Football - Nutritional Facts
Added 2006 Mar 17, 00:22 by Admin
Profile: The following article on Nutrition for Soccer was written by the Department of Sports Nutrition - Austalian Institute of Sport.

Characteristics of the Sport

Soccer matches consist of two 45-minute halves with a short break between halves. Soccer characteristically involves high-intensity intermittent exercise that utilises both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.


The Australian soccer scene now sees year-round play, with the National League being conducted over the summer months and State/club competition continuing as winter sports. At lower levels of competition, players may have extensive off-season lay-offs causing body fat levels to be considerably higher at the beginning of the following season. Pre-season training typically involves general conditioning work, weight training and skill practice. During the season, two to four training sessions are generally scheduled between matches.


For most soccer teams, the competitive season involves a weekly match played during the day on weekends, or in the evening mid-week. At the elite level, extensive travel is usually required and some double-fixtures may be scheduled. Tournaments of one to several weeks may also be played in addition to regular competition.
Soccer is a fast game of intensive play with light activity between bursts. While tackling rules are strict, significant body contact occurs with the potential for contact injuries. Time-motion studies of soccer have determined that the average national and international player covers about ten kilometers in a match. Goal keepers typically cover about four kilometres.
Soccer matches challenge fuel and fluid stores. 1-2kg fluid losses have been reported during standard soccer matches. Losses may be double this during humid conditions.

Physical Characteristics

Soccer players must be skilled, agile and fast. Players vary widely in body size however, most players tend to be well-muscled with a low body fat level to maximise speed and agility.

Common Nutrition Issues

Body Fat Levels
It is important for soccer players to be aware of seasonal changes in energy requirements. For year-round weight control, it may be necessary for players to reduce food intake to match the decrease in training output during the off-season. Alternatively,
players may choose to take up some activity to give them a head start next season.

Bulking Up

Players trying to increase muscle size and strength need a high-energy diet in addition to a quality training program that includes resistance or weights training. The nutritional
requirements for increasing muscle bulk and strength include not only the protein needed to form new muscle tissue, but carbohydrate to fuel the training needed to stimulate muscle growth. Other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals may also be
needed. In short, increased energy from nutrient-rich foods is required. Achieving a high-energy intake is not as easy as it sounds. It requires organisation and commitment. The following tips will help:
Be organised. Have suitable foods available at all times. Make use of portable foods such as cereal bars, fruit, dried fruit, fruit buns, juice and milk in tetra packs etc.
Increase the number of times you eat rather than the size of meals.
Add extra kilojoules to meals without adding bulk by using foods such as jam, honey, syrup and sugar.
Avoid excessive intake of fibre, and make use of foods with less bulk (white bread, Cornflakes, Rice Bubbles, tinned fruit).
Drink high-energy fluids such as smoothies, milkshakes and liquid meal supplements such as Sustagen Sport.
Include a protein containing food as part of your pre and post resistance training snack.

The Training Diet - Week-round Recovery

Soccer players require a high carbohydrate intake on a daily basis to replenish muscle stores after each training session. On average, players will require between 5-8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram each day. This requires making carbohydrate foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, fruit, pasta, rice, vegetables, yoghurt and flavoured low-fat milk the focus of meals and snacks. Players who fail to consume sufficient carbohydrate may suffer mid-week slumps and progressive fatigue over the season. Players in heavy training need to start recovery nutrition tactics immediately after each training session. Ideally, players should aim to have 50-100 grams of carbohydrate within 30 minutes of
finishing training. Recovery snacks should be combined with fluid to replace any fluid lost during the session.

50g Carbohydrate
800-1000ml sports drink
3 medium pieces fruit
salad roll
2 cereal bars
2 x 200g cartons yoghurt
bowl of cereal with low fat milk
bowl of fruit salad with 1/2 carton of yoghurt
250-350ml smoothie
3 slices toast

Match Preparation

Ideally, a light, high-carbohydrate meal should be eaten at least two hours before a match. Breakfast cereal plus fruit, pasta with tomato sauce, rolls or sandwiches, baked potatoes with low fat fillings and fruit salad with yoghurt are all good options.
Experiment to find the best one for you. Many clubs like to organise the pre-event meal as a team activity, especially when they travel to an 'away' game. Eating together can be a good way to raise team morale and get focussed on the match, as well as making sure that all players are well-fuelled.

Match Considerations - Fuel and Fluid

Soccer matches place reasonable demands on both fluid and carbohydrate stores of players. Studies have reported low muscle glycogen levels in players after a match - sometimes with significant depletion occurring by half-time. Players with depleted muscle glycogen stores had a lower average speed and covered less ground than their team-mates in the second half of the match. Studies show that strategies to increase carbohydrate supplies - both eating a high carbohydrate diet in the days before a match and drinking sports drink during the match, keep players running faster and further in the second half. In one study, high carbohydrate tactics helped the players to make
fewer errors. Sweat losses of 1-2.5 litres per 90-minute game in cool conditions and approximately 4 litres during hot conditions have been reported in some studies. However, the reported
fluid intake of players is typically less than half of the sweat rate. We have been interested to monitor fluid losses and drinking patterns of AIS soccer players in training and in matches; in a variety of weather conditions. We found considerable variation between sweat rates and drinking rates of individual players - some drank well, but many needed encouragement. It has been suggested that fluid intake during
competition is limited by the rules of the game, which only allow players to drink at halftime when they leave the pitch. However, our results show that players also become dehydrated at training sessions when these rules don't apply.

Session Season Sweat losses
Men (ml/hr)
Game Summer 1209 330 v Fluid Intake of 516 337
Game Winter 1027 267 v Fluid Intake of 361 195
Training Summer 985 320 v Fluid Intake of 429 312
Training Winter 746 259 v Fluid Intake of 311 257

Women (ml/hr)
Game Summer 761 220 v Fluid Intake of 408 154
Training Summer 814 244 v Fluid Intake of 395 154

Tips for better drinking during soccer are:
Drink sports drinks that encourage better fluid intake because of their taste, as well as supplying extra fuel for the match.
Drink well during warm up and half time breaks.
In hot weather especially, be creative in finding ways to grab a drink during halves. Some players leave their bottles around the side of the pitch and dash for a drink whenever there's a stoppage in play.
Use pre-and post-weighing activities to monitor fluid losses over the game and try to keep these under 1kg.
Practice good drinking strategies in training sessions.
Post-Match Recovery A team approach to recovery is the best way to ensure all players replace fuel and fluid immediately after matches. Organise to have suitable drinks and snacks available after the match as a team activity so that everyone can enjoy the benefits. A post-match spread of sandwiches, fruit, soup and carbohydrate drinks in the club, or a box of supplies in the bus on the way back from 'away' matches can get recovery off to a good start.

Alcohol Intake

There is a tendency in team sports to celebrate or commiserate match results with alcohol intake - and unfortunately this often means excessive amounts of alcohol. The decision to drink alcohol is the personal right of each athlete. Sensible use of alcohol
does not impair health or performance however, alcohol intake can interfere with postexercise recovery. Alcohol acts a diuretic and may slow down the process of rehydration after the match. Despite what you may have heard about beer and carboloading, alcoholic drinks are low in carbohydrate content and will not fuel up your
muscle glycogen stores. After exercise, the soccer player should concentrate first on rehydration and refuelling goals. Rehydrate and refuel with carbohydrate-rich foods and fluids before having any alcoholic drinks. Then set yourself a limit and be aware of how much you have consumed. Avoid any alcohol for 24 hours post exercise if any softtissue injures or bruising has occurred. The injured athlete who consumes alcohol immediately after the match may cause extra swelling and bleeding and delay recovery.

Case Study

Question - I am used to playing soccer in the morning but have now moved into the senior league where my matches are at 3:00pm. What should I eat before matches? Some of the older players swear by bacon and eggs. Others say I should stick to the honey toast and fruit juice that I am used to having.

The goals of the pre-match meal are to:
Top up liver and perhaps muscle glycogen stores
Top up fluid levels
Leave you feeling comfortable (neither too full or hungry)
Leave you feeling confident and ready for action.
There are plenty of meal combinations which can achieve these goals but players need to experiment to find the best combination for them. Generally, the following is recommended:
Have a normal size meal four hours before the match and a snack one to two hours before the match
If your match is early in the morning, have a high carbohydrate meal the night before and a snack one to two hours before the match
Choose high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods to ensure easy digestion and to top up carbohydrate fuel supplies
Experiment with the type, timing and amount of food that works best for you
Drink plenty of fluids leading up to the event
If you suffer from pre-match nerves, try a liquid meal supplement such as Sustagen Sport or a fruit smoothie as a pre-match meal.

Pre-match meal ideas include:
breakfast cereal with skim milk and fruit + toast + juice
muffins or crumpets + fruit + yoghurt
pancakes + syrup + fruit
baked potatoes with low fat filling + juice
pasta with low fat sauce + juice/cordial
rolls/sandwiches + fruit + yoghurt
liquid meal (supplements or homemade fruit smoothies)
Pre-match snack ideas include:
cereal bars
sports drink
fruit buns
Some players may eat low-carbohydrate, high-fat meals such as bacon and eggs and oily lasagnes with no ill-effects. These meals are certainly not ideal but some players appear to get away with it. The psychological effect of the last meal can be as important
as the nutritional effects for some players. However, for the majority of players, a high carbohydrate meal is the best option. All players need to experiment to find the best food choices and timing for them.

Case Study

As the Matilda's build up to the Sydney Olympics intensified, the coach approached the AIS nutrition department for some advice on using creatine. He was looking to give an extra edge to his players and wondered if creatine may help. The dietitians weighed up the information available on creatine. Numerous studies have demonstrated that creatine can benefit repeated high-intensity exercise bouts broken up by short recovery periods and soccer certainly involves this type of activity. However, most studies have been undertaken in laboratories using testing protocols very different from on field activity patterns. Also most studies had used male subjects. While many studies suggested that creatine had the potential to benefit soccer players, there was little direct evidence to show that creatine would benefit the Matildas. Most studies demonstrated some weight gain as a result of taking creatine and it was possible that this may actually impair the speed and agility of the Matildas.
The dietitians were satisfied that the Matildas were already following good nutritional and training practices. They decided it would be worth doing a trial to see if creatine could provide some additional benefit. A testing protocol was designed which mimicked the Matilda's on-field activity. A double-blind design was used where some players were supplemented with creatine and others were given a placebo. None of the players knew whether they were receiving creatine or placebo. The trial showed that despite gaining weight, players taking creatine improved their performance of some repeated sprint and agility tests. As a result of the trial, it was decided to continue to supplement the Matildas with creatine. Players are assessed regularly by AIS dietitians. Only players who demonstrate good nutritional practices are considered candidates for supplementation. Greater gains can be obtained by maximising nutritional and training practices than by using creatine. However, once all other aspects of the players preparation is taken care of, creatine may provide additional benefits.

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