The human body is the most complex chemistry laboratory. It constantly relies on intake of food and its chemical decomposition into nutrients which in turn provide energy to the various parts of the body. These nutrients are the basic elements of energy and almost all the foods that we consume ultimately are made up of a combination of these several nutrients.
The high-intensity game of soccer has a unique demand in terms of the quantity of nutrients needed by its players. The aggressive attacking and fast paced tackles demand an optimal performance from the players and thus understanding the nutritional needs of the players is a vital concern.
Carbohydrates are required for providing energy to the body. Our body has a carbohydrate reserve in the muscles in the form of glycogen. The body consumes the carbohydrates present in the blood for instant energy and once it gets depleted it turns towards consuming energy from the glycogen in the muscles. Carbohydrates are found in bread, rice and cereals and the whole grain sources of Carbohydrates are a better option as they provide a longer lasting energy due to their slower break down within the body.
Proteins are need for the repair of the muscles and also they are a catalyst which helps in faster assimilation of incoming energy and fuel by the muscles. Many instant energy drinks have high carbohydrate content along with a pinch of protein which helps in quicker assimilation of the accompanying carbohydrates into the muscles. Protein rich diet is a good choice but for soccer players it is vital to understand the importance of protein and they must not over consume protein as the main source of energy is Carbohydrates and protein is just an assistant which helps in quicker assimilation of energy.
Fats too are a source of energy but their only drawback is the unused fat gets accumulated and ultimately becomes the body fat we all are so cautious about. Also care should be taken while consuming fats. Players should opt for monounsaturated fats like olive oil and should completely avoid trans-fats as trans-fats tend to accumulate in the blood vessels and is not suitable for maintaining optimal blood cholesterol level.
Soccer players need a diet that provides them an optimal balance of nutrients in every serving. A meal that consists of 2/3rd portion as whole grains, veggies and fruits and low fat dairy, beans or meat in 1/3rd proportion in combination with protein rich food is a perfect meal for every competitive soccer player.
The body must receive proper meals regularly, ideally three full meals accompanied by snacks once a day. Fast food do not provide enough nutrition but they can be sometimes used as part of team outing or party.
Breakfast should include whole grain cereal along with milk and fruit. Lunch can have whole grain bread along with milk. For snacks yoghurt and granola are ideal while for supper a player can rely on chicken, potato and green veggies.
Along with these nutrients it is very important to keep the body properly hydrated throughout the day. It is recommended that for every pound lost in work out the human body needs 24 ounces of water to restore the balance. And the consumption of water becomes all the more important in hot weather.
For female soccer players the consumption of iron as a nutrient is highly important as Anemia is the most prevalent problem among the female athletes. Iron fortified foodstuffs are a must and the consumption of vitamin C through orange juice or vegetables further boosts the absorption of iron within the body.
For every player it is also important to have a light pre-workout snack and to refuel the body after exercise. Consulting a dietician can be of benefit for every soccer player as he can provide further insight on diet to be consumed.
One of the most burning concerns which athletes have today is the balance of calorie consumption and calorie usage.
Youth soccer players are highly energetic and active and can easily cover a total of 2 to 4 miles in every game. The pro players which are a bit older can cover easily 10 miles in every game. Running alone requires 100 calories per mile and for the youth players the calories are also needed for their growth. So it is a huge gamble for youth soccer players to balance their daily intake of calories with a game like soccer that requires high energy expenditure.
As per a nutritional survey conducted in Europe soccer players averaged less in terms of the daily calorie intake.
Kristine Lilly can be used as an ideal reference for the intake of calories every day considering the fact that she has been the World’s most capped athlete in Women’s professional soccer, an Olympic gold-medalist twice and a World cup winning team member in Women’s professional soccer. She opts to toss food in her handbag and it is what she uses to refuel after a hard game. The foodstuffs which she prefers to keep in her bag are chocolate Gatorade shake, a chocolate chip fiber’s bar, sandwich made with soft bread and jelly or peanut butter and water for rehydration.
Why protein intake is an important factor to consider?
This is because a large number of athletes are under a misconception regarding protein and a diet rich in protein and they tend to over consume protein at the cost of other vital nutrients. An important part of diet, protein is utmost important for young and growing athletes.
High protein eaters have affection for cheese omelets, burgers and meals having saturated fats. While those who prefer a low fat diet clearly bypass these foodstuffs and thus end up neglecting their necessary supply of protein. They thus need to replace materials from their normal diet with high protein and low fat substitutes like they can replace beef with beans.
A protein rich food with each meal will ensure that we meet our protein requirement.
Some good examples of protein rich foodstuffs:
- Chicken breast
- Canned tuna
- Peanut butter
- Greek yoghurt
- Kidney beans
Nutrition for soccer is a very vast domain of study and research and many factors such as optimal protein consumption and necessary calorie intake come into consideration along with the necessary consumption of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals. It is always good to consult a dietician as he can provide solutions specific to the health, demands, topography and the playing needs of a particular player.