Carbohydrates are an essential part of your sports diet. As a soccer athlete, you need carbohydrates to fuel your muscles (to delay fatigue) and feed your brain (to help you concentrate). You can find them in a vast array of foods, from grains, fruits and vegetables to soft drinks and candy.
Although exercise scientists understand the role of different types of carbohydrates in sports, some athletes are confused or misinformed about the metabolic effects and real needs of carbs to perform at their best in the soccer field.
That’s why I found the information contained in Chapter 5 of Food Guide for Soccer: Tips and Recipes From the Pros (by sports nutritionist Nancy Clark and co-author Gloria Averbuch) so helpful. There, Nancy Clark clarifies some questions that eventually arise in every athlete’s mind. Here’s a taste of her lesson:
1) How much carbohydrate should I eat?
The average soccer player with moderate calorie needs should target about 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight (5 to 7g carb/kg), that is, 350 to 490 grams in a 140lbs (70kg) player. The serious soccer player with higher calorie needs due to the numerous workouts and intense practices and games should target about 4 to 5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight (8 to 10g carb/kg), which translates to 560 to 700 grams in a 140lbs (70kg) player.
To consume that much carbohydrate, you really need to eat carbs as the foundation of every meal and snack.
2) Aren’t carbs fattening? Shouldn’t I eat less of them to be a lean soccer player?
No! First of all, excess calories are fattening, not carbohydrates per se. As long as you don’t exceed your calorie budget, you don’t have to worry with carbohydrate intake. Secondly, excess calories of carbohydrates are actually less fattening than are excess calories of fat, because the body spends calories to convert excess carbohydrates into body fat. In comparison, the body easily converts excess dietary fat into body fat.
3) Is there a difference between the carbs in starchy foods (like breads) vs. the carbs in fruits and vegetables or in candy?
As far as your muscles are concerned, there is no difference. Your muscles don’t care if you eat sugars or starches for fuel because they both digest into the same simple sugar: glucose.
The difference between sugars and starches comes in their nutritional value and impact on your health. Some sugars and starches are healthier than others. For example, the sugar in a natural orange juice is accompanied by vitamin C, folate and potassium. The sugar in orange soda pop is void of vitamins and minerals; that’s why it’s described as “empty calories”. The starch in whole wheat bread is accompanied by fiber and phytochemicals, while white bread’s starch has lost many health protective nutrients during the refining process.
The nature of carbohydrates may also be of interest in terms of nutrient timing (for further info, you can also check my “Match day Nutrition for Soccer” blog post).
Ingesting enough carbohydrates from a variety of sources will help you recover quickly, feel good, and enjoy your practices and games.
Do you have any other question you would like to ask about carbohydrates? I’ll be glad to help you!
To learn more on this topic and others of interest please read:
Food Guide for Soccer – tips and recipes from the pros (www.nancyclarkrd.com)
Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (www.nancyclarkrd.com)
Wishing you the best performance ever,
Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal
“Promoting best health and performance through nutrition”