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The right nutrition in soccer: How you can boost your performance!

More success in soccer

With the right nutrition energetic from kickoff to additional time

Nutrition in soccer: an often underestimated factor

Attitudes toward nutrition in soccer have already changed significantly in recent years – at least at the professional level. There, people are increasingly recognizing the importance of the nutrition factor. Whereas in the past cake and banana were eaten, now carbohydrate drinks or corresponding gels are the optimal choice.

Even though there are scientifically proven benefits, however, the nourishment of players is usually not yet optimal – especially in the huge amateur sector. But it has also been shown that players in the English Premier League consume just under 32g of carbohydrates before and during the game. [4] However, 60 – 80g of carbohydrates should be aimed for in order to achieve maximum performance!

Often the quantities are not even reached by ambitious amateur soccer players. It is not possible to absorb the required amount of carbohydrates through just one (or more) banana(s). Thereby, full glycogen stores bring clear advantages.

In many studies it was shown that with a sufficient supply of carbohydrates not only the sprint performance and the jumping power could be kept more constant, but also dribbling speed and the precision of passing and shooting safety were significantly better than with insufficient supply. [1]

No wonder, because: A match – warm-up program excluded – entails 90+ minutes of intensive physical strain. This results in an average heart rate of 85% of the maximum heart rate and an average oxygen consumption of 70% of VO2-max.

If this energy consumption is not compensated by carbohydrate intake, bottlenecks in the energy supply can occur from the 60th minute at the latest. [1]

What happens when the glycogen stores are empty

Why do carbohydrates play such an important role in soccer nutrition? Aren’t there sources other than carbohydrates that our bodies could turn to during a soccer game?

Well, there are of course other energy sources. However, they are not optimally suited for a soccer match.

Our body needs significantly longer to provide energy from fat than from carbohydrates. This also consumes considerably more oxygen. Considering the consumption of oxygen alone, it is 5-7% more efficient to generate energy from carbohydrates than from fat.

In addition, for fast and complex movement processes, it is just as crucial that the energy is delivered quickly and is available quickly. This does not work as well for energy supply via fat as it does via carbohydrates.

Another source through which we could produce energy is proteins. When protein is used to provide energy, it is referred to as a catabolic metabolism or a catabolic process.

This is not only less efficient, but also bad for our health. The breakdown of proteins attacks our immune system and reduces our muscle mass, among other things.

What matters in the diet before the soccer match

Already the day before the match, carbohydrates should get a lot of attention. By default, the workout is less strenuous and shorter. For this purpose, a carbohydrate intake of 6-8g/kg body weight should be aimed for. This leads to the replenishment of liver and muscle glycogen stores.

The importance of starting a match with full glycogen stores was shown by Saltin B. and others. Players who start the match with empty glycogen stores cover less kilometers. Especially the so called “high-speed” tracks were dominated by players with full glycogen stores. [1]

With this in mind, it makes sense that carbohydrate intake should also be as high as possible on the matchday itself.

Approximately 3 hours before the match, a meal with a carbohydrate content of 1-3g/kg body weight is recommended. This corresponds to an average of 150g of carbohydrates for a 75kg player. [3]

The recommendation is to consume dishes that the player knows and eats often. Such meals are often referred to as “feel good meals,” meaning they leave the player feeling good.

It is also important that foods are easily digestible and do not contain large amounts of fiber. In any case, voluminous foods such as salads or legumes should be avoided. Simple carbohydrates such as rice, pasta or potatoes are suitable.

For example, a typical plate of pasta with tomato sauce or rice with a little salt and olive oil could be eaten.

During the warm-up, you can also take another chance to fill your glycogen stores to the brim. At this moment it is advantageous to resort to liquid carbohydrates that are not too concentrated. Suitable for this purpose would be for example the SLOW CARB would be suitable. At this point, 25g of powder could be dissolved in 500ml of water.

How to use the half time correctly

The challenge of nutrition in soccer is primarily not the length of the game or the amount of carbohydrates needed per se. Rather, it is difficult to supply players with energy during the game.

It is therefore particularly important to have a sufficient supply of energy at half-time. Unlike other interruptions in the game, the nourishment of players at halftime can be accurately planned in advance. Here, concentrated amounts of carbohydrates that are available as quickly as possible should be supplied. Optimal are special sports drinks like our POWER CARB or our GEL 40.

Due to the composition of the different carbohydrate sources, the energy is quickly available and allows an intake of up to 90g of carbohydrates per hour. It also contains important minerals such as sodium and potassium. Minerals are important for muscle function, among other things. You can find more detailed information about micronutrients in sports HERE.

It is also fundamental to make sure that the carbohydrates supplied are highly concentrated, but also very well tolerated. After all, even full glycogen stores won’t help you if you can’t run anymore because of stomach pain or simply because your digestive tract is too busy (which in turn draws energy).

Our POWER CARB real pineapple powder additionally ensures a good stomach tolerance. At half-time, one serving (60-80g of powder in 500ml of water) of this may be consumed. Depending on the temperature, the amount of liquid per serving can be increased up to 1,000ml. Well-tolerated gels such as our GEL 40 can also be used. Thus, the carbohydrate intake can be increased again accordingly.

Avoid depleting glycogen stores in the final phase

A total of 855 goals were scored in the Bundesliga last season. Of these, 473 goals were scored in the second half and 183 of them were not scored until the 75th minute. More than one in five goals are scored in the last quarter of an hour. This corresponds to a proud 21.4%. [5]

These numbers tell us that players must be able to perform until the last minute. Both mentally and physically. Because many games are only decided in the final phase.

Since players are already physically exhausted after 70 minutes, glycogen stores should definitely not be empty in the final phase. This is also the reason why carbohydrates should be topped up from the 70th minute onwards.

The carbohydrates added at this time should be absorbed as quickly as possible and preferably be available immediately. For this purpose, gels or concentrated carbohydrate drinks are suitable.

In concrete terms, it might be a good idea to ingest the GEL 40.

What you should pay attention to when eating after the soccer match

From a nutritional perspective, the soccer game is not over after the final whistle. After the game, an important time window of approx. 30 – 60 minutes opens to ensure optimal regeneration.

During this time it is important to supply sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and proteins. The combination of 0.8g carbohydrates per kg body weight and 0.2-0.4g protein per kg body weight optimally supports your body in the regeneration phase. [2] For a 55kg female player, this would mean a carbohydrate intake of 44g and a protein intake between 11 and 22g.

It is also important to support the body in fighting free radicals in the period after physical stress. These form when the body is exposed to stressful situations.

If free radicals accumulate, it can have a harmful effect on our health, our immune system can be damaged and cells can be attacked. Therefore, it is important to supply antioxidants after strenuous training sessions or games.

Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables, but also in phytochemicals. On the one hand, you can get antioxidants by eating fruits and vegetables, and on the other hand, they are also present in good sports products. This is also the case in our RECOVERY SHAKE which has a protective function due to the cocoa it contains.

To support the muscles, it is important to supply high-quality proteins during the recovery phase. As many essential amino acids as possible should be consumed to ensure growth, development and maintenance of muscle cell health.

Some recovery products, like our RECOVERY 8, aim to do just that, integrating as many (or all) essential amino acids as possible. With the help of such products it is easy to supply the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins and antioxidants in order to regenerate perfectly.

Specifically, after the game, our example athlete could drink a RECOVERY SHAKE (40g powder in 400ml water) and eat a banana. This would give it about 46g of carbohydrates and about 20g of protein. In addition, it would provide the athlete with antioxidants by the banana and by the cocoa which is contained in the RECOVERY SHAKE.

Alternatively, it is possible to supply RECOVERY 8 with cold water. A combination of the two products is also possible and ensures the best possible regeneration.

As a soccer player, you should pay attention to these 4 points

In summary, the following 4 points are particularly important for proper nutrition in soccer:

  • Start the game with full glycogen stores
  • Use the half time to “refuel”
  • Avoid depleting glycogen stores in the final phase – and top up with a gel
  • Use the time window after the game to speed up your regeneration

In the end, it should be noted that the diet on game days should be different from that of training days or days off. More about this, and what a nutrition plan for footballers could look like, can be found in this article.

[1] J. Collins et al., “UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite football. Current evidence to inform practical recommendations and guide future research,” Br. J. Sports Med., pp. 1-27, 2020, doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101961.
[2] DOSB (German Olympic Sports Confederation, Competitive Sports Division) brochure “Food Supplements,” 1st edition June 2014.
[3] D. T. Thomas, K. A. Erdman, and L. M. Burke, “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance,” J. Acad. Nutr. Diet., vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 501-528, 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006.
[4] L. Anderson et al., “Energy intake and expenditure of professional soccer players of the English Premier league: Evidence of carbohydrate periodization,” Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exerc. Metab., vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 228-238, 2017, doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2016-0259.

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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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