Have you been told that you should eat before soccer practice to improve performance? And you should be following a diet for a youth soccer player?
Maybe you’ve been trying to figure out what you should eat because you don’t like having low energy but you also hate feeling too full when you step on the pitch or field.
We get it. There’s no one size fits all. You need some simple tips to know what’s best for you.
We’ll explain the basics of performance nutrition so you can understand when and what players eat before soccer practice. And we’ll give you easy examples so that you can find what works for you. Then you’ll be on your way to feeling fueled and ready for playing soccer.
Keep reading to learn more.
Why is it important to eat before soccer practice?
Eating before a practice serves key functions:
- Fuels your muscles both with glycogen (your body’s storage of carbohydrates for energy) and readily available energy depending on when you eat
- Helps prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which may cause you to feel sluggish, light headed and not alert
- Keeps you from feeling hungry and settles your potentially “growling” stomach
- Maintains focus on your activity and prevents injury
What’s the magic food that unlocks athletic performance?
What you eat (or don’t) before your soccer practice can make or break your performance. But there is no magic food, amount or timing because everyone is unique. What works for one person may not work for another and it takes some trial and error to find the right fit.
There’s definitely a psychological component as well as the expected physiological component. Some athletes find a food that they know makes them feel good physically and mentally and becomes something they eat before every big competition.
Think about a time when you ate too close to an intense soccer practice. That food jostled in your stomach and you felt bloated, gassy and near ready to throw up. It’s likely you wouldn’t make that food your go to choice before your next practice.
And you probably wouldn’t eat as close to practice again!
Ideally you should test what works before and during soccer practices instead of before competitions when game results are at stake. If you get a little nervous before games, that can also cause digestion to take longer and you’ll want to know what works best for you.
How practice duration and intensity affect what to eat before soccer practice
Stop and go sports like soccer require high levels of energy for sprinting, endurance training, jumping and power. Therefore, players need adequate stores of glycogen to train and compete for long durations and high intensity. Without this, high performance can’t be achieved. (1)
Often you may have practices multiple days a week that may be more intense than games. Generally, you need to ensure that you are eating enough carbohydrates to meet the fuel requirements for your training and to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
In between practices you’ll need to ensure you are replenishing your stores.
All athletes regardless of sport should focus on balancing these fundamental nutrients. (2) Together these energy sources support an athlete to achieve high performance. In general a diet for soccer players will focus on the right balance of these three energy sources.
General tips for what to eat before soccer practice
The ideal pre practice meal should be eaten 2-4 hours before practice and should be high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and low in fat. You want to find the right amount of food that gives you high energy and doesn’t have any GI impact. But also make sure that you’re eating enough so that you don’t have low energy.
Morning practice-What to eat and when
While you’re sleeping your glycogen levels are lower and if you don’t replenish before your practice, you’ll be running on empty and can impact your athletic performance. (3)
If practice starts too early in the morning it’s not practical to eat a regular meal. Instead, the night before eat a larger, high carbohydrate meal and bedtime snack. In the morning, eat a light meal or snack, like some toast, cereal and/or banana.
Experiment with a combination of quick digesting carbohydrates or one of your favorite sports drinks to see what works best for you.
Afternoon and evening practice-What to eat and when
For events later in the day, eat hearty carbohydrate filled meals, gradually reducing the amount the closer you get to practice.
What to eat 3-4 hours before soccer practice
|Whole grain waffles or pancakes/syrup or jam/fruit/plant based sausage/walnuts|
|French toast/fruit/syrup or jam|
|Omelet with vegetables/toast/fruit|
|Grilled chicken/rice/fruit or veg|
|Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread/crackers or baked chips/carrots|
|Spaghetti with lean meat/fruit or veg|
|Burrito/bowl with lean meat or beans/rice/salsa/light on cheese, sour cream and guac|
|Baked potato/veggies/lean meat toppings/light on cheese|
|Thick crust cheese and veggie pizza|
|Energy bar/sports drink (if you’re on the go)|
What to eat 2-3 hours before soccer practice
|Cereal/yogurt or milk/banana|
|Bagel/Bread peanut butter and jelly sandwich|
|Apple slices and peanut butter|
|Protein and carbohydrate energy bar|
|Hummus, crackers and veggies|
|Sports drink (if you’re too nervous to eat)|
|Toaster waffles/pancakes with jelly and/or peanut butter/banana|
|Baked or roasted potatoes with easily digested toppings|
|Fruit smoothie/acai bowl|
What to eat 1 hour before soccer practice
Snacks eaten within an hour before soccer practice should be quickly digestible carbohydrates. Some good options include:
- Granola bars
- Animal crackers
- Fig bars
- Goldfish crackers
- Dried fruit
- Sports drinks
Foods to avoid eating right before practice
The closer you get to your practice, the more you’ll want to avoid foods that take longer to digest and may cause heartburn, gas, bloating, nausea or vomiting. This includes foods high in fiber, fried foods and foods with fatty sauces.
Additionally, you may want to avoid carbonated beverages that can cause bloating and gas.
High performance in soccer requires adequate fueling. Soccer players should choose primarily carbohydrates before practices. Since they are easily digestible, carbohydrates become a ready source of energy.
Pay attention to timing of meals and the amount of food you’re eating as you get closer to practice. You want to have enough energy to feel focused, light, and energetic.
Use practices to experiment with different foods and timing so that you’ll be locked in and ready for game day nutrition.
Check out our blog post on post game and post soccer training for ideas on how to recover.
What are you going to try first to help improve your performance?