Eat Like a Soccer Player to Boost Performance

The World Cup is a glorified tournament of the globe’s most elite athletes of the beautiful game that is soccer (football or futebol, whatever you want to call it).

To make the cut for the international teams, players had to endure grueling practices, push through injuries, and prove their skills were better than the man standing next to them.

While talent and training play a major role in athletic performance, another contributing factor important across all sports is nutritional status.

Providing your body with the right type of fuel can mean the difference between making the team and sitting on the bench. 

Nutrition plays such a vital role in performance that teams almost always have guidance from a registered dietitian or physician to provide insight on what’s most appropriate depending on their individual goals.

These health professionals often use all that is available to them to get the job done including hydration strategies, meal timing, and pre- and post-workout nutrition supplements.

With the World Cup taking place in hot, humid Brazil this year, proper hydration is going to be key to players’ performance.

Orlando Laitano, Ph.D., a professor at Federal University of Sao Francisco Valley in Brazil, said recently at a sports nutrition conference that hydration is important before a match even begins.

Too often players are dehydrated and performance suffers as they attempt to keep up with 5-to-8 mile field coverage.

Dehydration of just 2 percent of body mass has been shown to impair football skills including high-intensity sprinting and dribbling (1).

To combat dehydration, Laitano recommends educating players to drink throughout the day, individualizing rehydration strategies based on body weight, and consuming electrolyte-rich beverages.

In addition to staying hydrated, many players are turning to caffeine (either in the form of pills, coffee, or energy shots) to up their game.

James Morton, consultant nutritionist for the Liverpool Football Club, said caffeine can be a beneficial ergogenic aid for football players resulting in improved cognitive, physical, and technical performance.

Scientific studies have shown that ingestion of 2 to 6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight is ideal (2) and should be consumed 45 to 60 minutes before the start of high-intensity exercise (3). Morton also suggests post-training caffeine ingestion along with carbohydrates to promote recovery and support performance on days with more than one match or practice.

Recovery is vitally important for all athletes, especially soccer players during the World Cup when teams have restricted time to rest between games.

The team physician for the Barcelona Football Club, Daniel Medina, M.D., states that almost one-third of all injuries in professional football are muscle injuries and can result in two weeks of missed play.

Body composition is the greatest predictor of injury risk—the more body fat and the less muscle a player has, the greater risk (4).

To support optimal body composition and muscle synthesis, Dr. Medina makes sure his players eat sufficient amounts of quality protein, especially from sources with greater amounts of the amino acid leucine such as whey protein (5).

The nutritional interventions used to increase overall athletic performance for football players can translate to other high-intensity team sports such as basketball, football, rugby, and lacrosse.

By hydrating properly, using proven ergogenic aids like caffeine, and eating the right amounts and kind of protein, you too can make the cut.

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