Sports Nutrition Updates for Soccer Players
SoccerToday’s nutrition columnist Nancy Clark on practical tips for soccer players who want to win with good nutrition.
Soccer Player Nutrition: Fuel 101
Great news for soccer players of all ages. Everyone knows that nutrition is important and most of us realize that it can improve our performance, but we do not always know what to do! Sports nutrition was a hot topic at this years’ annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Exposition (FNCE; October 2019), hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s largest group of nutrition professionals.
This is the world’s largest annual meeting of food and nutrition professionals. Here are a few highlights, to keep you up to date with current sports nutrition recommendations.
SOCCER NUTRITION: Performance Enhancers – Supplements
Sports supplements that promise improved performance are always tantalizing.
If a supplement makes as little as 0.5 to 1% improvement, it is deemed to “work.”
While scientists want well-controlled research studies to prove effectiveness, soccer players (like all athletes) respond very quickly to anecdotes — and often spend lots of money on what might be just a glimmer of hope.
In the four months leading up to the Olympics in 2000, one athlete spent $3,480 on supplements!
The Australian Institute of Sport is creating a website for grouping supplements according to effectiveness:
- Group A (proven to enhance performance),
- Group B (deserves more research),
- Group C (little proof of meaningful benefits) and,
- Group D (Banned).
The helpful information can help guide your supplement choices. Remember: No amount of any supplement will compensate for a lousy diet!
SOCCER NUTRITION: Performance Enhancers – Sleep
One of the best performance enhancers is Vitamin Zzz, aka sleep!
Lack of sleep has detrimental effects on performance. Soccer players with good sleep quality are able to train harder, recover faster, and perform better. And take note: if you think you can drink coffee at night and still sleep fine, think again. Brain wave studies suggest otherwise…
How much sleep is enough?
Bottom Line: Teens should target 8 to 10 hours and adults 7 to 9 hours. Lack of sleep can significantly impact your diet. After two nights with only 4 to 5 hours of sleep, the appetite increases by about 20%. You’ll likely find yourself snacking more than usual — on fatty foods — and eating fewer fruits and veggies, usually consuming about 385 additional calories per day. Yikes!
More than 6 hours a night. Very few soccer players can perform well with less than that. Elite athletes commonly strive to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each day, including a nap between 1:00 and 4:00 pm. A later nap results in poorer sleep that night.
For good sleep information, visit and take the Athletes’ Sleep Screening Questionnaire. Athletes who understand the benefits of sleep tend to sleep about 20 minutes more.
SOCCER NUTRITION: Performance Enhancers – Muscle Building Tactics
When it comes to building muscle, you want to surround your workout with food, so you can get the most benefits from your efforts.
Intermittent Fasters, please take note: if you lift weights in a fasted state without having eaten any pre-exercise fuel, the muscle-building effect of exercise is not enough to out-weigh the muscle breakdown that happens in a fasted state.
Advice: Eat before you train!
Many soccer players assume if they fail to eat within 45 minutes of lifting weights, the anabolic (muscle-building) window slams shut. Wrong.
Refueling either 1 or 3 hours post-exercise generates a similar gain in muscle tissue.
For the average soccer player, the effect of post-exercise protein timing on muscle growth is relatively small.
For competitive bodybuilders, the gain is also small, but even small incremental changes can be meaningful at that level, so most prefer to err on the side of caution.
Consuming post-exercise protein stimulates insulin secretion, as does carbohydrate.
Did you know that whey protein stimulates more insulin than white bread?
Insulin reduces muscle breakdown and enhances glycogen replacement. Refueling with a combination of protein + carb is best for soccer players who do two-a-day workouts, to optimize glycogen replacement.
The youth soccer player, and even the adult soccer player, who trains once a day and refuels with a sports diet based on grains, starchy vegetables and fruits can replenish depleted glycogen stores over the course of the next 24 hours.
Does eating extra protein build bigger muscles?
The body incorporates only a limited amount of protein into new muscle tissue. Spacing out protein intake by consuming 20 grams of protein every 3 hours (four times a day) is preferable to eating 80 grams in one dose.
More specifically, soccer players want to target 0.2-0.25 g pro/lb. body weight (0.4 to 0.55 g/kg) four times a day. This target varies from player to player. Vegan players, for example, will want to consume a higher amount to get adequate leucine, an amino acid that triggers muscle growth.
SOCCER NUTRITION: Performance Enhancers – Eating Disorders in Male Athletes
Eating disorders (EDs) are not just a female problem.
Did you know: About 9% of male athletes—as compared to about 21% of female athletes—struggle with food issues?
Both male and female athletes restrict their food intake to lose undesired body fat.
The lack of fuel available to support normal bodily functions impacts bone health and reproductive function in men, just as it does in women. In male soccer players, low energy availability can lead to low testosterone, poor semen quality, reduced sperm count and lower sperm motility. In women, inadequate fuel shows up as loss of regular menses (amenorrhea), hence infertility.
Compared to female athletes, male athletes can withstand more of a severe deficit before symptoms appear, such as low testosterone, bone stress injuries, and reduced bone density/poor bone health (osteoporosis).
To reverse the energy deficit, soccer players need to boost their energy intake, which can be easier said than done for those struggling with eating issues and fears of “getting fat.”
One way to consume the recommended 350 additional calories per day is to break two energy bars into small bites and nibble on them over the course of several hours. Men seem to be able to reverse the hormonal imbalance within days, while women can take months. The reversibility of bone density is not guaranteed.
SOCCER NUTRITION: Performance Enhancers – Keto Diet
A ketogenic sports diet — moderate protein, very low carb, very high fat — appeals to some athletes.
Yet, we need more research to understand the fine details of adaptation to a ketogenic diet and the role of keto supplements. To date, supplement sales vastly exceed the science.
Stay tuned! Perhaps we’ll have more answers from next year’s FNCE.
SIDEBAR: Nutritional and medical advice changes with new discoveries and interpretations. Always check with your medical provider and/or nutritionist for what is best for you and your family.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area, where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling (6th Edition) Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and Food Guide for Soccer, as well as teaching materials, are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. Click here for online and live workshops.