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Calories, Carbs and Protein: What's a Player to Eat?
whats a player to eat nutrition page

Many players do not eat what is considered a solid soccer diet. In general they eat too few calories and take in too few carbohydrates. Their diet also lacks key vitamins and minerals. What is the ideal daily diet for a soccer player?

Developing a solid nutritional strategy and selecting the right foods to eat can be challenging. Given the variety of today's food choices and methods of preparation, it’s easy to see how players can be confused over what to eat each day. However, a few guidelines can help guide them to a solid diet, one that will pay dividends on the field.

Depending on the day’s activity, an intense match or light training, players need to replace anywhere between 20 and 27 calories per pound of body weight (45-60 calories per kilogram). For a 160-pound (72.5 kg) college male, that equals 3,200-4,300 calories per day. For a 110-pound youth female (50 kg), 2,200-2,900 calories per day are needed.

However, simply eating enough calories is not enough. Players should understand that it’s the quality of the diet that holds the key to improved performance on the pitch. There needs to be a balance between the macronutrients in the diet – carbohydrates, fats and protein. As a general rule, the total calories consumed each day should come from carbohydrates (60-70 percent), fats (20-25 percent) and proteins (10 percent).

Based on the number of calories needed each day, players should eat about 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day (9 g/kg). Carbohydrates are clearly the major component of a solid diet. It’s important to understand that not all carbohydrates are the same. Carbohydrates are often classified as simple sugars or complex carbohydrates. Glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar) are simple sugars that are found in foods like candies, pastries and sodas. They can also be found in many fruits and milk. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are long chains of simple sugars and are often called starches. They are found in grains, pastas, rice, breads, potatoes and vegetables.

The focus should be on complex carbohydrates. There are several advantages to eating complex carbohydrates rather than simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates generally take longer to digest and don’t dramatically affect blood sugar. Nor do they cause the so called “sugar rush/sugar crash” like simple sugars may do. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates also contain other important nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber. Therein lies a key benefit, more complete nutrition. Cakes, cookies and candy don’t offer much in the way of nutritional support. However, fresh fruits, which may contain simple sugars, also have plenty of vitamins and fiber. Thus, players should focus on complex carbohydrates as their main source of carbohydrates and add in fresh fruits and milk as well.

There is also quite a bit of debate over how much protein and player needs. Each day, players need about 0.6-0.8 g of protein per pound of body weight (1.5-1.8 g/kg). For a 160-pound player, that’s equal to about 100-130g per day, 66-88 g for a 110-pound player. That level of protein intake can easily be achieved through a solid diet that contains meats and vegetables. For example, a 6 oz. grilled chicken breast contains more than 50g of protein. An 8 oz. glass of low fat milk contains an additional 8g. Those items alone provide 50-75 percent of the daily protein requirements. If the player is eating a solid diet with lean meats, milk and vegetables, additional protein supplements are generally not needed. Most research shows that the protein supplements do little more than provide added calories. Also, the type of proteins and amino acids contained in supplements are no more or no less effective than food sources.

Players do need some fat in the diet and diets with less than 20 percent fat do not appreciably improve performance. However, fats should be limited wherever possible. In particular, avoid fried foods whether they are meats or vegetables. Also avoid creamy sauces and dressings and limit condiments like mayonnaise and butter. Replacing high fat items with low-fat is another good idea. For example, drink low-fat milk rather than whole and opt for lean meats like turkey and chicken rather than high-fat, processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs.

Thinking About The Diet
Encourage your players to think about what they eat. Counting calories and grams of carbohydrates can be a difficult and frustrating task. An easier approach is to help players understand the quality of what they eat. They should know the difference between a meal including baked chicken and a baked potato and one with chicken nuggets and fries. Also, fatty meats should be replaced with turkey, chicken or lean beef. They should realize that fresh fruits and vegetables are solid choices that contain carbohydrates, proteins as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Whereas simple and processed sugars found in cakes, candies and sodas offer little nutritional value. It’s also a good idea to encourage them to do a bit of investigating. They might be surprised to find that their turkey and bacon sandwich made with white bread and slathered with mayonnaise has a remarkably high fat content.

By taking a qualitative approach and thinking about the types of foods selected, players can develop their own solid diet that meets the nutritional requirements listed above. By doing this, they can ensure themselves of peak performance on the field. In addition, using this approach with young players can instill solid dietary habits that may last into adulthood.

Dr. Jay Williams, Ph. D., is a professor of Exercise Science in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech. His research focuses on the responses and adaptations of muscle to activity, inactivity and disease. He also has a long history of working with athletes, ranging from kindergarten soccer players to Olympic tracks and field athletes.

Pre-Game Eats!

Have ever wondered what you should eat and drink before and after a game?

Before a game, your ...

Young athletes and energy drinks: A bad mix?

By Robyn Norwood, Special for USA TODAY
The Gatorade cooler and the coffee pot in the locker room have competition.

From youth playing fields to major league clubhouses, caffeinated energy drinks such as Red Bull and its scores of cousins have become a familiar presence in sports.

"The bottom line is, it's a long season. You're going to do what you have to do, whether you feel like you have to jump into a cryogenic freezing tank or a hyperbaric chamber or drink a Red Bull," said Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, a World Series starter who says he has never used alcohol or drugs but consumes energy drinks socially and to prepare himself to pitch. "I see nothing wrong with drinking Red Bull."

Some athletes and industry officials compare the beverages to a cup of coffee.

But doctors and other experts increasingly warn of misunderstandings about energy drinks' contents, lax labeling requirements and the risks of high doses of caffeine — particularly to young athletes.

In June, a clinical report in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, warned that "stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents."

In October, the National Federation of State High School Associations cautioned that caffeinated energy drinks — often confused with such products as Gatorade, a fluid replacement drink — should not be consumed before, during or after physical activity because they could raise the risk of dehydration and increase the chance of potentially fatal heat illnesses. The organization also warned of possible interactions with prescription medications — including stimulants used to treat ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In Orange County, Calif., at least four high school football players were taken to the emergency room last season with persistent tachycardia, or rapid heartbeats, said Michael F. Shepard, a team physician and member of the California Interscholastic Federation's state medical advisory board.

"All four had had supercaffeinated drinks," Shepard said. "If you add dehydration or flu or muscle-building supplements like creatine to that, there can be an increased risk of fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

"These four kids all did fine. But the heart's a muscle, too."

At issue is a dizzying array of products with widely varying levels of caffeine, sugars, carbohydrates and other additives, including herbal supplements.

Red Bull, the first such drink on the U.S. market, in 1997, has been surpassed in national sales volume by Monster energy drinks in what is now a $7.7 billion industry, according to the trade publication Beverage Digest. Rockstar energy drinks rank third.

Most best-selling energy drinks contain about 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounces, though they are often sold in containers as large as 20 to 24 ounces. Other more extreme products abound, some of them in mix-your-own powders or concentrates, in strengths researchers say range from about 50 to 500 milligrams per serving. At their maximum strength, energy drinks contain about 300 milligrams more than the 2-ounce shots of 5-hour Energy frequently seen near checkout counters.

Beverage industry officials contend their products are not dangerous when used in moderation by healthy people.
"Regulatory agencies around the globe agree that caffeine is a safe ingredient to use in food and beverages," said Tracey Halliday, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association. "When it comes to energy drinks, the amount of caffeine in most mainstream energy drinks is about half that in a cup of coffee in a coffee shop, if you compare ounce to ounce."

A 16-ounce can of the top-selling energy drinks contains about 160 milligrams of caffeine. A 16-ounce cup of Starbucks' robust Pike Place Roast contains 330 milligrams, though critics say a hot drink is sipped more slowly than a cold beverage.

Researchers complain that identifying caffeine content and other ingredients is difficult for consumers because U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations do not require products marketed as dietary supplements — as many energy drinks are — to adhere to the same labeling requirements as food and beverages.

Canada moved last month to limit the caffeine in energy drinks to no more than 180 milligrams in containers up to 20 ounces.

In the USA, cola-type drinks are limited by the FDA to 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving. But no such limit applies to energy drinks marketed as dietary supplements, and manufacturers are not required to list the caffeine content or all ingredients on the label, sometimes opting for the term "energy blend" or "proprietary blend."

"They regulate a can of cola," said John P. Higgins, a sports cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and co-author of a 2010 article on energy drinks published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. "These are like a free-for-all."

Additives including the herbal supplements guarana, green tea and yerba mate can boost the effective level of caffeine. Less common additives such as yohimbine and bitter orange can increase heart rate, cause changes in blood pressure and interact with certain antidepressant medications, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Monster, the U.S. leader in sales, does not list the amount of caffeine on its can, although independent sources place it at about 80 milligrams per 8-ounce container, or 240 in Monster's 24-ounce can. The drinks are manufactured and distributed by Southern California's Hansen Beverage Co., which declined to comment, saying it does not respond to news media inquiries.

Causes, effects debated

The FDA, which quashed the controversial practice of manufacturers including caffeine in alcoholic drinks such as Four Loko by issuing warning letters to four companies in 2010, has not acted on petitions by academics and other experts to limit caffeine or change labeling requirements for energy drinks. (Four Loko is now sold as an alcoholic beverage that does not include caffeine.)

"Those petitions are still within the FDA and still under consideration, and the agency can't comment," said Susan Carlson of the FDA's office of food additive safety.

Nationally, emergency room visits associated with energy drink use increased more than tenfold from 1,128 in 2005 to 13,114 in 2009, according to a report released last month by the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Forty-four percent involved combinations with other substances such as alcohol, pharmaceuticals or illicit drugs, which the American Beverage Association said made energy drink consumption "potentially irrelevant." However, more than half of the visits didn't involve another substance.

Most adverse reactions involve people who consumed two to eight energy drinks or more than 200 milligrams of caffeine, said Higgins, co-author of the Mayo Clinic report.

The exhaustive review of studies on energy beverages by Higgins and Houston exercise physiologist Troy D. Tuttle noted the risk of such effects as insomnia, nervousness, nausea, rapid heartbeat — and in more rare cases, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrest, particularly in people with underlying medical conditions. The review also cited four documented cases of caffeine-associated deaths involving individuals who had consumed energy drinks.

"For a healthy person, probably one is not going to kill you. But we don't know," Higgins said. "I think it's the combination of things in these energy beverages," he added, cautioning about interactions. "A lot of athletes drink coffee."

Marketing to the young

Yet another issue raised by doctors and researchers is the marketing of energy drinks to young people, particularly through sponsorships of athletes and extreme sports.

New York's Major League Soccer team is the Red Bulls, owned by the drink company. NASCAR driver Kyle Busch endorses the drink NOS, and Monster has a stable of lesser-known athletes, bands and celebrities.

"Unfortunately, it starts at this level, where kids in college, high school and even younger see these athletes promoting it," said Cindy J. Chang, president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and chief medical officer for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. "It's like thinking, 'Wow, I need that shoe,' or whatever. It's a brand associated with a personality, and they think, 'He's cool. She's a superstar. They're drinking it.' "

A parent of two teenagers, Chang was at her daughter's club soccer tournament in Palo Alto, Calif., last spring when she saw energy drink samples being distributed.

"All the girls took one, and here I am embarrassing my daughter by telling them, 'You can achieve just as much if you drink a glass of milk,' " said Chang, previously head physician for athletes at the University of California-Berkeley.

Tuttle, co-author of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings article, has seen the drinks at events for even younger children.

"What shocked me was I've seen it at 8- to 10-year-olds' soccer games, seen parents providing it and kids drinking it at that level," he said. "When I grew up, I was eating oranges and drinking water."

The American Beverage Association advises its members not to sell their products in K-12 schools, not to market to children younger than 12 and to voluntarily list the amount of caffeine from all sources and include a label advising that the drinks are not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women or people sensitive to caffeine. Red Bull said its policy is not to sample its products to children under 15.

Older athletes, particularly in professional and college sports, typically have more access to information about energy drinks or supplements through trainers, strength and conditioning coaches and team doctors.

In addition, the National Center for Drug Free Sport offers a subscription-based Internet service available to athletes affiliated with organizations including the NCAA, NFL, Major League Baseball and USA Track and Field that allows athletes to receive reports on products and their ingredients, including whether they contain banned substances.

Another group, NSF International, an independent non-profit, conducts product testing for a "Certified for Sport" designation. John Travis, a research scientist in NSF's chemistry laboratory, said NSF checks for banned substances and accurate labeling, and it will not certify any product that contains more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per serving. (Red Bull was the first energy drink to earn the NSF certification, in 2006, which accounts in part for its common presence in professional locker rooms.)

Part of the landscape

At other levels of sports, young athletes and their parents are often on their own.

In 2010, Dakota Sailor, a 17-year-old high school football player in Carl Junction, Mo., drank two 16-ounce NOS energy drinks containing a total of 520 milligrams of caffeine during an offseason school day. He was later discovered on his family couch, blue after aspirating, and his stepfather, a nurse by training, performed CPR.

Sailor spent five days in the hospital recovering from what his neurologist, Taylor Bear, said evidence indicated was probably a seizure, though no one witnessed it.

"We know stimulants can lower the seizure threshold in those with predispositions," Bear said. "We're always dealing with gray areas, but in his case, because he had had a few energy drinks in a relatively short time, and who knows, may have had sleep deprivation or other factors, we surmise maybe the drinks were a contributing factor to his event."

Sailor said he hasn't had another similar event and no longer drinks energy drinks.

"I'd drink several in a day, no problem. I drank them before the games or in the locker room," he said. "Maybe they gave you, like, more adrenaline, or it might have been a placebo effect. We saw older athletes sponsored by them, and a lot of events, like after graduation, were sponsored by them. We never heard of any risk."

NOS, which like Full Throttle is owned by The Coca-Cola Co., issued a statement saying the company was aware of the incident:

"None of our beverages, including energy drinks, contain any harmful substances. All of the ingredients in our energy drinks are safe and suitable for use in the product. Energy drinks, like all food and beverage products, should be consumed responsibly and not to excess."

The drinks remain part of the everyday sports landscape.

NFL defensive end Adam Carriker of the Washington Redskins said he drinks an energy "shot," similar to 5-hour Energy, before each game.

"When I take it, what I feel is I'm a lot more mentally clear, I'm aware and don't get as tired as quickly," Carriker said. "I've made the mistake of taking too many in a game and having an out-of-body experience, and that's not good.

"I've known guys that took a lot at games, and it was a scary situation in the locker room because they took too much stuff. The way I look at it, if you take the right amount and consult somebody who can tell you what to do, I think it's beneficial. Now, if you take too much, it can obviously hurt you."

Teemu Selanne, a 41-year-old player for the Anaheim Ducks who is one of the top 15 goal-scorers in the history of NHL, said he has one energy drink before each game with teammate Ryan Getzlaf.

"I think it's like coffee. You feel a little lift, but maybe it's a little more mental," Selanne said. "It's just a habit."

He does not look on them so lightly for his children. When Selanne's youngest son, Leevi, was about 9, he drank energy drinks without permission at the family's annual summer party.

"I think he had three or four," Selanne said. "He was so hyper, it was not even funny. He was up until 3 or 4 o'clock."

His oldest son, Eemil, is a teenage hockey player, but Selanne doesn't advise him to follow the same pregame routine he does.

"His friends and stuff, they're drinking more Monster and Rockstar. I tell my kids, 'You know what? You guys don't need that.' They have enough energy."

Approximate caffeine content in selected drinks
Beverage Serving size Caffeine
Soft drinks  
Coca-Cola 12 oz. 34 mg
Diet Coke 12 oz. 46 mg 
Pepsi 12 oz. 38 mg
Sprite 12 oz. 0

McDonald’s brewed 16 oz. 100 mg
Starbucks Caffe latte 16 oz. 150 mg
Starbucks Pike Place Roast 16 oz. 330 mg   
Energy drinks
Amp 16 oz. 160 mg 
Full Throttle 16 oz. 197 mg 
Monster 16 oz. 160 mg*
NOS 16 oz. 260 mg 
Red Bull 16 oz. 154 mg
Rockstar 16 oz. 160 mg 
Spike Shooter 8.4 oz. 300 mg 
Wired X 344 16 oz. 344 mg 
Energy shots  
5-hour Energy 2 oz. 207 mg 
* - Monster energy drinks do not include caffeine content on the label, but company and independent reports put it at about 160 milligrams per 16-ounce serving.
Sources: Product labels,, company reports


Soccer Players Tend To Short-change Themselves On Nutrition

article by Dr. Donald Kirkendall

The world's largest association for professionals in the exercise and sport sciences is called the American College of Sports Medicine. They hold their annual meeting after Memorial Day each year.

When I attend these meetings, the first thing I look for are presentations having to do with soccer, and there is enough to keep me happy meeting people from all over the world who share my interests.

One thing bothered me this year, though, and this bothers all my colleagues who deal with sports teams. Nearly half the presentations on soccer were either directly or peripherally related to nutrition or fluid replenishment. In each case, the studies were critical of the food or fluid selections that soccer players make.

The same decades-old mantra was expressed: too much protein and fat, too little carbohydrate to adequately fuel muscles for the physical demands of soccer. This was regardless of age and sex. Males and females, from professionals to youth, they all chose the wrong foods.

My friends in other sports say the same thing. The research indicating that carbohydrate should be the bulk of caloric intake (about two-thirds of all calories) has been around for decades. The scientific community is well aware of the benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet for the competitive athlete and has been for nearly half a century.

Some sports and athletes (mostly endurance athletes like runners, cyclists, triathletes and cross-country skiers) are more conscious about nutrition and generally are pretty good about their commitment to their diet. Other sports are the worst, those being aesthetic sports like figure skating, diving, gymnastics and synchronized swimming, where eating disorders are not uncommon.

An interesting interview with a quarterfinalist team in the 1994 men's World Cup revealed that half the starting-field players felt that what they ate had nothing to do with how they performed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Carbohydrate intake and training influences how much glycogen (the main fuel for soccer) is stored in the muscles. Over 35 years ago, data was collected that showed the muscle glycogen levels of professional soccer players was little different from the spectator in the stands (not good) and that the game can completely deplete the muscles of glycogen. Thirty years ago, it was shown that the less glycogen in the muscles at the start of a game, the less the player ran in a game. Since then, research has looked at food choices and eating schedules for athletes so they can optimize their glycogen stores and delay fatigue as long as possible.

Don't think fatigue has anything to do with the game? Were you aware that nearly 50 percent of all goals scored from round 16 on at the France World Cup were scored in the last 20 minutes of the games? So, which side do you want to be on?

Late in the game, do you want to be on the team well fueled, scoring the goals, or on the tired, walking team getting scored on? It is all known, published in scientific and lay books and magazines, but for some reason, the message isn't being followed.

Most nutritional surveys of youth and adolescents show rather poor nutritional choices. Most youth eat what is put in front of them at home or make poor choices when eating out. At home, players eat what their parents eat. Your parents may have chosen to be on the Atkins diet or some other very low carbohydrate program, but you shouldn't be.

There is no way to play this game at a high level while eating so little carbohydrate. So if you want to put the best machine on the field of competition, you (as a kid living at home) have to advise your parents about what to prepare for you. When you go out to eat, choose high carbohydrate foods, not high protein/fat foods. This is tough if the meal is served on a tray or in a bag (i.e. fast food).

When the team travels to a tourney, pack high-carbohydrate foods instead of going to the drive-up window somewhere. 

So where do you go to get some details? There are dozens of good training books on the shelf at your local bookstore. Two of my favorites are Power Eating by Susan Kleiner and Optimal Muscle Recoveryby Edmund R. Burke. Pick them up, read them and follow the advice. You will be a better player for it.

Nutritional Diet for Soccer Players
Nowadays, nutrition is a hot topic in both sports and everyday life. It must be emphasized that the weight of a ...

Nutrition for Peak Performance
From a presentation by:
Anne-Marie Davee, M.S.,R.D.,L.D.
Muskie School of Public Service
295 ...

Four Common Myths About Nutrition Among Soccer Players
from U.S. Soccer Resource Center

By Donald T. Kirkendall, works with U.S. Soccer's National Teams

Some Suggestions and Tips

For a Sports Specific Diet GAME DAY or for other suggestions check out the link.


A Healthy Diet for Athletes
If you're an athlete, you need the same healthy diet all teens need—one that's high in grains, fruits, and ...

Fueling for Soccer
The four time zones of sports nutrition

By Don Kirkendall, M.D.

Soccer players have ...

Soccer Snacks
Eats for ya!

Whole-grain ready-to-eat cereal with low-fat or skim milk

Low-fat fruit ...

Replacing spent fuel between games
Part three of a three part article by Dr. Donald Kirkendall

Some sports, like football, are rigidly ...

Food Pyramid Children

Most competitive athletes pay close attention to what they eat, which makes sense, since what they ingest directly affects how well they perform.


The information on this website is intended as an educational and informational source only. It doesn’t replace the advice of a qualified nutritionist, so it’s advisable that you visit a specialist before taking up any of the nutritional suggestions on the website. The author himself is not a dietician, so make sure you consult your family physician or dietician before starting any type of diet, lifestyle or nutritional change. Some diets may be harmful for persons suffering from certain medical conditions and the author of the website cannot be held responsible for any harm or injury that might occur by following the instructions and tips found here.


Velocity SC 00/01 Girls
Velocity SC 00/01 Girls

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