Check out our interview with Certified Nutritionist Curt Thompson

Why should I care?

Ridiculously, as late as the 1996 player nutrition was not monitored in the English Premier League. Players would eat big fatty meals right before games then get hopelessly drunk celebrating or comiserating afterwards.

“We flew in the morning so that we could have breakfast on board – sausage, beans, and fried potatoes. We had beer and champagne as well – doesn’t everybody?” (Brian Clough)

“The team ate at McDonald’s so often it was renamed McDorrance’s” (University of North Carolina Women – Tim Crothers)

Meanwhile Italian and Spanish players were being given specific diets not just for right before and after games, but for their entire week. Also, they were banned from drinking alcohol. Although the English teams struggled technically and tactically to compete in Europe in the mid-1990’s, there is plenty of evidence that the diet and fitness of players played a big part in this failure too. “Drinking alcohol is as silly as putting diesel in a racing car… If you have a booze-up every week, you won’t edge out a foreign player who doesn’t.” (Gerard Houllier)

What should I eat?

The following rules are prescribed by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal regarding healthier eating and drinking for soccer players: –

  • Cut back on red meat, chips, and fried foods;.
  • Eat more vegetables, fish, chicken, and drink plenty of water;
  • Eat carrots, cereal, nuts, rice cakes, bagels or toast rather than chips, chocolate and candy;
  • Reduce sugary foods. Cut out sugar in breakfast cereal, coffee and soda. Reduce your intake of fatty foods. For example, reduce the amount of butter, margarine, fatty meat, burgers, fries and chips that you eat; and
  • Reduce the amount of coffee and soft drinks that you consume, and replace them with water, fruit juice or other healthy drinks.

Foods rich in carbohydrates are important, but they must be balanced with a reasonable intake of protein, low fat and lots of fruit and vegetables. The best carbohydrates to eat are the Complex Carbohydrates, which you can find it pasta, rice, noodles, pulses (beans,peas,lentils), bread, unsweetened breakfast cereals, potatoes and corn. Peaches, apricots and bananas are excellent choices in fruit.

How fast and how often?

People who are trying to reduce their food intake often wait longer between meals. This makes them hungry (and often angry!) so that when they do eat, it happens very quickly and they probably eat more than they needed. Try to eat moderate-sized portions as it takes time for your body to realize that it is full. After eating, wait 30 minutes to see if you are still hungry before taking second helpings.

Many trainers recommend eating smaller portions more regularly, rather than sticking to the three traditional meals of the day.  The average number of eating occasions has gone up from 3.9 in the 1970’s to 5.6 by 2010, but keep in mind that there is a difference between smaller more regular meals, and snacking. Snacks account for more than 30% of all empty calories consumed daily in America. Children aged 2-18 are averaging three snacks per day, generating $374 billion dollars per year for the industry. We recommend avoiding highly processed junk food snacks between meals, and trying to have more nutritious meals more regularly throughout the day.

If you are busy this can be difficult to achieve on a consistent basis though. Spending one day each week to make meals for the other days can help you with that process – slow cooking lunches, preparing healthy snacks and having them all ready for when you need them.

What about drinking?

It is recommended that adults drink at least 64 ounces of water every day. Maybe you have heard of the 8×8 rule (drink eight 8 ounce glasses in each day). Really though it depends on a number of factors including temperature, exercise, altitude, and humidity. What is important to remember is that the body is not quick to report when you are not drinking enough so do not wait to feel thirsty before drinking. Encourage players to monitor the color of their urine for a better idea of how hydrated they are. During practice, you should be replacing lost water every fifteen minutes and you must continue to do this after practices finishes – a process we call rehydration.

Research is mixed on this question of sports drinks. Most contain carbohydrates and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) which water alone does not. In the right concentrations, these can replace energy lost during exercise. Studies (often by the companies who make the drinks!) have shown an increase in performance and/or recovery for athletes taking sports drinks over water. When the question is covered on coaching courses they often bring in an outside “expert” who works for one of the same companies.

The main problem with sports drinks is that they are not all the same. Many are too concentrated which might actually slow the absorption process. Water at room temperature only takes 8 minutes to be hydrated, whereas the sugars in sports drinks can slow the absorption process down by an additional 10 minutes. Often people will dilute the drink by mixing about 1 part water to 1 part sports drink.

Before the Game

According to recent research (possibly from the Potato Council!) potatoes, make a great meal on the day of a game. They contain glucides, which deliver a steady flow of muscular energy. They also contain useful vitamins. According to one piece of research, a player should consume 200-300 grams of potatoes, boiled for 20 minutes, exactly three hours before going on the pitch.

If that doesn’t sound very tasty, just remember to avoid sugary snacks, protein-rich and fatty foods. Fruit, such as bananas, or other carbohydrate-rich snacks are better. Most importantly, try not to over-eat before a match.

Make sure you are properly hydrated before the game. Try to drink 6-8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes for the 1-2 hours before the game.

After the Game

One problem with eating after a match is that often players are not hungry. This is a great time to eat though, to replace lost energy and even help growth and development. Try to eat a meal rich in protein and carbohydrates as soon as you can after the game. Around 20 grams of protein after eating is the right amount to stimulate muscle protein synthesis for most people, or more specifically 0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Whey and milk protein are good choices that are effective for recovery

Additionally you need to replace salts. Most foods naturally contain salts, but fruit juices are particularly good choices, and these will also replace fluids.

Finally, remember to rest and give your body time to recover. After you have warmed down, try not to do strenuous exercise for the rest of the day and only light work the following day.

Check out our interview with certified nutritionist Curt Thompson

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