Immediately After Every Game

The glycogen stores in a soccer athlete’s body should be highly depleted at the end of a match.  There are ways, however, to boost recovery.  The key is timing:  the right foods and drinks should be consumed within 60 minutes of the end of a game.

This holds especially true during tournaments when several games happen each day.

In order to try and bring glycogen stores back to pre-match levels, a great post game snack would include:

  1. a banana
  2. a bagel
  3. low-fat chocolate milk

If you choose to eat a bar of some sort, make sure it’s not a protein bar.  Remember, the key is to regain muscle sugars, and not protein loss.

If the time between matches is short, say 2 hours, you may wish to change your approach and eat more fresh fruit and drink sports drinks instead of chocolate milk.

How to Plan Pre-Match Meals

Use the acronym PITCH.

P(reference):  Eat what you like insofar as it doesn’t make you feel bloated or in any way sick or off.  Do not overeat.

I(nnopropriate):  Limit fat intake as well as both sugars and protein.  Avoid high fiber foods as well. These foods can leave you sluggish, bloated, or much worse.

T(iming):  3-4 hours before game time is best with a snack as game time approaches.

C(omposition):  High carbohydrate with some protein and little fat.  The closer to game time, the less protein should be eaten.

H(ydration):  Drink plenty of fluids during meal and then often until game time.

Supplements

All athletes want to perform at the highest possible level.  With that in mind, many turn to supplements in the hopes of improving themselves, be it in respect to strength, speed or mental acuity.  Let’s look at the most common supplements and see what science says about their efficacy.

Vitamins

Research has proven that those athletes who follow a well balanced diet do not seem to gain any benefits by taking vitamin supplements.  It must be said that no negative consequences have been found by those who take vitamins.  So, if you are eating correctly, there is no need.  If you do take them, though, be confident that you will not be harmed.

One exception to this can be made:  some females can benefit from iron or calcium supplements.

Protein and Amino Acids

Ah, the ubiquitous protein shake that’s found in field houses around the nation.

To put it succinctly:  not needed.  Why?  Athletes drink these shakes in the expectation of increasing muscle mass.  True, most people get bigger when they are drink them.  Surprisingly, though, the increase in mass is almost completely derived from the calories consumed and not excess protein.  The protein found in a balanced diet is more than enough to build muscle.

Recovery Shakes

Because these are relatively new to the market, not much science has been done investigating them.  The results are mixed:  they help (no, they don’t–the additional calories are what helps), they reduce muscle soreness (no they don’t.  In fact, they have no impact whatsoever).

What the studies have agreed upon is that there does not seem to be any danger in drinking them.

Creatine

This was huge at McCallum around a decade ago.  In fact, a local news station did a story on our athletes using creatine shakes as part of their workout routine.

Creatine is a naturally occuring compound that is found in muscles.  It is one of the fuels for short term energy production and seems to increase muscle glycogen levels.  Sounds good so far.  But, as Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend.”

There are no good studies that show potential side effects of using creatine in younger athletes.  The studies do show, however, that creatine could promote muscle cramping, especially in heat.  This potential side effect alone should sway you from taking this supplement.

Most nutritionists clearly state that creatine should not be taken by young athletes.  Besides, enough creatine is found in fish, white meat, and red meat to satisfy an athlete’s needs.

Conclusion:  a good diet will provide all creatine needed by muscles.

To dessert or not to dessert

One of the biggest concerns for athletes is whether or not they can have a dessert after dinner.  In my opinion, any diet that is based on denying you something that you want is doomed to fail.  So, I would say that yes, go ahead and enjoy your dessert.

With that having been said, moderation is key.  While you can occasionally enjoy an Amy’s Belgian Chocolate Shake, the key is to not indulge every night.  Enjoying a sweet a few nights a week should be fine.  Just don’t go overboard.

Sports drinks: better than water?

Short answer:  no.

More nuanced answer:

  • If, because they taste better to the athlete than plain water and more fluids are taken in, then it is a better choice.
  • If your diet is not providing appropriate carbs and electrolytes (which is should be), then, yes, a sports drink can help.
  • If weight loss is wanted, then a drink full of calories is probably not what you’re looking for.  Stick with water.
  • Humans have survived for a few years without sports drinks.
  • As Pindar, the 5th century B.C. Greek lyric poet said, “Water is best.”

In the end, it is your choice.  If you choose to drink a sports drink, keep it in moderation.  They are full of sugar and (potentially) excess calories.

Hydrating before and after a match

Oftentimes, players show up to training or a match without adequate hydration.  Here are a few guidelines to follow pre-match:

  • drink at least 15-20 oz.  2 to 3 hours before a game.  Do not drink all at once, but rather in small increments.  A sports drink can work here (could potentially help out glycogen levels), but water is just fine
  • drink during the match, ideally 6-12 oz every 15-20 minutes
  • avoid caffeine (e.g., sodas, coffee, tea, many energy drinks).  The last thing we need to do is consume a diuretic.

Post-Match, the goal is to replenish by drinking 1.5x the amount lost to sweat.

  • drink 15-30 oz within 30 minutes of the match ending.  A sports drink or even chocolate milk are both great choices.  They both replenish water lost and begin the glycogen recovery process.
  • no caffeine or alcohol
  • drink at least 2 quarts of water every few hours after the match.

Some simple background on hydration

Let’s now turn to water and it’s importance.

Sweating is how the body cools itself.  During the course of a game, a body’s temperature can rise from 98.6 F up to over 102 F.  As the sweat evaporates, the body cools down.  This is the ideal situation.  However, because we live in Texas where the humidity can get quite high, this system doesn’t always work as well as it could.  What happens is the body then produces more sweat, trying to cool itself and in the process, losing much more water.  In a worst case scenario, heat illness or even heat stroke can occur.

So, how much do we normally lose to sweat?

The rule of thumb is, for every kg of weight lost during training, the body loses 1 liter of water.  Or, 1 lb weight loss equals 1 pint of water.  Of course, outside temperature, intensity of training/game and other factors can raise or lower these amounts.

Why does this matter?

Strength, speed, and skill begin to deteriorate with only 1% weight loss from sweat.  At 3% weight loss from sweat, performance begins to drop considerably.

It stands to reason, then, that we should be always aware of our water intake during both training and games.