Monday, January 11, 2010

Match day Nutrition for Soccer

Soccer is the world’s most practiced sport.
Soccer athletes tend to keep pace with new techniques and tactics, but many don’t accompany that progress with the latest in nutrition-for-soccer. In fact, most soccer players I consult aren’t aware of how much good nutritional strategies can optimize physical and even psychological outcomes.

Here are some nutritional goals and tips for match day to help you eat to win!

Nutrition before a soccer match:
Main Goal:
  • Enhance your recovery from a week of hard training sessions and fuel for the game;
Specific goals:
  • Replenish and further increase glycogen (carbohydrate) stores in muscles and liver;
  • Consume sufficient protein to enhance the building and repair of muscle;
  • Maintain an adequate hydration status;
  • Assure a good gastrointestinal tolerance of food eaten (avoid too much fat and fiber).
You should always eat a consistent meal 3 to 4h before and, if possible, include a lighter snack 1h before the game.
Carbohydrates are the best fuel for muscles, so you have to make sure you eat lots of them before each match! Good sources of carbs include: pasta, rice, whole grain bread, breakfast cereals, oatmeal and fruit (fresh or dried). Most of these foods have also a low to moderate quantity of fiber (maintains sugar levels stable in bloodstream over time) and digest easily.
In terms of protein, lean meats like chicken and turkey are good sources to eat at lunch in match day. Another good way to include enough protein in your pre-game meals is having skimmed/semi-skimmed milk or yogurt with your cereals, or else you could include them in a fruit shake. Besides the benefits of protein, you add the benefits of calcium (important to your bones, as well as to your muscular function).
Eating fried eggs or fatty hamburger before a match is a risky idea, as these have too much fat, which can upset your stomach. You might end up purging right before or during the game! The same applies to french fries, fatty sausages, and so on. Peanut butter may be a well-tolerated exception, if you spread a little bit on a slice of whole grain bread. PB has healthy fats and adds protein.
Being well hydrated will always be important for good performance in a match. So, first thing in the morning, you must check your urine color. If it has a dark brown colour, you are surely dehydrated and will need an aggressive strategy to rehydrate well enough before match, but if it’s a pale yellow, you probably are well hydrated and just need to maintain it. Either way, be sure to start drinking fluids soon before the contest, ideally 4h before, so you have time to assess your urine output again. If it keeps darker than normal, it means you still need to drink some more. (More information on this topic will be provided soon).

Nutrition during match:
Main goal:
  • Minimize energy and water and electrolyte losses
Specific goals:
  • Provide an additional source of carbohydrates to fuel the muscles and preserve glycogen stores
  • Avoid excessive dehydration accumulating during match
In a soccer match, there are very few opportunities to accomplish these goals. So, it is a good strategy to take any stoppage in game as an opportunity to refuel with a sports drink, as it will provide you water, fast absorbing carbohydrates and electrolytes. Also, don’t miss the 15min interval: drink sports drink or water and enhance your fueling with carbohydrate from fruit, crackers, sports bars or gels, as tolerated. Eating while you listen to your coach won’t stop you from being focused, right?

Nutrition after match:
Main goal:
  • Recover your muscles as quickly as possible
Specific goals:
  • Rehydrate and replenish electrolytes
  • Replace depleted muscle and liver glycogen
  • Rebuild muscle tissues
The first 30 to 120 minutes after a workout are crucial to a rapid recovery. It’s the so called “opportunity window”, in which your body is better able to absorb carbohydrates and store them in your muscles as glycogen as well as take up protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissues.
As so, you must start refueling immediately after the final whistle. Sports drinks are a good first choice, as they contain water and carbohydrates, but after the first bottle you may choose more common foods (ex: crackers or cereals with yogurt, whole grain bread with jam and a slice of low-fat cheese) and accompany them with plain water. Keep focusing in a high intake of carbohydrate during the next 24h, to fully replenish your stores.
Following these tips will help you feel more energized and promote a better performance.
But remember, with better training practices comes the best performance in competition, so you must fuel adequately before, during and after each training session as well! Make sure to test new strategies in training sessions before you put them in practice on match day.

Recommended reading for more information: 
  • Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (
  • Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros   (

Feel free to comment this post, I'd like to know: 

What is your favorite pre-match meal? Have you ever eaten the wrong foods pre-match? Do you pay attention to your hydration status?

I'll be glad to answer any questions you have!

Wishing you the best performance ever,
Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal


  1. Hi Diogo,

    Oatmeal (PLAIN)
    Water or sports drink
    Maybe a protein shake.

    BROWN rice, lettuce, tomatoes, heart of palm with some oil and vinegar, (maybe grilled fish).
    Desert a banana or two, an orange, or grapes.

    If hungry, I eat a protein bar, another banana, drink water.

    I sometimes use these GEL packs before I play. The ones with no caffeine. Are those good?

    I came back from injury 2009. I tore my quad in half. When I came back I was good in shape (not soccer shape running shape). When I started practicing and playing games I began getting cramps in my calfs, during or after practice games. I wasn't fatigued...not even close!

    My diet most days is oatmeal, salads, fish, spaghetti sometimes, brown rice.

    Think I am deficient in magnesium?

  2. Hi Ravey,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    About your first question, nothing has to “give” when you’re trying to lose weight. That is, if you really carry excessive fat with you, losing it will only bring you benefits, since you use the right strategy: mild energy restriction (300-500kcal/day), increasing exercise (more 30-60m/day) and making healthy food choices should do it.

    When I look at your diet, I see that you tried to choose healthy foods, which is a very good step. However, and even not knowing your body size or your level of play, it seems too restrictive and I doubt that you’ll have good results in performance. You eat very few times (do you take dinner?) and don’t include enough protein (those “maybe” should be “always”). Adding some dairy (low fat milk and/or yogurt) would also be wise, as it would add protein and calcium, which (besides crucial to bones) may aid in weight loss.
    Your pre-game snacks are well chosen.

    Those cramps may be related to poor hydration practices or lack of sodium (salt) in diet. Try hydrating with sports drink during practices. Besides magnesium has little to do with muscle cramps, you seem to have enough of it in your diet (from fruits and vegetables).

    If you have the opportunity, I’d strongly advise you to buy Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Soccer (available on or and read chapter 16 - Getting lighter and leaner – it’s invaluable info!

    Wishing you the best performance ever,


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  4. It is not only to remain healthy, you should drink sufficient water, but it is necessary to avoid dehydration that can be quiet dangerous to health.

    Nutrition and Hydration week 2014