As I mentioned in my previous post about eating well, it's important to get rid of the junk food to be healthier in general, but as a soccer player, you're spending tons of energy every day, so not only do you need to eat well, you also need to eat the right food for maximum energy.
If you pay any attention to popular diets, you've probably noticed that a lot of them are telling you to stay away from carbohydrates. While that may be smart for less active people who are trying to lose weight and eat fewer calories, highly active people like soccer players need carbohydrates to fuel their muscles and help them concentrate so they can play their hardest on game day!
Why are carbs so good for soccer players? Basically, the human body has an easier time turning carbs into energy than it does with protein and fats. This means that your body can get energy faster from carbohydrates. Proteins and fats are still very important to eat so that your body can repair and build muscle after a game or practice, but they aren't your main source of energy for game day.
Here's a breakdown of the types of carbs and other fuel sources you should use:
- Level 1 Carbs: sugars (pure "hyper energy")
- Level 2 Carbs: Processed foods, white flower, starches (energy from these available in 1-4 hours)
- Level 3 Carbs: complex carbs, whole grains, veggies (energy available in 3-7 hours)
- Protein: meats, poultry, eggs
- Fats: fish high in fatty acids (like salmon), nuts, olive oil, avocados
You probably noticed that I included how long it takes your body to get energy from the different levels of carbs. This is really important for planning when to eat food before a match. For example, it doesn't make sense to eat a bunch of level 3 carbs only an hour before your match because you won't be able to use the energy during the match. They'll be filling your stomach, but you won't be getting the energy from them when you need it! Plan your meals out so your body can make the most out of the energy your food provides! Eat a mixture of level 2 and 3 carbs 24-48 hours before your game. As your game gets closer, focus more on level 2 carbs and maybe even a little bit of level 1 carbs. Don't have too many level 1 carbs though, or you may wind up crashing from all the sugar. You know how after you eat a bag of gummy worms you're really hyper for a while, but then all of a sudden you become really tired? That's what happens when you have too many level 1 carbs.
Try to avoid eating too much fat before a match, too, Fat tends to make your stomach work harder at digestion and your body will use some of the energy you need for the game on digestion. You could also wind up with an upset stomach just before or during the game, and that's never fun.
And, of course, you need to hydrate well and drink lots of water before, during, and after your game! Work on being well-hydrated 3-4 hours before a game so that you have time to adjust your water intake properly and not be dying to use the port-a-potties on the field (ick!) through your whole match :)
Remember, it's also really important to refuel within 30-120 minutes after a match! Eat protein to help your muscles rebuild and carbs to help restore the energy reserves in your muscles.
Most of my games are midday on Saturdays, so I like to have fruit and waffles for breakfast on Friday mornin, stir-fried vegetables and chicken for lunch, and spaghetti with a bit of chicken for dinner. Then, I make sure to get up early enough to have a good bowl of oatmeal or cream-of-wheat for breakfast 3-4 hours before my game. Usually that's enough for me, but some people like to have a light level 2/1 carb snack 1-1.5 hours before the game. Keep in mind that everybody's stomach is a bit different, so some foods might work better than others for you. I like to keep track of what I eat before each game in a little food diary and take notes on how much energy I had during each game. Then I can look back and see which foods work best for me.
What are your favorite pre-game meals? Comment below!