Sunday, January 31, 2010

Breakfast: An indispensable meal for soccer players

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, whether you are an elite athlete or a “regular” person. Although sometimes eating your breakfast may not seem convenient or feasible, the benefits clearly outweigh the difficulties. 
Breakfast eaters tend to:

  • Eat a more nutritious, lower fat diet the rest of the day;
  • Have lower levels of blood cholesterol;
  • Enjoy better success with weight control;
  • Are mentally alert and more productive – in school and on the field;
  • Have more energy to enjoy exercise either in the morning or later in the day.

Nevertheless, some soccer players frequently skip this meal. If you skip it too, you are likely to concentrate less effectively in the late morning, work or study less efficiently, feel irritable and short tempered, or fall short of energy for your afternoon workout.
Excuses like “I don´t have time” actually mean “I don’t make it a priority”… But you should!
Did you know, for instance, that breakfast is a key to a successful weight loss program?? Dieters who skip breakfast tend to gain weight over time, because they get too hungry and then overindulge at night! 
If you don’t feel hungry by morning, you probably ate too much the previous night. Just make sure waking up hungry for breakfast is your priority and eat a little less at night.
On the other hand, if your “not time for breakfast” excuse is having an early game or practice, there’s a solution too.  Eat at least part of your breakfast beforehand, to get your blood sugar on the upswing and avoid an energy crash, and then finish the rest of the breakfast after your workout.

So what should a breakfast consist of?

First of all, bear in mind that breakfast should represent one-quarter to one-third of your daily calories. For example, if you need 3600kcal a day, make sure you target about 900kcal in the morning.
A wholesome recovery breakfast that combines many carbohydrates with a little protein promptly replaces the depleted glycogen stores and helps refuel and heal the muscles so they’ll be ready for the next training session.
Here are some breakfast examples:

  • Low-fat yogurt with cereal, orange juice and a banana;
  • Blender drink (piece of fruit, low-fat yogurt/skim or low fat milk and cereal);
  • Whole grain bread with peanut butter/low fat cheese/sliced turkey and jam plus fruit juice;     
  • Skim or low fat milk with  crackers, peanut butter and an apple;                            
  • Low-fat yogurt/skim or low fat milk with crackers, raisins and almonds/peanuts.

Notice that my first two suggestions included cereal. Cereal is a popular breakfast option because it is quick and easy to prepare, as well as rich in carbohydrate, fiber, iron and calcium and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Also, some evidence points that cereal can be helpful for weight control.

Please realize you don’t need to be seated at a table to eat your breakfast. I often find myself eating my morning meal while walking to the train station!

Be creative. There are many ways to reach your goal of enjoying a high energy morning meal.

Recommended reading for more information: 

  • Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (
  • Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros   (

Now I want to hear from you,
Do you eat breakfast regularly? If not, why so?
Which are your favorite breakfast foods?

Stay tunned!

Wishing you the best performance ever,

Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal
“Promoting best health and performance through nutrition”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hydration in Soccer

Soccer players frequently prepare for matches with no consideration for their hydration status.

In fact, most aren’t aware of the effects dehydration (loss of body water) can have on performance. These include:
  • an increase in heart rate, that causes needless fatigue;  
  • an increase in body temperature, that can endanger your health ;  
  • an increase in perception of effort: you’ll feel like you are working harder than you are;  
  • and a decrease in motivation. You’ll want to quit.

  In soccer, dehydration translates into decreased speed, passing/shooting, dribbling and focusing ability. Also, sweat losses can contribute to muscle cramping in predisposed players. 

Now you may ask, how much do I need to sweat until I feel those symptoms? Scientific research shows that a loss of as little as 1 to 2% (particularly in hot environments) of body weight during exercise is likely to impair performance! (This assumes the weight you lose during exercise that lasts for less than three hours is mostly water.)

As so, you really must pay attention to your hydration status.  A good way to check it out is to assess your urine color and output. If you urinate frequently (every 2 to 4 hours) and urine color is pale (see fig. 1) you are probably well hydrated. The most reliable timing to check your urine color is in the morning, after you wake up. It will tell you if you hydrated well the day before. 

Fig.1 – Urine color chart. If the urine sample matches #3 or less in the chart, you are well hydrated. If your urine color is #7 or darker, you are dehydrated and should consume fluids.    
(Adapted from: Casa DJ,Armstrong LE,Hillman SK,Montain SJ,Rich B, Roberts WO, Stone JA. National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for Athletes. J Athl Train 2000;35(2):212-224.)

Every athlete who aims for excellent performance must aim to be well hydrated before, during and after training/competition.     

To start well hydrated, you must begin hydrating 4 hours before exercise with 5-7ml/kg (for example, 350 to 500ml or 12 to 17 oz in a 70kg athlete) and then monitor how often and what color is the urine you pass. If the urine is still too dark two hours before the soccer event, drink another 3-5ml/kg (ex. 210 to 350ml or 7 to 12oz in a 70kg athlete), so you still have time to pass excessive fluids before exercise time.

To optimize your hydration status during training or competition, you must know your sweat rate in both contexts, so you can replace efficiently your sweat losses. To do so, you can use the following formula:

 [(Pre-exercise body mass (kg) – Post-exercise body mass (kg)) – Urine output (l) + Total fluid ingestion (l)] 

This tells you how much you sweated in the whole session (ex. 3L in a 2h session). If you divide the result by exercise time (h), you’ll have your sweat rate (ex. 1,5L/h or 50 oz/h) calculated. With this information in hand, you’ll better understand your body and be able to optimize your performance by fine-tuning replacement of sweat losses. You must assess your sweat losses in a variety of weather conditions and type and context of exercise because these influence your sweating.  

If you prefer to do this more intuitively, just make sure you weigh yourself dry and nude (if possible) before and after exercise. Your final weight must be neither higher nor too much lower (loss > 2%) than initial one. To achieve this result you must drink regularly (120-240ml or 4-8 oz every 15-20m) during training/competition. If possible in hot weather games, place water along the sidelines to be consumed during breaks in play. 

Practical example:

Luis Miguel is a soccer player who weighs 75kg (150 pounds) before a training session. Immediately after exercise, he weighs in again and finds he has 73,3kg (146,6 pounds) now. He lost [(75 – 73,3)/75] x 100 = 2,3% of body weight, so next time he should drink a couple more gulps.

After exercise, the best way to recover your hydration status is to drink 150% of your losses (ex. If you lost 1L you must drink 1,5L). 

Sports drinks vs water   

A sports drink is basically a mixture of water, carbohydrates and electrolytes (mainly sodium). Although advertisements make it look like we need a sports drink to even catch a bus, the reality is far from that. Sports scientists conclude that only in high-intensity events of 1 hour or longer, as well as less intense exercise events sustained for more than an hour and a half, could athletes significantly benefit from sports drinks.

If this is not your case, but you haven’t fueled well enough for the workout, you’ll feel some benefits due to the energy provided by the drink.

Sports drinks can also be helpful to recover after exercise, as I said in previous blog post. They can both re-hydrate and refuel your body.

The most rigorous criterion I suggest you to have when choosing a sports drink is the carbohydrate content. The optimum content is between 6 to 8% (i.e. 6 to 8 grams carbohydrate per 100ml). Also, make sure you enjoy the flavor.

Attention note: 

Some players tend to over-hydrate (i.e. drink more than they lose) when water is made available. That can also be harmful! Besides the needless additional weight, drinking too much water may predispose to exercise-associated hyponatremia (i.e. sodium levels too low in bloodstream), a clinical condition characterized by symptoms that become increasingly severe and include headache, vomiting, swollen hands and feet, undue fatigue, confusion and disorientation and wheezing.  In worse scenarios, low blood sodium may end in edema in the brain, coma and death.

This emphasizes the need for self-monitoring of sweat losses to ascertain that you drink neither too little nor too much fluids.

Recommended reading for more information: 

  • Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (
  • Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros   (

Once again, feel free to comment this post, I'd like to know:      
Do you pay attention to your hydration status?

How much weight do you normally lose during exercise?

Have you ever felt the consequences of dehydration during a training session or match?

 I'll be glad to answer your questions too!  


Wishing you the best performance ever,

 Diogo Ferreira, RD

Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal

“Promoting best health and performance through nutrition”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Match day Nutrition for Soccer

Soccer is the world’s most practiced sport.
Soccer athletes tend to keep pace with new techniques and tactics, but many don’t accompany that progress with the latest in nutrition-for-soccer. In fact, most soccer players I consult aren’t aware of how much good nutritional strategies can optimize physical and even psychological outcomes.

Here are some nutritional goals and tips for match day to help you eat to win!

Nutrition before a soccer match:
Main Goal:
  • Enhance your recovery from a week of hard training sessions and fuel for the game;
Specific goals:
  • Replenish and further increase glycogen (carbohydrate) stores in muscles and liver;
  • Consume sufficient protein to enhance the building and repair of muscle;
  • Maintain an adequate hydration status;
  • Assure a good gastrointestinal tolerance of food eaten (avoid too much fat and fiber).
You should always eat a consistent meal 3 to 4h before and, if possible, include a lighter snack 1h before the game.
Carbohydrates are the best fuel for muscles, so you have to make sure you eat lots of them before each match! Good sources of carbs include: pasta, rice, whole grain bread, breakfast cereals, oatmeal and fruit (fresh or dried). Most of these foods have also a low to moderate quantity of fiber (maintains sugar levels stable in bloodstream over time) and digest easily.
In terms of protein, lean meats like chicken and turkey are good sources to eat at lunch in match day. Another good way to include enough protein in your pre-game meals is having skimmed/semi-skimmed milk or yogurt with your cereals, or else you could include them in a fruit shake. Besides the benefits of protein, you add the benefits of calcium (important to your bones, as well as to your muscular function).
Eating fried eggs or fatty hamburger before a match is a risky idea, as these have too much fat, which can upset your stomach. You might end up purging right before or during the game! The same applies to french fries, fatty sausages, and so on. Peanut butter may be a well-tolerated exception, if you spread a little bit on a slice of whole grain bread. PB has healthy fats and adds protein.
Being well hydrated will always be important for good performance in a match. So, first thing in the morning, you must check your urine color. If it has a dark brown colour, you are surely dehydrated and will need an aggressive strategy to rehydrate well enough before match, but if it’s a pale yellow, you probably are well hydrated and just need to maintain it. Either way, be sure to start drinking fluids soon before the contest, ideally 4h before, so you have time to assess your urine output again. If it keeps darker than normal, it means you still need to drink some more. (More information on this topic will be provided soon).

Nutrition during match:
Main goal:
  • Minimize energy and water and electrolyte losses
Specific goals:
  • Provide an additional source of carbohydrates to fuel the muscles and preserve glycogen stores
  • Avoid excessive dehydration accumulating during match
In a soccer match, there are very few opportunities to accomplish these goals. So, it is a good strategy to take any stoppage in game as an opportunity to refuel with a sports drink, as it will provide you water, fast absorbing carbohydrates and electrolytes. Also, don’t miss the 15min interval: drink sports drink or water and enhance your fueling with carbohydrate from fruit, crackers, sports bars or gels, as tolerated. Eating while you listen to your coach won’t stop you from being focused, right?

Nutrition after match:
Main goal:
  • Recover your muscles as quickly as possible
Specific goals:
  • Rehydrate and replenish electrolytes
  • Replace depleted muscle and liver glycogen
  • Rebuild muscle tissues
The first 30 to 120 minutes after a workout are crucial to a rapid recovery. It’s the so called “opportunity window”, in which your body is better able to absorb carbohydrates and store them in your muscles as glycogen as well as take up protein to repair and rebuild muscle tissues.
As so, you must start refueling immediately after the final whistle. Sports drinks are a good first choice, as they contain water and carbohydrates, but after the first bottle you may choose more common foods (ex: crackers or cereals with yogurt, whole grain bread with jam and a slice of low-fat cheese) and accompany them with plain water. Keep focusing in a high intake of carbohydrate during the next 24h, to fully replenish your stores.
Following these tips will help you feel more energized and promote a better performance.
But remember, with better training practices comes the best performance in competition, so you must fuel adequately before, during and after each training session as well! Make sure to test new strategies in training sessions before you put them in practice on match day.

Recommended reading for more information: 
  • Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (
  • Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros   (

Feel free to comment this post, I'd like to know: 

What is your favorite pre-match meal? Have you ever eaten the wrong foods pre-match? Do you pay attention to your hydration status?

I'll be glad to answer any questions you have!

Wishing you the best performance ever,
Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal