gone! So you need to make sure you’re getting bread that gives you those important nutrients for your game. Toast tends to go well with a lot of breakfast options, so that’s a great plus for your match day mornings!
Athletes love bananas! If you follow professional sports players on social media, then you know what I’m talking about. There’s a good reason for it: Bananas are one of the best pre-game foods in the world!
They’re very rich in potassium, which is a highly essential mineral for optimal performance on the pitch.
Potassium is popular for reducing cramps, and it also helps with muscle movement.
So don’t forget to pack a banana on your way to the stadium!
12. Whole-grain Cereals
I’m not going to lump all the cereals available into a single word, because they’re not all the same! While some cereals will improve your health and performance, others can drastically mess up your game.
That’s why it’s important to pick whole-grain cereals, like granola or wheat.
They’re a great way to get energy into your body quickly, and they won’t let you down like their sugary counterparts.
Remember to top up your cereal bowl with reduced-fat milk or soya milk. Keep away from full-cream milk!
You don’t have to fry your potatoes, kill all the nutrients, and still get unhealthy oils into your system. How about boiling them instead?
You can top up your potatoes with some sweet corn. Corn provides some carbs but also gives an addition of vitamins and minerals.
With some tuna on top of the potato and corn mix, you have yourself a nice balanced meal in preparation for your upcoming game. Remember to eat your potatoes moderately!
Oats are similar to wholegrain. They have tons of energy to be released efficiently, and they make a great high-carb option.
Oatmeal is easy to whip up, and with some soya milk, you’ll have a healthy balanced meal before your game.
Keep in mind that oats can feel heavy in the stomach. So, make sure you take your meal at least three hours before your game starts.
You won’t be adding sugar to your oats, so if you want it sweet, add fruits to spice things up!
What Should You Not Eat Before a Soccer Game
There might be some healthy foods that you can’t eat because of allergies, culture, and what-not. The days to figure it all out are the practice days.
When you’re headed for a game, you should already know what your body prefers. Important matchdays are not the right time for experimentations, remember that.
So, let’s take a look at some foods you should never eat before a game, ever!
This is a no-no! Cheeseburgers contain everything from red and processed meats to full-fat dairy products. These fatty foods can slow down your digestion, which will make you uncomfortable during the game.
Keep in mind that fats take the longest time to digest. If you eat a cheeseburger 3 hours before your game, your digestive system will keep using your energy.
You’ll tire faster than others and get subbed out in the first half!
Sweets and desserts
Anything from a bowl of ice cream to a warm chocolate brownie will affect you adversely on the pitch.
Anything that contains a lot of sugar will cause your blood sugar levels to spike. A steep crash can follow the burst of energy you might feel in the first half.
You’ll end up underperforming, frustrated, and in need of another sugar rush. It’s best to stay away from sugar entirely.
I’m not trying to give salads a bad rep here! Salads are quite healthy, and they’re a great dieting choice. The high-fiber content keeps our digestive tract moving while also lowering our cholesterol levels.
However, during vigorous physical activity (like a football game), all that fiber could work a little too well and cause a sudden bout of diarrhea or stomach upset.
The last thing you want to do at half-time is to go in search of a toilet!
Enjoy your salads on other days, but keep them away on matchdays.
Remember, you’re not going for a 100-meter dash that lasts 12 seconds. You’re going for a 90-minute marathon with just 15 minutes to rest.
The combo of sugar and caffeine in these drinks will give you an energy rush, followed by an energy crash.
These energy crashes can be severe and leave you rather disoriented on the field. It could also cause stomach issues as well. The advice here is to treat energy drinks like the plague on matchdays!