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Pre-match dilemma: What to eat before a soccer game?

When it comes to improving performance, athletes often neglect food and nutrition. While you can spend as much time as you want training, if your tank is half empty, you won't be at your best whether it's in the gym, on race day, or on game day.

When I was a nutrition student a few years back, I didn't know what to eat before soccer games. Googling "what to eat before a soccer game" led me to see players eating rice or pasta with chicken or fish. So I followed. I always made myself some pasta with chicken and tomato sauce on match day because the pros like Wayne Rooney were doing it. Although it was a regular portion I would have been able to finish on any other occasion, I couldn't because of pre-match nerves.

If you’re also wondering what to eat before a soccer game, you're not the only one! Soccer is full of running and sprinting for at least an hour and a half, so it's important to come into every game fully energized. Ideally, we should eat 2-3 hours before our game if our schedules allow. Within this timeframe, our bodies can break down food and provide our muscles with energy. However, this does not mean we can eat whatever we want. Our meal should consist of half a plate of carbohydrates, such as rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, and a quarter plate of protein and vegetables. This is an example of a high-intensity performance plate that athletes can use to gauge how much to eat.

A hearty bowl of couscous with meat and veg

A safe choice of pasta with chicken and veg

Let's break it down a bit further - Half a plate of carbohydrates is necessary because they provide our brain and muscles with the energy they need to concentrate during the match, react faster than our opponents to run after the loose ball. Carbohydrates are our body's preferred source of energy, but limit the amount of fibre from wholegrain options, as it could make you run to the bathroom during your game!

When you eat some protein with your meal, you can slow down digestion, so you don't feel hungry during your game. As foods that are high in fat take longer to digest, which can cause you to feel nauseated during the game, choose lean cuts of meat such as chicken or white fish. This also means that greasy foods such as burgers, fries and pizzas should be avoided before your game!

What to eat when you have less than 2-3 hours before a soccer game?

Due to other commitments, eating 2-3 hours before isn't always possible, but even if it were, you might be too nervous to eat! Luckily, snacks are a great option! If you haven't eaten in a while, or like me, struggle to finish a meal, choose snacks that are predominantly carbohydrate-based up to an hour before your game! Some examples include fruit, granola bars, crackers, pretzels, rice cakes and even sports drinks. These foods are easier to digest and can provide quick energy to our muscles. For more snack examples, download my free Preworkout Snack Guide!

The last thing you want is to go into a game on an empty stomach and be substituted early because you don't have enough energy to finish the game! Next time you step out for a game, make sure you've at least put some fuel in the tank, even if it's just in the form of a snack!

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