Nutrition for soccer players is often overlooked and neglected. Whether it’s soccer coaches, trainers, strength coaches or parents, the focus is on the physical development of the youth athlete.

The Ultimate #1 Super Important Can’t Forget Soccer Nutrition Tip

Nutrition for soccer players

All young athletes, soccer players included, need BETTER nutrition than what the typical kid gets. Eating junk because they’ll ‘burn it off’ is not the approach to take!

They have important nutritional needs already because they are in the most anabolic (muscle building and overall growth) phase of their lives and this is supported nutritionally.

In addition, they are athletes, where performance counts and that performance needs the right fuel and the fuel is the food.

Don’t forget this nutrition rule!

Helping a youth athlete or soccer player take their development to the next level takes a lot more than just a focus on the physical part of the game. Nutrition for soccer players is just as important.

This means a nutrition education as well as a training education. Training and nutrition are the two parts of the equation that must be in balance in order for a youth athlete to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.

Those training sessions and games must run on high performance fuel in the terms of proper nutrition for the developing youth athlete.

Unfortunately, proper nutrition is often neglected and young soccer players eat the same way as most normal kids. When it comes to the youth athlete, this isn’t going to be enough.

Just because they get a lot more exercise doesn’t mean they get to eat whatever they want.

In fact, nutrition is even more important for the youth athlete. The body needs optimum nutrition in order to perform at a high level.

I’m not saying soccer nutrition can’t include your 12 year old getting some ice cream after a big game. Not at all. But nutrition needs to become a more important part of the performance equation for the youth athlete.

Your body can’t perform at a high level if it isn’t getting high performance fuel.

A young athlete already has the exercise and training part covered. Good nutrition and making proper choices isn’t that difficult, at least not in theory.

But young athletes don’t necessarily have the ability or knowledge to make these decisions on their own.

Let’s face it, it’s not even easy for parents, since environment plays a big role in what kids do, or want to do. When faced with the social aspect, schools, parties, sleep overs, etc. it can be a challenge to make sure a good soccer nutrition program is followed.

Because of this, parents are much more into convenience when it comes to feeding their children. I get it.

It’s even more challenging if the parents aren’t on board with a nutrition program since kids don’t buy the food that’s in their house, or do the cooking. If mom and dad are constantly feeding them fast food and giving them candy like every day is Halloween, there’s not a lot any young soccer player can do about it.

Considering the alarming rise of child obesity in America, this is a growing problem and not just for athletes, but all kids.

Foundations of Youth Athlete Nutrition

meals for soccer players

Most people don’t think about diet and nutrition in terms of things like vitamins and minerals or the macro-nutrients, carbohydrates, protein and fat. They think in terms of actual food. And that’s okay.

But it is important to understand the six main categories of nutrition.

Macro-nutrients

  • Carbohydrates (energy)
  • Proteins (build muscle and repair and recover)
  • Fats (protect internal organs, supply fat-soluble vitamins, important part of the body’s hormonal profile such as testosterone, and provides energy)

Micro-nutrients (important role in regulating and controlling a variety of processes in the body)

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

And number six is water.

Can’t skip that one! Water is the most important of course, and it’s one that constantly needs to be monitored.

The vast majority of young athletes do not drink nearly enough water, they don’t start drinking it until it’s too late (and they still don’t drink enough) and they rarely drink any water in cooler weather.

The number one rule with regard to nutrition for soccer players is making sure that most of what they eat is real food. While it’s almost impossible to eliminate junk food for kids, try to minimize it.

Stay away from processed foods that come in bags and boxes and have a list of unpronounceable ingredients the length of your arm!

Energy needs, which is simply calories, are much greater during youth, as kids are growing rapidly. While we have a youth obesity epidemic, it’s only partially about eating too much.

It’s a lot more about eating the wrong things, and not getting exercise.

Let’s face it, two thumb typing on a smartphone doesn’t burn a lot of calories!

Active soccer players require even more calories than your typical growing kid needs. In my experience, far too often kids come to practice or games on an empty stomach.

This affects them physically in terms of their health but also in terms of their soccer performance. And not just the physical aspects but mentally with a lack of focus, concentration and memory retention.

You don’t want to stuff them full of pizza right before practice (that’s done, too) but a completely empty stomach is a big no no.

Carbohydrates for Soccer Players

Carbs supply glucose for the brain and energy the muscles. This is extremely important for the athlete, as discussed above. Without a supply of carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen, in the muscles ready to be used, performance will suffer on the field.

While carbohydrates are important, it’s the kind of carbs that matter as well. For youth athletes, all too often carbs come from the wrong sources.

Sources such as soft drinks, candy, sugar loaded “sports” drinks, and more.

While these things in moderation are perfectly okay for the growing athlete, most carbohydrates need to come from better sources.

This means natural foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Great Sources of Fiber Include:

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Berries (Strawberry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Blueberry)
  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Corn
  • Green Beans
  • Green Peas
  • Pear
  • Oranges
  • Potato
  • Watermelon

Beans and Nuts

  1. Almonds
  2. Black beans
  3. Cashews
  4. Kidney beans
  5. Lentil beans
  6. Pinto beans
  7. Peanuts

Grains and Cereals

  • All Bran cereal
  • Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole wheat spaghetti
  • Oatmeal
  • Raisin Bran

Fiber is extremely important and most Americans get far too little fiber in their diet thanks to eating mostly processed foods and far too few fruits and vegetables. The typical American diet consists of less than 10 grams of fiber, while we should be consuming up to 35 grams every day.

Protein in Soccer Nutrition

nutrition for youth soccer players

Adult athletes and fitness enthusiasts understand the importance of protein. It plays a crucial role in many process including tissue building (muscle), as well as repair.

It’s not thought about much when it comes to kids, but considering they are in a major anabolic growth stage naturally, getting enough quality protein is crucial for these young athletes.

Amino acids are referred to as the building blocks of protein. There are both essential and non-essential amino acids.

Non-essential amino acids are important, but the body can produce them. However, the essential amino acids must come from food. If an athlete doesn’t get enough of these essential amino acids, the body will try and conserve as much as possible.

If this continues, over time, you’ll see the body lose muscle mass (made mostly of water and protein) which can cause all sorts of problems for anyone, but especially athletes and growing children.

The Essential Amino Acids

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionin
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Valine
  • Tryptophan

Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine are called branched-chain amino acids (crucial for muscle building, recovery and repair).

In order to get enough quality protein it’s important to eat a variety of different protein sources. This will ensure that soccer players get enough essential amino acids.

When it comes to nutrition for soccer players, protein is often overlooked in favor of too many carbs for energy. Don’t make this mistake.

Great Protein Sources Include the Following:

  • Beans
  • Beef and Pork
  • Chicken
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Eggs (whole – eggs are also a great source of healthy fats such as Omega-3’s)
  • Fresh Fish
  • Milk
  • Nuts such as almond, cashew and peanuts
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Yogurt

Fat

Fat used to be thought of as practically evil, something to be avoided at all costs (some still think this way today) but this simply isn’t true. In fact, many health issues, including obesity, can be linked to people not getting enough fat in their diets.

This was especially true in the 1980’s when extremely high carbohydrate, low-fat diets were all the rage. Not so coincidentally, this was about the same time that obesity rates started to skyrocket.

First there are different types of fats.

Second, of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates, protein and fat, it’s the carbohydrates that are non-essential. You must get a certain amount of protein and fat or you’ll die.

There is no such requirement of carbohydrates. This is another example of a problem when it comes to nutrition for soccer players. Too many nutrition plans don’t contain nearly enough healthy fats.

Youth Soccer Nutrition and Trans Fats

This is a fat you’ll want to avoid. Trans fats are basically vegetable fats that have gone through a chemical change known as hydrogenation. This is done mainly so foods have a longer shelf life.

Trans fats are found mainly in snack foods.

To repeat, the general rule is that boxes and bags that can sit on a shelf for a long time are to be avoided as much as possible.

The more natural state of the food, the better.

Essential Fatty Acids

Again, the American diet of mostly processed foods, is very low in the important healthy fats, what’s referred to as essential fatty acids, or EFA’s. This is especially true of Omega-3 fats.

And Omega-3 fats are even more crucial for kids in terms of their physical and even mental, development.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have variety of heart health properties, as well as potentially aid recovery, reduce the risk of a variety of diseases and may even help with fat loss!

They also help with brain development.

Recommended Dietary Intake of Fat

Fat intake should be roughly one third of your total calorie intake (30 – 35%).

Foods High in Essential Fatty Acids and Healthy Fats

  • Avocado
  • Cold water fish (salmon, tuna, achovies, makerel, lake trout)
  • Canola Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Fish Oil
  • Flax seed oil
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Olives and Olive Oil
  • Whole Eggs (it’s in the yoke)

Other sources of fat that are okay to eat in moderation:

  • Animal Fat (from red meat)
  • Butter
  • Real Cream
  • Fried Foods
  • Ice cream
  • Whole Fat Dairy Products

Nutrition For Soccer Players and the Benefits of a Healthy Breakfast

Kids need to eat breakfast!

A healthy breakfast will helped with improved alertness and focus, as well as better cognitive performance (do better in school!), high test scores in school, and an increase in important vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium and folic acid, that are usually shown to be deficient in the diets of most kids.

Breakfast Ideas for the Youth Soccer Player

  • High fiber cereals such as Cheerios, Bran Flakes, Shredded Wheat and Rasin Bran
  • Rolled Oats
  • Eggs (can include veggies in an omelet)
  • Yogurt with real fruit
  • Fruit (like apple with natural peanut butter – great source of good carbs, protein and healthy fat)

Soccer Nutrition and Snacking

diet for soccer players

When the right snacks are chosen, it can become an important part of total calorie intake as well as getting vitamins, minerals and much needed fiber.

If the wrong foods are chosen, like candy bar and cookies, it can be a disaster.

Awesomely Powerful Snack Ideas for the Young Athlete

  • Almonds, Cashews Peanuts, Walnuts and other assorted nuts
  • Fresh fruit and fresh raw vegetables
  • Peanut Butter (can be put on fruits like apples)
  • Yogurt
  • Mixed fruit (in water or it’s own juices, not in syrup!)
  • Cottage cheese
  • String cheese
  • Granola bars (check the labels, not all are created equal)
  • Trail mix and dried fruit
  • Milk
  • Certain soups
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Cheese (the real stuff)

Simple Soccer Nutrition Rules to Follow

  • Eat high quality whole foods
  • Eat breakfast daily
  • Minimize trans fats, sugar, and processed foods in general
  • Get lots of color in the form of different fruits and vegetables
  • Get enough protein and healthy fats and then adjust the carbohydrate intake up or down depending on overall energy (calorie) needs
  • Drink water throughout the day, not just at halftime of a game in hot weather

Water Water Water

  • Tips to make sure you (or your young soccer players) are getting enough water
  • Step on a scale before and after training or games. That loss is fluids, not fat.
  • Even a 1-2% loss can affect performance.
  • Some danger signs when it comes to dehydration include dark urine, fatigue, light headedness, headaches and loss of appetite.

Soccer Nutrition For Game Day

  • Eat less as you get closer to game time
  • High carb, medium protein, low-fat meals before competition (nothing “heavy”)
  • Eat foods you normally eat. Not the time to try something new
  • Drink fluids
  • Allow for digestion time

More than 2 hours away from game time

  • Oatmeal and fresh fruit
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Pasta such as spaghetti with some chicken
  • Sandwich with lean meat

As you get closer to the competitions (about 2 hours or so) try things like:

Smoothie. This should be homemade as the commercial smoothies can include a lot of junk and calories. Try something simple like frozen fruit with some 1% 0r 2% milk and yogurt).
Energy bar
Fruit like a banana or apple with natural peanut butter
Greek yogurt with added fruit

*** Cross-posted at https://thesoccerspecialist.com/

Gregg Gillies

Coach Gregg is a soccer trainer, coach, and youth athlete development specialist. He is also a best selling author and the creator of The Soccer Specialist Podcast who inspires and motivates young players. He has over twenty years of experience in the fitness training world and holds multiple fitness and athlete development certifications, including as a youth development specialist with a focus on soccer players.


Gregg Gillies

Coach Gregg is a soccer trainer, coach, and youth athlete development specialist. He is also a best selling author and the creator of The Soccer Specialist Podcast who inspires and motivates young players. He has over twenty years of experience in the fitness training world and holds multiple fitness and athlete development certifications, including as a youth development specialist with a focus on soccer players.