Nutrition for Soccer Players For Game and Practice Days

by Jeff Natt


The following are suggestions on what our soccer players should eat and avoid eating on game and practice days.

A meal 3-4 hours before a game or practice should be rich in complex carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein but be low in fat and excessive fiber because fat and fiber takes longer to digest, which can cause an upset stomach and slow your child down.  If kids eat less than 3 hours before game or practice, serve a lighter meal or snack that includes easy-to-digest carbohydrate-containing foods, such as fruit, fruit or vegetable juice, crackers, or bread.  If your child is sensitive to high fiber foods, it may be best to avoid them until after the game.  For more info click here.



Athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo eat a breakfast that is rich in complex carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein such as fruit, whole-grain cereals, eggs or milk. This is one of the most important meals of the day.  Suggestions:

  • Scrambled eggs with some grated cheese or vegetables (or both) and a piece of whole grain toast or tortilla
  • Granola with low-fat yogurt or kefir with fresh fruit
  • Oatmeal with chopped nuts and a sliced banana with a little maple syrup
  • A bagel with cream cheese and lox or other smoked fish
  • A glass of milk or kefir
  • 100% juice
  • A breakfast smoothie

If your child has a game in the morning it is probably best to steer away from foods high in fiber such as pancakes and waffles as these can sit in the stomach and take a long time to digest and slow them down during game time.

Don’t let pass more than 2-3 hours before you eat a small healthy snack such as a handful of trail mix, some fruit (banana, grapes, oranges), or vegetables (e.g. carrots, celery with a dip like hummus).



Eat a lunch rich in carbohydrates and protein but keep the portion size low if before a game.


  • Mac and Cheese  Try to avoid Kraft and other more commercial brands as they contains too much salt and a lot of unnecessary chemical additives, preservatives, food colors, flavor enhancers, etc.  If you don’t make it yourself, look into Annie’s brand or Whole Foods 365 brand or other healthier alternatives;
  • Pasta with tomato sauce with grated cheese on top
  • Bean burritos with cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes
  • Carrot and celery sticks with hummus
  • Rice and beans with grated cheese and sliced avocados (for a fruit, avocados are high in protein)
  • Turkey sandwich and fruit
  • High protein items such as tuna fish, salmon, sardines, chicken (grilled or baked, not fried), egg products (egg salad, hard boiled egg)
  • Nori (square seaweed used in sushi) rollups with brown rice and vegetables
  • Wraps with vegetables and chicken or salmon or tuna
  • Fresh fruit e.g., apples, pears, strawberries, mangos, etc.

Snacks before game and/or in between meals

Eat healthy carbohydrate-rich snacks 1-2x between meals


  • Fresh fruit (bananas, oranges, strawberries, apples, pears, etc.)
  • Nuts, dried fruit, energy bars, trail mix
  • Graham crackers
  • Bagels with cream cheese or other cheese or peanut butter
  • Peanut and banana sandwiches
  • Fresh or steamed vegetables (like carrots, broccoli, celery) with hummus or peanut butter dip

Lionel Messi prefers eating tropical fruit 75-90 minutes before kick off.  “Tropical fruits – mangos, papaya, pineapples, bananas – are all good at this stage because they’ve got modest amounts of fiber and don’t give as much of a sugar rush as other fruits,” says sports nutritionist Gavin Allinson. “Too much of the sweet stuff can lead to lethargy due to blood sugar fluctuations, so avoid sports drinks until immediately before the game, too.”


During games and between games

Kids need to drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes during physical activity. It’s important to drink afterwards to restore fluid lost through sweat.


  • Plenty of fluids – 2-3 bottles of water during a game
  • A Sports drink that does not contain caffeine (should be taken after strenuous exercise, not before)
  • Snacks that focus on the same carbohydrate-rich snacks mentioned above (bagels, trail mix, granola bars, fresh fruit, nutri-grain bars, energy bars or graham crackers, etc.  Avoid junk foods like soda, fruit drinks, donuts, candy, chips, etc.).  Take snacks that are easy to pack, can be eaten quickly, and which are easily digested fairly quickly so they will be available immediately for energy.


After Games

  • After game rehydration drink
  • Milk or chocolate milk  – Milk contains electrolytes (sodium, potassium and other minerals), which are lost through sweat and must be replenished after exercise. Milk is also rich in nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D
  • Sports drinks – Limit sports drinks like Gatorade to after games.  Sports drinks are designed to provide energy and replace electrolytes — such as sodium and potassium — that athletes lose in sweat.  Many sports drinks contain large quantities of sugar – in some cases, as much as 18 percent and salt.  Avoid Sports drinks and “Energy drinks” that contain caffeine.  Although it may give a sense of instant energy, caffeine can act as a diuretic (makes one pee more) and is more likely to dehydrate than   replenish fluids. Many sports drinks also have a lot of additives to enhance color, flavor, sweetness and stability.  Many “isotonic” sports drinks like Gatorade claim to re-hydrate and boost energy, but any product containing calories will increase one’s energy levels.  An efficient rehydration drink in is a combination of fruit juice (orange juice is good) and water with a pinch of salt.  Combine this with eating a banana and your child will significantly replenish his/her body of the potassium and magnesium it lost from the work out.  Sports drinks should not be drunk as a regular beverage but saved for replenishment after intense physical activity.


Foods for after games

After the game or event, experts recommend eating carbs (fruit, pretzels, a sports drink, milk, chocolate milk, etc.) within 30 minutes after intense activity and again 2 hours later. A child’s body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and replenishing energy stores and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition. So it’s important that the post-game meal be a balance of lean protein (grilled or baked fish or grilled chicken), carbs (rice, pasta), and fat (dairy products).

Foods to avoid

Donuts, cookies, chips – Very little nutritional value; high in sugar and/or salt and additives.  Excessive amounts of sugar (and carbohydrates which break down into sugar) in addition to weight gain is a leading cause of diabetes and tooth decay.  Too much salt can eventually lead to high blood pressure.

Soda – A 12-ounce bottle of soda can contain nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar and in many cases (like with Coke and Pepsi) has more caffeine than a cup of coffee

Fruit punch or fruit drinks – These are mainly water and sugar and have very little if any real juice

Fried and breaded foods – A leading cause of obesity in this country.  They are high in trans and saturated fats, which are linked to cardiovascular disease.  Instead of fried chicken or fish, opt for grilled or non-breaded baked.

Take out from McDonalds, Burger King and other fast food restaurants – Unless you are opting for the salads with very little salad dressing, try avoiding the food in fast food restaurants like these.  Fast foods from places like McDonalds are very high in calories, trans fats, salt and sugar.

Processed meats  (including bacon, sausage, hot dogs, sandwich meat, packaged ham, pepperoni, salami and virtually all red meat used in frozen prepared meals) – Numerous scientific studies have pointed to processed meats containing many chemicals additives that are known to greatly increase the risk of various cancers including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, brain tumors, pancreatic cancer and many more.  If you are going to eat processed meat, do it sparingly, read the food labels, and look for more “natural” less processed brands that are not loaded with chemical, food coloring, and other additives.


Additional Nutritional Suggestions

Note on smoothies: Smoothies are a good way to make sure your kids get their daily allowance of fruit especially if your kids don’t like to eat fruit.  But be careful of commercial smoothies, which are loaded with unnecessary sugar and are very high in calories.  Adding to the smoothie a powdered or liquid vitamin and mineral supplement, you can make sure your kids get more than their daily allowance of vitamins and minerals in just one glass of their favorite smoothie.

Here are a couple of suggestions of complete liquid and powder vitamin and mineral supplements:  1) Nature’s Way Alive! Whole Food Energizer – Liquid Multi Vitamin & Mineral; 2) Green Vibrance Multi Vitamin & Mineral powder.   Check your local vitamin shop or supermarket and compare products and prices.

Here’s a healthy breakfast smoothie suggestion that you can make that will get your day jump started:

Blend 1 cup 100% orange juice, 1/4 cup fresh or frozen strawberries, 1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, 1/4 cup fresh or frozen blackberries, one banana, 1/4 cup ground flax seed meal and one cap full of Nature’s Way Alive! Whole Food Energizer – Liquid Multi Vitamin & Mineral or one heaping tablespoon of Green Vibrance powder (or a similar liquid or dried powder vitamin and mineral supplement) (or both).


Another tasty recipe:

Two bananas, two heaping tablespoons of peanut butter, two table spoons of    chocolate chips (preferable dark chocolate), milk (or almond or soy milk). Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  For some other smoothie ideas click here.


Here’s a recipe for a quick meal on the go pre or post game rejuvenator:

Blend 1 cup low or fat-free milk, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup uncooked old-fashioned oats (or for more protein, substitute quinoa for oatmeal), and 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed.


This is good for you because Greek yogurt (try to avoid fruit flavored yogurt unless there is no sugar added) and milk provide lots of protein to repair your muscles after a strenuous workout. Oats are fiber-rich and digest slowly, providing long-lasting energy. Blueberries have a very high amount of antioxidants and help neutralize free radicals caused by exercise. Ground flaxseeds provide a dose of omega-3 fatty acids that can lower cholesterol. In case you are counting, this smoothie contains 290 calories, 41 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 22 g protein, and 5 g fat.


Note on milk:  For children who are not lactose-intolerant or allergic to dairy products, milk is one-stop shopping for nutrition. It contains nearly all the basic nutrients that a growing child needs: fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals (except iron). There has been a lot of discussion about whether one should avoid whole milk.  Whole milk contains about 4% saturated fat, while low-fat milk contains 2% fat and skim milk 0%.  Too much saturated fat in one’s diet could potentially lead to heart disease and other possible problems later on in life.  Whole milk also contains more calories than low-fat or skim milk.  So if one is not getting enough exercise and is not burning off all the calories consumed from a daily diet, weight gain occurs. So sound advice would be to reduce all foods that are high in saturated fat such as butter, cheese, ice cream, eggs, fried foods and high fat red meat.  If one already has a low-fat diet and lack of exercise and weight gain is not an issue, then whole milk should not be a problem if consumed in moderation.  For more in-depth discussion about milk and children by noted child pediatrician Dr. Sears, click here.

Tips on energy bars:  A well balanced energy bar that is loaded with whole grains, nuts, seed and dried fruit and doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup or a ton of processed sugar will go a long way in providing sustained energy.  Experiment, make your own energy bars and save money.  Here’s a suggestion if you have a food processor:

Any combination of the following – 1/4 cup of dried pitted figs, 1/4 cup dried pitted dates, 1/4 cup of dried cranberries, 1/4 cup dried prunes, 1/4 cup dried apricots, 1/4 cup of raisins; two heaping table spoons of natural peanut butter or a 1/2 cup of roasted peanuts; any combination of the following – 1/4 cup of  sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup of pistachios, 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds, 1/4 cup almonds; 1/2 cup of granola of your choice; 1/4 cup of chocolate chips; 1/4 cup of dried unsweetened coconut.  Put all ingredients in a food processor   and run until all ingredients are mixed together well and start to form a ball. Take out and roll out into a long cigar shape on a piece of aluminum foil.  Wrap tightly in the foil and put in the refrigerator over night or in a freezer for a couple of hours.  Take out, unwrap and slice into pieces.  Keep refrigerated until ready to eat.


Play around until you find the combination that you like.  Other energy bar suggestions click here.


Other General Food Suggestions

Meal Frequency?

One of the most important factors is how often you eat during the day. There’s a recommended period of 2 to 4 hours between small meals/snacks, which could result in around 6 meals per day. Eating less, but eating in a more distributed way during the day, will help your body become stronger and also keep your metabolism high. You should avoid foods and drinks with lots of sugar (yes, including coca-cola), since they create blood sugar pikes.


What Should You Eat?

from Harvard School of Public Health:

The answer to the question “What should you eat?” is actually pretty simple. But you wouldn’t know that from news reports on diet and nutrition studies, whose sole purpose seems to be to confuse people on a daily basis. When it comes down to it, though—when all the evidence is looked at together—the best nutrition advice on what to eat is relatively straightforward: Eat a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; choose healthy fats, like olive and canola oil and avocados; avoid fried foods and eat grilled or baked fish and lean meats (poultry, red meat, pork) and try to stay away from processed or packaged foods especially those that contain unhealthy fats, like saturated and trans fats.  Choose low-fat milk, and savor full-fat cheeses in small amounts.  Eat at least one good source of omega-3 fats each day. Fatty fish, walnuts, and canola oil all provide omega-3 fatty acids. Read more about omega-3 fatty acids and why they are so important to good health.  Most important of all is keeping calories in check by keeping the portions in check, so you can avoid weight gain, which makes exercise a key partner to a healthy diet.  Read more on what makes a healthy diet by clicking here.


Nutritional experts say  – “Color your plate in every meal  – eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day – the brighter the better” –  The brighter, deeper colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits. Some great choices are:


Greens: Greens are packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, C, E and K, and they help strengthen the blood and respiratory systems. Be adventurous with your greens and branch out beyond bright and dark green lettuce—kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Chinese cabbage are just a few of the options.


Sweet vegetables: Naturally sweet vegetables add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets. Some examples of sweet vegetables are corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes or yams, winter squash, and onions.


Fruit: A wide variety of fruit is also vital to a healthy diet. Fruit provides fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.


Don’t forget to shop fresh and local whenever possible. The local farmer’s market, fruit stand or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group are great ways to get access to fresh, local produce. To find local growers, farmer’s markets, and CSAs in your area, visit Local Harvest.


Here’s 5 Quick Tips on Stocking a Healthy Kitchen

from the Harvard School of Public Health:


Healthy eating begins in the kitchen, whether it’s in a home, restaurant, dining hall, or other venue. To get the most out of the recipes you prepare, keep your kitchen stocked with these healthy ingredients:

1. Produce. Choose locally grown vegetables and fruits whenever you can. Keep on hand garlic, onions, dark salad greens like spinach and romaine, carrots, and apples. When you shop, select produce that looks good, or what’s on sale. Read about vegetables, fruits and health or try these delicious vegetable recipes.

2. Grains. Trade in white rice for the bounty of great whole grains: barley, cracked wheat (bulgur), oat berries, quinoa, brown rice, and a host of others. Try whole wheat pasta or one of the whole wheat blends now on the market. Read about whole grains and health or try these whole grain recipes.

3. Protein. Rely on healthy protein packages such as fresh fish, chicken or turkey, tofu, eggs, and a variety of beans and nuts. And move away from the traditional mealtime paradigm of a large portion of meat at the center of your plate. Instead, build a healthy plate with equal servings of protein, whole grains, and vegetables. Try these healthy recipes for nuts and tofu, fish and chicken.

4. Fats and oils. Use liquid vegetable oils whenever possible for sautéing vegetables, stir-frying fish or chicken, and as the base of salad dressings. Good choices include grapeseed and olive oil. A dash of specialty oil, like extra-virgin olive oil, walnut or pistachio oil, sesame oil, or truffle oil, can make steamed vegetables come alive. Mashed avocado, rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, makes a fabulous topping for sandwiches. Read more about fats and health, or try these recipes that use healthy fats.

5. Other essentials. Learn what chefs have known for a long time: A small amount of a high-quality ingredient goes a long way toward boosting flavor. Stock your kitchen with good-quality tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, fresh and dried herbs, dried cherries or cranberries, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a variety of unsalted nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, and pistachios).

Here are a few other websites that can help you make more healthy decisions on what to eat:


One last piece of advice – Getting a good night’s rest (at least eight hours) is just as important as eating right.


You can download the file here: Nutritional Recommendations For Soccer Players.


Jeff Natt has been interested in food, nutrition, and wellness for most of his life.  He has a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Columbia University and he cooked prefessionally  for seventeen years with stints as a chef in several restaurants before entering the Public Health field. Jeff offers cooking classes and nutritional and wellness counseling to individuals and families who are interested in losing weight, eating better and maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle. As an athlete himself and parent of an active New York Fusion Soccer Club player and teenager, he knows the challenges of preparing nutritious food and getting children and families to eat well when everyone is on the go.  If you are interested in learning how Jeff can improve things for you and your family, please email Jeff at