Game Day Nutrition Tips: Eating to Win
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Whether they're charging down the field or defending the goal, soccer players are in constant motion for 30-45 minutes at a time. (Typical players cover an average of 5 to 7 miles in just one match!) Staying alert from the beginning to the end of a game requires tons of energy and good hydration, and we're here to help you help your young athlete out with some game day nutrition tips.
The day before game day, make sure your player eats a carbohydrate-rich dinner. Foods like whole wheat pasta, rice, and sweet potatoes are a great choice. Keep it balanced and colorful with protein (lean meat, seafood, dairy) fiber (beans, vegetables and fruit) and healthy fats, (avocado, nuts and seeds). Drinking water throughout the entire day is also a great idea.
Game day meal
Plan for a pre-game meal three to four hours before the start of play. A high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, low fat and fiber meal will give your athlete's muscles an extra source of fuel without making him or her feel weighed down or sluggish. Foods like whole-grain cereal with milk, granola, and yogurt; whole-grain toast with almond butter; or a fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt are all good options.
Snack up about an hour before the game. Easily digestible snacks like CLIF Kid Zbars, pretzels, or crackers provide a last-minute burst of energy.
Water is the best option and should be the primary source of hydration for kids.(1) Sports drinks in combination with water and coconut water are also good choices for games lasting over one hour, as they contain fast-absorbing carbohydrates and electrolytes. But be sure to stay away from sugary sodas and energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine.
Catch some zzz's
More and more, researchers are discovering a direct correlation between sleep and performance. While getting a full 8-10 hours of sleep per night can be challenging, it is important for kids to get a consistent dose of uninterrupted sleep. Not only does the body repair itself during that time, but sleep is also crucial for players whose bodies are still growing.(2)
If your player is heading into a tournament and will play multiple games, it's important to get him or her to eat carbohydrates every 60-90 minutes. This will help maintain normal energy levels.(3) Keep fruit, sandwiches, crackers, or CLIF Kid Zbars on hand to provide carbs that will refuel working muscles.
In the hours after a game, make sure your future Messi consumes a healthy recovery meal containing protein, carbs, and fat. Burritos, sandwiches, and rice bowls will all do the trick. And don't stop pushing water—hydration is still important even after players leave the field.
While playing soccer can look effortless as young athletes race up and down the field, it actually takes a great deal of energy to maintain endurance from start to finish. A winning combination of nutritious meals and snacks, plenty of liquids, and restorative sleep will help ensure that your soccer star is fit, fueled, and fired up for the match, with ample reserves to push through those last critical minutes.
- Nutritional Concerns for the Child and Adolescent Competitor. Heather J. Petrie, MS, Elizabeth A. Stover, MS, and Craig A. Horswill, PhD From the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Barrington, Illinois, USA.
- Physical Activity, Fitness, Cognitive Function, and Academic Achievement in Children: A Systematic Review. Donnelly, Joseph E. Ed.D, FACSM (Co-Chair); Hillman, Charles H. Ph.D. Co-Chair; Castelli, Darla Ph.D.; Etnier, Jennifer L. Ph.D., FACSM; Lee, Sarah Ph.D.; Tomporowski, Phillip Ph.D., FACSM; Lambourne, Kate Ph.D.; Szabo-Reed, Amanda N. Ph.D. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2016 - Volume 48 - Issue 6 - p 1197–1222.
- Laura K Purcell and Canadian Paediatric Society, Paediatric Sports and Exercise Medicine Section. Sport nutrition for young athletes. Paediatr Child Health. 2013 Apr; 18(4): 200–202.
- The Value of Sleep on Athletic Performance, Injury, and Recovery in the Young Athlete. Copenhaver EA, Diamond AB. Pediatr Ann. 2017 Mar 1;46(3):e106-e111.
- Nutrition and Athletic Performance. ACSM Position Stand. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2016 - Volume 48 - Issue 3 - p 543–568.