Why does what you eat matter
You can practice and play multiple times per week, but if you don’t fuel your body, you won’t be able to give soccer your all. Soccer players of all ages and levels need the proper fuel.
Sports nutrition can be overwhelming and confusing, I get it.
In this article I will explain what nutrients youth soccer players need, when they need them and why they need them. I will first break this down by macronutrients, and later on in the article I will talk about meal timing with specific examples of meals and snacks. For this article, when I use the term youth soccer players or youth athletes, I am referring to players ages 6 through 18.
Lets get fueling!
Macronutrients: What are they and why do youth soccer players need them before a soccer game?
Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Soccer players should include carbohydrates, proteins and fats at all of their meals to help them meet their estimated nutrition needs. Each of these macronutrients has an important role pre game.
Youth soccer players need carbohydrates just like a car needs gas. Without carbohydrates, players won’t have what they need to succeed. Carbohydrates provide an energy source to the muscles and to the brain. Examples of carbohydrates include oatmeal, bananas, apples, raisins, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, graham crackers, pretzels, milk, yogurt and cereal. The amount of carbohydrates youth soccer players need will vary depending on their activity level, age, weight and gender. For example, a goalkeeper will need less carbohydrates/day than a midfielder.
Use this equation to calculate your youth soccer players overall carbohydrate needs for game day: 3-4.5 grams of carbohydrate/lbs of body weight
Protein is important for all athletes, but it has a particular importance for youth soccer players and other youth athletes as youth athletes are still growing. It helps to repair muscle tissue that is broken down and it is also needed to build new muscle. Consuming protein before a game will help the player to stay full. It is important not to eat too much protein before a game though, as you don’t want to feel too full to play. We will talk about examples of what to eat soon.
Use this equation to calculate your youth soccer players overall protein needs for game day:
.5-.64 grams of protein/lbs of body weight
Fat is a necessary component of the youth athletes diet. Without fat, our bodies cannot absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat lubricates your joints, provides you with essential fatty acids and aids with satiety. Children use fat in addition to carbohydrates as a fuel source. With that being said, fat should only contribute 25-35% of a youth athlete’s total calories and should be spread throughout the day. I recommend choosing primarily healthy fats. For example, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, olive oil, and avocado.
Timing is key: What and when should youth soccer players eat before a game
This recommendation will vary per the individual as some may not need to have anything within 30 minutes to an hour before game time.
- 3-4 hours before a soccer game: you should eat a well balanced meal that includes a combination of carbohydrates, moderate protein, low fat and low fiber. 3-4 hours before the game gives players enough time to digest their meal.
- 1-2 hours before a soccer game: a mini meal/snack that includes simple carbohydrates. As it gets closer to game time, you want to eat simple carbohydrates that are low in fiber and easy to digest with small amounts of protein and healthy fats.
- 30 minutes-1 hours before a soccer game: simple carbohydrates
Examples of meals to eat 3-4 hours before a game
Games are often at different times of day. Here are examples of breakfast, lunch and dinner to eat 3-4 hours before your soccer game. The amount of calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat will vary per player. The below are just examples.
Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with nut/seed butter, a banana and 1 cup of nonfat yogurt
Lunch: Whole wheat wrap with turkey and ¼ avocado with fruit and pretzels
Dinner: Grilled chicken with rice and green beans
Examples of mini meals/snacks to eat 1-2 hours before a soccer game
- Yogurt with fruit and a low fiber cereal
- ½ of a nut or seed butter sandwich on white bread with or without a banana or berries
- ½ of a turkey sandwich on white bread
- Oatmeal with fruit
Examples of what to eat 30 minutes to 1 hour before a soccer game
- Sports drinks
- Fig bars
- Graham crackers
- Apple sauce
Avoiding common pitfalls: What foods to avoid before a soccer game
- Avoid fried foods
- Avoid high fiber foods
- Avoid high fat foods
- Avoid unfamiliar foods that you have not tried before
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens stay hydrated in days leading up to sports events. Youth athletes are at an increased risk for dehydration. Children produce more heat than adults do and they have less of an ability to sweat. If youth athletes do not enjoy the taste of water, try adding fruits to change the flavor and make it more fun.
Sports drinks are not recommended for every day hydration, but they are recommended for heavy sweaters or for when playing for longer than 60 minutes at a time. They can also be beneficial in the 30 minutes to one hour leading up to a game to top off carbohydrates and hydration when needed. Research has shown that many youth athletes start games without being fully hydrated. A simple way to monitor hydration status is to view urine color. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that urine should be very light yellow and almost clear when well hydrated.
Nutrition can be what separates a good soccer player from a great soccer player. A combination of carbohydrates, protein and fats eaten at the right times before a soccer game along with proper hydration will give players the energy they need to succeed.
Join my email list to continue to receive youth sports nutrition tips and updates. If you enjoyed this post, please share it with friends, youth soccer parents and coaches.