Soccer players burn a huge amounts of energy by running around the field so much, which means you need to make sure you’re giving your body what it needs to recover and get out there again. So we asked Alice Richer, team nutritionist and consultant dietician for the Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, to explain how anyone—from a rec-league player to an aspiring pro—can make sure they're bringing their best game in the kitchen.
“The best thing athletes can do for themselves is get down to basics,” Richer says. “Cook for yourself as much as you can, and be really aware of what's in your food. Right now there's so much more information available about what is in your food and can help you make strong decisions.”
Yes, even MLS players face temptation from junk food and snacks.
“I always tell players to focus on carbs, and to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables,” Richer says. “Most of a soccer player's daily calories need to come from carb sources that provide energy so they don't get fatigued on the field. It's just as important to have protein, but not to overdo it—young men tend to think protein is the most important thing. Yes, it is important—but you can load too much on that, so I try to teach them to mix it up.”
Richer spoke with Men’s Fitness about some of the best foods for soccer players to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and when you’re craving a snack. Here's a look at her top nutritional suggestions.
Breakfast - Whole Grain Cereal with Almond Milk
Richer recommends starting breakfast with whole grain cereal. If you’re game, add some almond milk to the mix. Whole grains have various nutrients, including fiber, protein, B vitamins, as well as minerals like zinc and copper. The almond milk adds calcium, potassium, and vitamin C to the mix to start your day.
Getting a healthy dose of fruit each day is important for soccer players, but Richer warns to not to overload on it: “Getting a lot of fruit is key, but don't overdo it, because it's still sugar,” Richer says. “It's a healthy sugar, but it still adds up by the end of the day.”
Richer recommends adding some banana, which has vitamin C, dietary fiber, and potassium, or strawberries, which also has potassium, fiber, vitamin C, as well as magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Richer recommends adding some scrambled eggs or a boiled egg on top of your whole grain English muffin. The eggs are packed with protein, and using a boiled egg will give you “good fats” like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Scrambled eggs also provide vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, potassium, as well as B vitamins.
Slapping on some peanut butter or almond butter is a good way to give your toast a boost: “The nut butters are great because they offer quite a bit of relatively healthy fat and fiber,” says Richer. Almond butter has unsaturated fat that can help with your blood cholesterol, while peanut butter has protein, potassium, as well as fiber, healthy fats, and vitamin E.
Eating a whole grain sandwich will give you some solid carbs, while adding some chicken will provide a protein boost. Richer recommends topping off the sandwich with some vegetables, like spinach, lettuce, or tomato. The leafy greens offers calcium, iron, Vitamins B-6, C, A, E, and K, while tomato is a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, and copper.
Lentils are a great way to add some nutrients and fiber to your meal—one cup offers 18 grams of protein, plus iron, with relatively little fat. Richer recommends eating the soup with some whole grain crackers or whole grain bread for some extra carbs.
Having a big, beastly salad is a good way to add some fiber to your day, and depending on what you add to the mix, you can get some other great benefits. Richer recommends using some meat, like chicken or turkey, or nuts to give the salad some extra protein.
Steak is a good source of protein, Vitamin B-12, iron, and zinc. Richer recommends having some beef or steak for dinner through the week: “I like to say have beef at least 2 or 3 times a week because players need to replace their iron.”
Richer recommends adding some of the whole grain to your main dish to help add some protein and fiber for your meal. Quinoa is a "complete protein"—meaning it has all essential amino acids—as well as B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
If you’re not in the mood for quinoa, Richer suggests using brown rice with your dinner to add some fiber, potassium, and calcium to the mix. Brown rice also has protein and can be used to help build muscle with your training.
When you’re in the mood for a snack and are craving the classic cookies with milk combo, reach for oatmeal raisin cookies or another made with whole grain flour. “A snack like yogurt or oatmeal raisin cookies isn't too bad because of the fiber that's in it,” says Richer. “Molasses cookies good because they have iron, and some milk will give you extra calcium and vitamins.” Just don't make it a habit.
Chocolate milk is a tasty source of protein, carbs, and electrolytes. Richer recommends having chocolate milk after you put in a hard day on the field or in the gym: “If somebody doesn't have a lactose intolerance, low-fat chocolate milk is one of the best things to have after a meal, or after an exercise session,” Richer says. “As a soccer player, you constantly have to be storing energy in your muscles—low-fat chocolate milk is one of the best things you can have.”