What to Eat Before A Soccer Game for Optimal Performance?

Michael Claunch

Playing a 90-minute soccer game at any level is a big physical effort that can be exhausting even for the best-prepared athletes. Diet is one element that contributes to improved performance on the field and helps the body to endure the strain, so players need to eat right, especially on game day. While professionals have personal chefs and precisely defined intake of nutrients, younger players are often unsure of what to eat before a soccer game.

There are multiple opinions regarding what constitutes the best meal before a soccer game, and individual preferences and needs might play a role. The age of the player, his physical build, time of the day, and conditions of play (temperature, humidity…) – all of those are relevant factors that deserve some consideration. We will try to provide a general guideline about food intake on a game day and let every reader draw his own conclusions.    

Food and soccer – why eating well is so important?

Soccer players need to be at the peak of fitness and stamina in order to perform well and maintain a high level of play long into a game. Their bodies need to have enough energy to withstand the rigors of sports competition, but must not be burdened with heavy digestion. Players that adhere to a strict diet in the training process and carefully select their pre-game meals tend to deal with the physical requirements of soccer much better. On the other hand, those that don’t take care of their bodies face limitations and possible injuries down the road, even if they are able to get by on raw talent in the short term.

Choosing the best meal before a soccer game or practice is a big part of proper nutrition for a soccer player, regardless of the competition level. The goal is to provide large quantities of easily consumable energy without burdening the digestive system. Some players even enjoy healthy snacks during the halftime break to replenish some of the resources they expanded. Sugar-based products and junk food should generally be avoided, as there are plenty of alternatives that provide sufficient amounts of energy without any negative consequences, for example, bananas, raisins, and almonds.

Eating before the game – major dos and don’ts

The content of the pre-soccer game meal should be carefully balanced to include all the necessary components and nothing in excess. It should primarily consist of light carbohydrates, which is why fruit and cereal often form the foundation. Including some protein in the form of fish or poultry is also a good idea, along with a limited amount of vegetable fibers. Pasta is also a common meal before a game, followed by a fruit salad or yogurt as a wholesome dessert. The combination should be highly energetic and consist mostly of fast-burning calories that will be spent while the physical activity is in progress. 

On the other hand, eating too much red meat or foods with high-fat content can be catastrophic for a player’s on-field effectiveness. Plant-based foods with very high fiber content are also problematic, as are spicy meals. Such foods take a really long time to digest, and they don’t provide enough ‘fuel’ quickly enough. Drinking alcohol before a game is also a terrible idea that could constrain the body and cloud the mind. Sweets and energy drinks with a lot of sugar are a double-edged sword, as they can provide the player with an instant energy boost, but in the long term, such a diet is unhealthy and unsustainable.

When to eat before a soccer game?

It’s not enough to know what to eat before a soccer game, since determining the perfect timing is just as important. Playing on an empty stomach is very hard, but so is running at full speed right after a hearty meal. When there is an early start, breakfast before a soccer game is the most important meal, and it can be complemented with a few snacks in the hours leading to the kickoff. However, when the game starts later in the day, it becomes necessary to work a light lunch into the schedule.

The meal should be consumed at least 90 to 120 minutes before the game. Since players need some time to warm up and prepare, this could push the ideal time for eating even further back, depending on how far they need to travel to reach the stadium. Teams that are playing on the road usually have game-day meals together at the hotel, so trainers and coaches can monitor the eating habits of the players and make individual recommendations. It’s also very common to bring sandwiches and other snacks along to the venue so that players that need a quick bite can grab something to eat on the bus or in the dressing room.

How to replenish the body after a soccer game?

While the pre-soccer game meal can have an impact on athletic performance, it’s just as important to eat properly after soccer activities are finished. Players who participated in the game are likely to be physically exhausted, and rehydrating properly is the top priority, ideally with fluids featuring a mix of water, electrolytes, and vitamins. Eating simple carbohydrate-based foods (energy bars, chocolate…) is also common immediately after the final whistle, especially if the players only had breakfast before playing in a competitive soccer game.

After the body cools down, it’s recommended to have a large, protein-based meal and provide the body with all the nutrients it needs to grow muscle tissue. Eating a full dinner consisting of different courses the night after the game is normal, although players still need to monitor their fat intake and avoid racking up ‘empty calories. Keeping the body in perfect shape is a long-term process, and a nourishing but disciplined diet is a key part of an athlete’s lifestyle. With appropriate nutrition before and after each practice and each game, players can improve strength, endurance, and other important skills.

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