What Do Professional Soccer Players Eat?

Soccer players train hard both on and off the field for their 90 minutes of play. In addition to perfecting plays building stamina and honing ball-handling skills, professional players' training also involves attention to their nutrition. Professional soccer players should give equal consideration to their diet as they do to other aspects of the game, and most of them do.

Soccer players in stadium
A winning team results from well-rounded training. (Image: Aksonov/iStock/Getty Images)

Regular Training

Not all professional soccer players follow the exact same diet plans. Their meals are influenced by personal tastes, cultural differences and how their bodies react to certain foods. On a regular, daily basis, though, most professional soccer players generally try to eat healthfully and focus on quality carbohydrates, such as oats, sweet potatoes and quinoa; lean proteins, including grilled meats and fish; and healthy fats, including olive oil, avocados and flax.

Sample Meals

Uruguayan superstar Diego Forlan likes fresh pineapple, which is readily available in his home country, brown bread and yogurt for breakfast. He'll occasionally up his morning protein intake with a ham and cheese omelet. Former Manchester United and Everton player Phil ­Neville always started his day with scrambled eggs or an omelet. Forlan's lunch, which usually follows several hours of training, consists of quick-digesting carbs, such as pasta or rice, which helps restore his energy, or glycogen, stores. To help with muscle recovery, he adds protein to this meal, usually in the form of grilled chicken; he's careful to avoid unhealthy fried foods. At dinner, Forlan typically eats fresh fish and steamed vegetables, and he'll occasionally indulge in a sweet treat. For snacks, nutrition expert Julie Neville, who works with professional players in Britain, told the "Mirror" that she provides athletes with bananas, nuts and seeds instead of chips and sweets. Forlan usually drinks a fresh fruit smoothie at snack time.

In Season and Pre-Game

During the season, players may consume more carbohydrates and calories to fuel their increased energy needs. Brandi Chastain, former member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, told personal trainer Ben Greenfield that she wouldn't really alter her game-focused nutrition except to increase her intake of calories and carbs. Carbohydrate-loading may be a strategy employed by some professional players in the days before a game, as they can expect to use between 200 and 250 grams of the nutrient during play. This entails increasing carbohydrate intake to about 3.6 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight daily in the two to three days before a game.

Game Day

Carbohydrates are also key on game day, especially before the event. Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney consumes a sugary cereal and a banana before a morning game. He'll top that off with cereal bars and energy gels that are offered in the stadium dressing room. The International Association Football Federation, or FIFA, notes that eating too few carbohydrates immediately before a match can be the downfall of many players. FIFA suggests that elite players consume cereal, pancakes, baked beans and toast or yogurt before a match. After competition, professional players focus, as should any athlete, on restoring energy and revitalizing muscles with a snack consisting of carbs and protein. A sports bar and an electrolyte drink, a meat and cheese sandwich, or a fruit smoothie with whey protein are all nutritious post-match fuel.

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