• Amy McGuire

How Nutrition Can Help Achieve Your Goals in Soccer

Introduction


The UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite soccer was published last year in

2020. It was composed by a group of experts with the aim of providing sports nutrition

recommendations to optimise performance for elite soccer players. These

recommendations can be applicable to amateur players too but amateurs generally cover

less ground, sweat less and expend less energy so the guidelines should be adjusted

accordingly to meet individual requirements. The original statement is a substantial piece of writing so the intention of this blog is to summarise the key recommendations which, if

implemented, will benefit both a players physical and mental performance on the pitch.


Match Day Nutrition


A soccer game is usually very physically demanding and played at a high intensity. Players perform numerous sprints, changes of direction, leaps for headers, jostling for procession and kicking of the ball during the game. All of these activities require you to be fuelled adequately to perform these movements. Even if you are one of those players who spend half the game rolling around on the ground, you still need energy to fuel your gymnastic floor routine!


The total match day expenditure for an elite player is approximately 3500kcal. Carbohydrates will contribute to ~60%-70% of this total energy, due to the high intensity nature of the game. So, how much carbohydrates should a player consume? A range between 6-8g per kg of the athlete’s body weight is recommended to be consumed the day prior to match day, on match day and the day after match day to ensure muscle glycogen stores (stored carbs) are elevated, particularly during a congested fixture period. Research has shown players who don’t consume adequate carbohydrates will cover less ground during the game and also at a much less speed compared to those fuelled optimally.


The last big meal that a player has before kick-off should be high in carbohydrates, have moderate protein, be low in both fat and fibre and spicey food should be avoided to help prevent gastrointestinal (GI) problems. The meal should be consumed 3-4 hours before the game commences and should contain 1-3g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass. Additionally, research has shown that by ingesting ~30g – 60g of carbohydrates before each half benefits performance on the pitch. Therefore, an athlete is recommended to ingest ~30g – 60g of carbohydrates after the warmup and again at half time. These carbohydrates should come from easily digested sources such as Lucozade Sport, a small handful of jellies or a few Jaffa cakes for example.


In terms of hydration, athletes should be aiming to begin the game fully hydrated. A useful and simple way to ensure that you are hydrated is to use a pee chart like the one presented below.



Players are recommended to ingest 5-7ml of fluid per kg of their body weight 2-4 hours before kickoff to ensure that they are hydrated. This allows for excess fluid to be excreted prior to the game while targeting a pale-yellow urine colour. Sweat rates in male players have been reported to have been between 0.5L – 2.5L per hour. Females will experience smaller sweat rates due to their lower body mass. Dehydration as little as 2%-3% loss of body mass will impact of cognitive functioning, reduce technical function, increase rate of perceived exertion and also decrease physical functioning.


Recovery from Match Day



The main objective following match play should be to reduce the time needed to fully recover. It is essential that carbohydrate stores are replenished to ensure that an athlete is fueled for the next game or training session. Post-match meals and snacks need to consist of a carbohydrate intake of ~1g per kg of body weight per hour every four hours.



There is another macronutrient that is of particular importance when looking to optimize recovery and that is protein. Protein intake allows muscles to adapt and repair from a given sporting activity. Athletes are looking to ingest high quality lean protein sources that ideally contain the full spectrum of amino acids. The amino acid leucine is of particular importance as it is said to be the trigger for muscle protein remodeling. Approximately 2.5g of leucine per meal is ideal. Leucine content is highest in dairy-based protein, lean meats and eggs and if your diet is plant-based then isolated soya protein will work well. An intake of 20-25g of protein at 3-4 hour intervals is what’s recommended.



Players must also not neglect their hydration requirements following a game. A strategy that can be implemented is to get their urine colour to match either numbers 1,2 or 3 on the aforementioned pee chart. Another strategy is to weigh themselves before the game and after the game. Athletes would then be looking to restore 150% of the weight lost through fluids.

Training Day Nutrition










The same principles apply to training day nutrition as they do with match day nutrition. However, the amount of carbohydrates that are required will depend on the training scenario. During preseason there are no competitive games so carbohydrate intakes of between 4g-8g per kg of body weight will be adequate. In off season training <4g per kg of body weight of carbohydrates is required. In-season training requires players to fuel with 3g-8g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight and this can be seen as a good opportunity for players to train their gut to handle the large quantities of recommended carbohydrates. Finally, during in season training with a congested fixture period the players are looking to ingest 6g-8g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight.


In regard to protein, intakes of up to 1.6g – 2.2g per kg of body weight appear to enhance training adaptions. Again, protein sources should be of high quality and ideally the overall intake should be distributed over 3-4 meals per day with at least ~0.4g of protein per kg of body weight to be ingested with each meal.



Dietary fats should not be neglected. Fats are also used a fuel substrate during less intensive periods of games and training sessions. Additionally, they are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such a A, D, E and K. Dietary fat intakes are often adjusted to allow protein and high carbohydrate requirements to be met within total energy targets. This typically leads to a fat intake of 20%-35% of total dietary intake.



Micronutrients




Micronutrients include various vitamins, minerals and trace elements. These are essential for the growth and development of the body. Due to the high demands of both games and training, players may increase the requirements of some of these micronutrients in order to support metabolic processes within the body. The most common cases of suboptimal status include vitamin D, iron and calcium.



Inadequate serum vitamin D concentrations can impair both recovery and muscle function and it can also compromise immune health. Less than 20% of daily needs come from the diet. Sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals, oily fish such as salmon, eggs and beef liver. Vitamin D can also be syntheised in the skin via sunlight exposure. However, during the winter months exposure to sunlight is reduced and a study has shown that 65% of premier league footballers presented with inadequate levels in the winter months. When a deficiency occurs 2000IU/day of vitamin D3 is recommended. Iron is the functional component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. It is also an essential constituent of haem-containing cytochromes and non-haem sulphur enzymes which are involved in oxidative ATP (energy) production. Consequently, iron deficiency can cause a negative impact on aerobic performance even without anaemia. If you find that you are constantly feeling lethargic and if there has been a dip in your performance on the field, you may need to get your iron levels assessed. Within athletes, 12%-35% of females and 5% -11% of males have been found to be deficient in iron. Females are usually more deficient due to regular blood loss during menstrual bleeding. The most bioavailable sources of iron come from red meat and fish. However, it is recommended that red meat intake is limited to three times per week. Do not supplement with iron unless you are under the guidance of a medical professional as too much iron can be dangerously toxic. The recommended daily intake (RDA) for males is 8.7mg and 14.8mg for females.



Calcium is vital for the maintenance of bone tissues, cardiac contraction, skeletal muscle and nerve conduction. Calcium is primarily stored in the skeleton. When dietary intake is inadequate it leads to bone demineralization through the action of the parathyroid hormone. Generally, the RDA for calcium in adults is 700mg/day. However, athletes should have higher intakes of 1500mg per day as significant dermal calcium losses have been reported following prolonged exercise. Ingestion of 1250mg of calcium an hour and a half before exercise has been shown to attenuate bone resorption biomarkers. Primary sources of calcium include dairy products and secondary sources would be foods such as soybeans, nuts and green leafy vegetables.


Preventing Illness



Both the psychological and high physical demands of elite soccer participation can increase the risk of illness by weakening the immune system. Reducing the risk of illness is a key component in player health management. The implementation of nutritional strategies can help maintain robust immunity in players. Deficiencies in certain micronutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, magnesium, selenium, copper, vitamins A, C, D, E and B vitamins decrease immune defenses against invading pathogens and make the individual more susceptible to infection. Players can get most of these vitamins and minerals if they consume at least five portions of fruit and vegetables at least five days per week.



Additionally, low energy availability is also a contributing factor to the increased risk of illness. If a player does not consume adequate carbohydrates (training low) it may increase immunosuppressive stress hormone responses. Although it has been shown that most elite players meet their protein requirements low intakes of less than 1.2g per kg of body weight may reduce optimal immune function.



Dietary Supplements




Nutrition strategies should be a ‘food first’ approach with supplementation only to be used to meet specific health or performance objectives. If you have not tried to nail your nutrition down by following the aforementioned guidelines, then most supplements will be as useful as putting a plaster over a shotgun wound. Extreme caution must be taken when considering the use of supplementation due the risk of a positive doping violation from the use of dietary supplements. Third-party testing programmes will reduce the risk of a doping violation due to contaminated supplements. Should the player decide to proceed with the use of supplements they should record the dose, duration and both the positive and negative effects experienced should be monitored by the team’s sports nutritionist and medical doctor. All new supplement use should be trialled in training before being used in competition.



The evidence for some performance supplements such as caffeine and creatine are stronger than the evidence of others such as nitrate and β-Alanine. Their uses, mechanisms, protocols and concerns are summarised in the table below.



Supplement

Use

Nutrition for Injury Rehabilitation




Nutrition has the ability to aid with optimising the rehabilitation process and to facilitate the desired return to action. Most injuries trigger an inflammatory process that initiates wound healing and soft tissue and/or bone repair. Different stages of injury provide a continuum of altered nutritional needs depending on the phase and duration of injury. Unfortunately, to date, there are no exact nutritional guidelines due to the diversity of injuries. However, avoiding drastic reductions in energy intake is perhaps the most crucial nutritional aspect during rehabilitation.



Concerns

In addition to adequate energy intake, protein intake is important also. This will attenuate muscle loss during rehabilitation. It is recommended that 1.6g per kg of body weight of protein is consumed per day and split into 20-30g of leucine rich protein servings per meal throughout the day, including pre-sleep. In relation to tendon injuries, it is recommended that vitamin C enriched dietary gelatin can support tendon repair. Deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, C, zinc, copper and manganese may impair the initial healing process too, so it is important that deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals are avoided. Mechanism

Protocol


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