Preseason training is in the past, school is in session and the new season is now in full swing.
When you think about what you want to accomplish over the coming months, there's a lot that's out of your control — things that are dependent on your coach, the opponent, etc. — but you can give yourself the best possible chance of success by maintaining a routine that keeps you prepared, elevates your performance and ultimately reduces your risk of injury.
It's important to realize that all these metrics are interconnected — if you short yourself in one area, you're going to feel the negative impacts elsewhere, but if you stay committed throughout the season, you'll be bringing the best version of yourself to practice each and every day, which is going to unleash a totally different animal on match day.
Staying Prepared And Properly Fueled
Between school, practice, matches and everything in between, your fall schedule is packed and asks serious questions of your ability to prepare for physical activity and to repair after it's finished.
"What is it that the body requires before the body is physically active? Fluid is number one for sure," says Leslie Bonci, an accomplished registered dietitian nutritionist. "It impacts strength, speed, stamina, recovery and also decreases the risk of injury. When the body is not well hydrated, the risk of heat injury goes up big time, as well as the risk of soft tissue injury. The second would be carbohydrate, and we're talking soccer here so there's a lot of energy demand on the body."
Carbs are perfect for quick intake and provide long lasting energy for the body and brain, but it's also important to have enough protein for muscle growth and a healthy immune system. It all starts with breakfast, so some good carbs and proteins could include:
From there, we can focus on the performance snacks that'll keep us satiated and energized before practice, while also having them on-hand after training to begin the recovery process.
"The enzymes within the muscles are very receptive to starting that refueling process literally as soon as you stop exercise," Bonci says. "Within 30 minutes, eat something. Something like peanut butter because it's shelf stable, it does not have to be refrigerated. Be prepared — that means bring it with you. Those are the things you pack for, not just your cleats, ball, shin guards, socks and uniform."
Some examples of non-perishable and perishable performance snacks include:
Avoiding Performance Plateaus And Adding Muscle
Since soccer is an incredibly demanding mix of sprinting and endurance, you need enough carbohydrates available as an energy source, but you also need to maintain your protein intake during meal time to keep muscle rather than lose it. It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but fat is also an essential fuel for exercise.
"Fat is critically important when you're doing more moderate intensity, like running up and down the field versus the sprinting," Bonci says. "That's why peanut butter is ideal in that regard because it delivers all the protein and the fat, and it's that beautiful combo with carb — you can put peanut butter on bread, you can put it on a bagel, you can make little peanut butter bites.”
"Food assembly doesn't have to be complicated, but it needs to be there. And it's kind of 'value added.' Not 'health' because that just falls on deaf ears — what is going to give me the biggest bang for my buck in terms of what it is I'm eating? How is that going to impact my strength, my speed, my stamina?"
While there is no need to cut fat out of your diet, you will want to limit your consumption of fatty foods before exercise since it can upset your gut. Some examples of good sources of fat include:
You'll also want to include protein as part of every meal and snack. Protein after workouts helps your body with muscle protein synthesis so that you can repair and restore from exercise, while consuming enough protein supports your immune system, healthy bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Some examples of good proteins include:
Reducing The Risk Of Injury
As we've outlined above, consistently taking your nutrition seriously is one of the best ways to manage the injury bug.
“If somebody is not optimizing their protein intake, there's risk of bone injury and muscle injury," Bonci says. "If somebody is not optimizing their intake of fruit and vegetable well, some of that is preventative and proactive from an anti-inflammatory perspective, so all of these things are critically important.”
"Being proactive, preventative and protective, that's the other thing that food does. You're not going to be on the field in a suit of armor, that's not very practical, so your suit of armor is more inside. Am I bringing the least injury prone player to the field with the things that I can control? That's part of it.”
To become an elite soccer player, focused individuals are out there every single day fine-tuning their skills. However, this consistency also needs to be there off the pitch: hydrating on schedule, eating at least three meals a day, eating before and after activity, getting eight hours of sleep a night and not eating directly before bed. It doesn't have to be complicated but it does have to be consistent.