By Nancy Clark, Sports Nutritionist
High school soccer games can last more than two hours of real time, and coaches want their players to be just as strong in the closing minutes as the beginning of the match. The key to maintaining endurance in workouts and competition is executing a smart fueling strategy.
When it comes to eating for endurance, today’s athletes are confronted with two opposing views:
- Eat a traditional carbohydrate-based sports diet, or
- Eat a fat-based diet that severely limits carbohydrate intake.
Here are five tips for soccer players who are looking to maintain energy levels during workouts and competitions.
- Eat enough calories.
Most athletes need around 21 calories per pound of lean body mass. That means, if you weigh 150 pounds and have 20 percent body fat, your lean body mass is 120 pounds and you require about 2,500 calories a day. That said, energy needs vary from person to person, depending on how fidgety you are, how much you sit in front of a computer, how much muscle you have, etc. Hence, your body is actually your best calorie counter —more accurate than any formula or app!
If you are eat intuitively—that is, you eat when you feel hunger and stop when feel content, you are likely eating enough. If you find yourself stopping eating just because you think you should, if you are feeling hungry all the time and are losing weight, you want to eat larger portions.
- Eat enough carbohydrates.
According to the Position Statement on Nutrition for Athletic Performance, the optimal amount of carbohydrate on a day with one hour of training is 5 to 7 grams carb/kg. On high volume days, you need about 6 to 12 g carb/kg body weight. For a 150-pound athlete, this comes to about 300 to 600 grams of carbs per day — the equivalent of about 1-2 (1-lb) boxes of uncooked pasta (1,000 to 1,600 calories).
- Eat adequate—but not excess—protein.
Protein needs for athletes range from 1.4 g/kg (for mature athletes) to 2.0 g protein/kg (for athletes building muscle or dieting to lose fat). For a 150-pound athlete, protein needs come to about 100 to 135 grams of protein per day. That means 2 eggs at breakfast (with the bowl of oatmeal), a hearty sandwich at lunch, a portion of lean meat/fish/chicken at dinner, and cottage cheese (with fruit) for an afternoon or bedtime snack.
- Fill in the calorie-gap with fat.
Include in each meal and snack some health-promoting, anti-inflammatory fat: nuts, salmon, peanut butter, avocado, olive oil, etc. Fat adds flavor, offers satiety, and is a source of fuel for endurance exercise. Training your muscles to burn more fat for fuel happens when you do long, steady “fat burning” exercise. By burning more fat, you burn less of the limited carbohydrate (muscle glycogen, blood glucose) stores. You will have greater endurance and avoid or delay hitting the wall.
- Drink enough fluids.
A simple way to determine if you are drinking enough fluid is to monitor your urine. You should be voiding dilute, light colored urine every 2 to 4 hours. You want to learn your sweat rate, so you can strategize how to prevent dehydration. Weigh yourself nude before and after one hour of race-pace exercise, during which you drink nothing. A one-pound drop pre- to post-exercise equates to 16 ounces of sweat loss. Losing two pounds of sweat in an hour equates to 32 ounces (1 quart). To prevent that loss, you could target drinking 8 ounces of water or sports drink every 15 minutes.
- Consume enough calories during extended exercise.
If you will be exercising for longer than 60 to 90 minutes, you want to target 40 to 80 calories (10 to 20 g) of carbohydrate every 20 minutes (120 to 240 calories per hour), starting after the first hour (which gets fueled by your pre-exercise food).
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, has a private practice in the Boston-area. She helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, is available at nancyclarkrd.com.