On the heals of my European study abroad trip, I’ve found myself getting into the spirit of the European World Cup and cheering on the countries that I have recently visited. Along with fans from all around the world, I watch as the drama of which country will advance to the next round unfolds with impeccable defense and game changing goal kicks - not to mention the dedication of the fans as shown on their flag-painted faces! However, what we really should be marveling at is the extreme endurance and aerobic workload these athletes have to maintain in order to compete in this fast paced sport.
Studies have shown that proper nutrition before, during and after this type of vigorous exercise improves performance, prolongs endurance, and speeds muscle recovery. While energy requirements vary depending on field position, most players running for the better part of 90 minutes can accumulate up to six miles run up and down the field. Short intense bursts of activity mixed with prolonged periods of moderate intensity taxes the muscles, which can nearly deplete all glycogen (the body’s first source of stored energy). Add that to the fact that almost 50% of goals are scored in the last 20 minutes of World Cup games and it is clear to see proper nutrition that is tailored to the body’s energy needs during endurance exercise is important for not only these “football” stars, but for soccer players of all levels.
To maintain high levels of performance with speed and agility, these athletes need a diet rich in carbohydrates (carbs) and the right amount of protein to maintain strength, along with ample hydration both pre- and post-game. Before players take the field, they need to eat approximately 30-50 grams of carbs and ten grams of protein (turkey sandwich anyone?). Carbs are a soccer player’s best friend no matter what level they are playing at. Having enough means that the body can preserve protein for muscle growth versus emergency energy. Protein, although not the energy superstar of the body, compliments the function of carbs, optimizing its storage in the form of glycogen.
Dehydration is serious enough to sideline any athlete and even more so with soccer players running for long periods of time. The key to maintaining proper hydration throughout the game is to consume fluids throughout the day, and a post-game carb-electrolyte drink to regain lost sodium and muscle glycogen. For those goalkeepers out there sporting gloves and a long sleeved jersey, their need to stay hydrated is especially important. All players need at least 8-16 ounces of sports drink before the match, as much as possible during (can alternate between water and sports drink if it is not an extremely hot, humid day) and 16-24 ounces post-game.
This triple threat of nutrients needs to be maintained throughout training and practice in order for the body to maintain the energy it needs for high intensity performance when game time comes around. Fueling the body properly starting from the early stages of game playing will ensure great performance results for these professional athletes but also for players at high school and collegiate levels. Pre- and post-game meals are important. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, some ideas that stay clear of a yellow card in nutrition include:
· Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes with lean meat and veggies
· Turkey and hummus tortilla wrap or pita sandwich with hummus and fruit
· Pasta bowl w/ cheese and assorted veggies
· Quinoa or brown rice salad w/ chickpeas and veggies
· Cereal w/ low fat milk and a banana
· Oatmeal w/ peanut butter and a banana (my personal favorite)
· Egg and cheese bagel or English muffin
It may be a player’s fancy foot works that gets them in the game but it’s the quality of what they eat before and after that keeps them there. So while no one can say when Cristiano Ronaldo will score the game winning shot, what is for sure is that if it comes in the second half, he definitely fueled the right way!