Fueling Success: Nutrition Tips for Young Soccer Athletes

Like any other athletes, young soccer players rely on the right fuel to physically perform at their best. Healthy nutrition and hydration play a key role in the development and success of soccer and other aspiring sports stars. To ensure kids put their best cleats forward, let’s explore some essential nutrition tips designed specifically for young soccer athletes to keep them healthy and ready to reach their full potential on the soccer pitch.

Nutrition Tips for Young Soccer Athletes

Complete, balanced nutrition and hydration are crucial to staying healthy, alert, and energized for anyone, especially when it’s hot outside — whether the weather is dry or humid. It’s important for players and their families to time game-day meals to ensure young soccer players can fully metabolize their food and hydration for peak health and performance.

Balance Is Key

Active youth soccer players need to eat every three or four hours to fuel the muscles that are working hard for them. As with anything else in life, balance is key to good nutritional habits for youth soccer players. This helps young athletes become aware of their hunger and satiety cycles.

One way to balance eating is to choose foods within a meal and throughout the day that complement each other. This generally includes combining proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables so the meal doesn’t have too much of one nutritional element.

Practicing intuitive eating helps young athletes listen to and interpret signals from their bodies relating to hunger and fullness. This helps them avoid common eating issues, such as emotional eating, seesaw eating, and boredom-related eating. When soccer players learn to interpret cues for hunger and fullness, they can improve their overall health and performance through balanced eating habits. Noticing these cues is essential in helping young athletes eat enough before games and practice, as well as for refueling adequately after a game or practice.

Avoid Sugary Drinks and Junk Food

Junk foods and sugary drinks are a fun off-field treat from time to time, but it’s important for youth soccer players to avoid fried foods, foods and drinks loaded with sugar, and other meals and snacks that are difficult to metabolize. The energy and nutrients from unmetabolized foods aren’t available to the player during the game and could even negatively impact their performance by causing nausea, bloating, and fatigue.

Examples of other foods that are too heavy to eat — and too hard to digest — on game day include:

  • Fatty and processed foods: Fat slows the digestive process, which can hamper performance and energy levels during practices and games. Foods to avoid include chicken wings, fries, fried cheese sticks, chicken nuggets, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, grilled cheese, chips, onion rings, donuts, cookies, and ice cream.
  • Gas-producing foods and drinks: Athletes should avoid eating high-fiber raw foods that could cause uncomfortable bloating, such as cabbage, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms, beans, lentils, and broccoli, as well as carbonated drinks.
  • Spicy foods: Items loaded with hot sauce, chili powder, hot peppers, wasabi, and other spicy ingredients are never a good idea before a game or practice.

Hydration Is Vital

Proper hydration is essential for young players to maintain their health as well as their performance on the field. Besides being potentially dangerous, under-hydration and dehydration can cut a player’s endurance in half. When a midfielder needs to run for a 90-minute game, dehydration cuts the player’s endurance down to about 45 minutes.

It’s equally important for players not to overhydrate with plain water, which can cause fatigue and a light-headed feeling. Low-sugar electrolyte drinks and coconut water can replenish fluids and essential vitamins and minerals without making young players drink excessive amounts.

It’s important that soccer players hydrate before they become thirsty. Once a player feels thirsty, they are already behind the curve in terms of maintaining a healthy level of hydration. Players should consider temperature, humidity, intensity of game play is, and the amount of water they normally need to feel good. Keep in mind that larger players need more hydration, as do players with greater muscle mass.

Another factor is conditioning, as players who aren’t as well-conditioned will need more hydration. A less-conditioned body stores glycogen inefficiently, disrupting the body’s natural energy reserve during exercise and sports activities. Additionally, less-conditioned athletes build up lactic acid in their bloodstreams more rapidly when there isn’t enough oxygen to break down glucose for energy. Lactic acid buildup can cause fatigue, cramps, and muscle soreness.

Instead of reaching for sugar-filled drinks (including energy drinks, sodas, and high-sugar sports drinks), players can hydrate with low-sugar electrolyte drinks, coconut water, organic juices, and vitamin-packed smoothies.

Low-Sugar Electrolyte Drinks

Low-sugar electrolyte drinks should contain sodium, which is lost through sweat. Potassium is another especially valuable nutrient that supports heart health and helps prevent muscle cramps, especially during multigame events such as tournaments.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is a great low-sugar drink to replace fluids and electrolytes. Coconut water’s electrolytes are very close to the body’s electrolyte composition and include potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium.

Organic Juices

Organic juices that contain potassium and sodium include:

  • Watermelon juice, which also contains magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium
  • Pomegranate juice, which is rich in antioxidants and helps reduce muscle soreness and inflammation
  • Orange juice, which is high in calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, an essential component in immune system support when engaging in rigorous exercise

Low-Sugar Smoothies

Low-sugar smoothies that include electrolyte-rich foods and drinks into an easy-to-digest drink can assist with hydration in a flavorful, kid-appealing way. Smoothies provide a great way to blend various electrolyte-rich food sources into one drinkable beverage. The best sources of electrolytes come from whole food sources, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and some dairy. These items blend smoothly, allowing your body to digest them easily.

Electrolyte Tablets

Electrolyte tablets are a portable way to make an electrolyte drink. You simply drop a tablet into a bottle or glass of water and stir or shake. It may vary by brand, but electrolyte tablets usually contain potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.

A Word of Warning About Energy Drinks

Although caffeine-laden energy drinks are popular with middle-school and high-school students, they are exactly the opposite of what will help them both on and off the field. Whether these energy drinks are sugar-free or contain an overload of sugar, they are not meant to be consumed by young players and don’t provide any health benefits to anyone of any age.

In addition to containing caffeine, energy drinks contain other ingredients that either haven’t been evaluated for use by children or are officially not recommended for them. These include guarana (stimulant and source of caffeine), taurine (enhances the effects of caffeine), and other herbal supplements that can be unsafe for children.

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