Maximizing Performance & Minimizing Injuries in Soccer Players

By Sports Dietitian, Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N.

Nutrition is the key to providing energy which can maximize performance and minimize injuries that are caused by an early onset of fatigue.  Let’s face it, how much energy the soccer player has determines how much work can be effectively done on the field & in the weight room. Getting enough calories to cover the demands of your sport & your growth will help to prevent fatigue.  But many athletes may not eat an adequate amount of calories because of their active lifestyles and this situation can have a negative effect on performance. Two other important challenges for soccer players are maintaining adequate fluid status before, during and after practice and matches as well as maintaining adequate glycogen levels which is the storage carbohydrate (CHO) by making good food and beverage choices. But the key is knowing how much is required. Parents and players can check out the specifics that follow which can help impact a player’s performance in a positive manner.     

The Soccer Player’s Daily Training Diet Specifics

How Many Calories Does a Soccer Player Need Each Day?

Knowing how many calories you need each day will help keep you energized while you are training for your event and doing all the things you need to do each day: work, manage a family, take care our your home.  There are some FREE apps that you can use to help to determine how many calories you need each day. Eating too few calories consistently, the player may find they are losing weight which might be a goal but they may also battle with fatigue and then ultimately an injury or an immune related illness.

A FREE app, My Fitness Pal, for your smart phone or online at can help to determine how many calories you need each day: and how many calories you burn when playing soccer or lifting weights: Add the calories plus the calories you burned practicing to get how many calories you need on most days.

Once you determine how many calories you need each day, the timing of your food intake is also important. Eating 5 – 6 times per day will help give you bullets of energy but keeping the calories in line with your overall calorie needs will maximize your performance. Never skip breakfast. Eat or drink something before early morning workouts to get the most effective workout.

To determine how many calories you need each day, you can calculate the calories the OLD FASHION WAY by using the HARRIS BENEDICT EQUATION to determine your resting metabolic rate then choosing an activity factor to estimate the total calories per day.

Harris Benedict Equation


RMR = 88.362 + [1.889 X HT (in)] + [6.089 X WT (lbs)] – (5.677 X Age)


RMR = 447.593 + [(1.219 X HT (in)] + [(4.20 X WT (lbs)] – (4.7 X Age)

HT = height in inches   WT = weight in pounds   age = age in years

Activity Levels

Very Light-seating and standing activities, driving, no regular exercise.

Light – child care, walking on a level surface 2.5 – 3 miles per hour, some regular exercise.

Moderate – walking/running 3.5 to 4 mph, cycling, regular exercise 3 to 4 times/week -30 to 40 minutes duration.

Heavy – walking uphill with a load, basketball, soccer, regular exercise 4 times/week 40 minutes or more in duration.

Very Heavy – distance running, hiking with backpack up and down hills, regular exercise 5 times/week for at least 1 hour in duration.

TABLE 1. Activity Factors. Choose your activity level from the table below. Then do the math.



Little to no exercise

RMR X 1.2

Light (1 – 3 days per week)

RMR X 1.375

Moderate exercise (3 -5 days/week)

RMR X 1.55

Heavy exercise (6-7 days/week)

RMR X 1.725

Very heavy (twice/day heavy workouts)

RMR X 1.9 

Example, 1300 X 1.55 (moderate) = 2015 calories/day

You can also determine how many calories you burned by wearing a heart rate monitor that determines calories burned. Then you can add those calories to your resting metabolic rate calories to get an estimate of active calories burned while exercising.  Example, 1300 X 500 calories = 1800 calories.

Daily Fluid Needs for the Soccer Player

One can determine their fluid needs, based on their daily calorie needs.  This is just a rough estimate however.  For example, if the 110-pound soccer player who needs 2,200 calories, then divide that number by 30. The athlete’s daily fluid intake should be about 73 ounces.  In very hot climates, multiply the calories by 1.5 and divide that number by 30.  In very hot climates, the 110-pound athlete will need at least 110 ounces to maintain adequate hydration. For example, 2,200/30 = 73 ounces; 1.5 X 2,200 = 3,300/30 = 110 ounces.

But, this is only part of the equation.  Soccer players can also check out the color of their urine periodically to determine adequate hydration.  The day after long practices or hot practices would be a time to monitor urine color. The first void of the day is usually yellow, however, as the day continues the urine color should be pale yellow.  If the urine continues to be yellow throughout the day, then you may be dehydrated.  Unfortunately, dehydration does not go away, but it continues to worsen and the athlete’s performance decreases.  A player can weigh themselves before and after long hot practices or tournament play. For every pound of weight the soccer player loses during practice or a match, 20 ounces of caffeine free fluid is required to restore proper hydration.  A loss of only 1-2% of weight due to dehydration which can occur 15 minutes under intense playing in the sun or after 30 minutes intense playing in normal weather conditions could cause premature fatigue thus affecting performance in a negative way.

Daily Carbohydrate Needs for the Soccer Player


Carbohydrate (CHO), called the athlete’s nutrient, has three main functions in the body.  It provides fuel for the body, dietary fiber, plus is a source valuable vitamins and minerals.  The CHO you eat has two fates:  it will be either burned for energy or it will be stored for future use in the form of muscle glycogen or liver glycogen. CHO is the body’s preferred source of energy and is used to replenish muscle glycogen which helps to ensure you have lots of energy to run up and down the playing field.

Table 2. Daily Carbohydrate Recommendations for Soccer Players

●        2.27 – 3.18 g of CHO/lb/day: athletes engaging in moderate-intensity practice or matches lasting for 60 to 90 minutes per day.

●        3.18 – 5.45 g of CHO/lb/day: athletes engaging in moderate-to-high practices or matches lasting for two to three hours.


Soccer players should consume 2.27 – 5.45 grams of CHO per pound of body weight if they practice for 1 to 3 hours per day.  For example, the 110-pound female soccer player who practices for 2 hours would need about 350 grams of CHO per day.  The 170-pound soccer player would need 557 grams of CHO per day.

Recommended CHOs are whole grains such as cereal like oatmeal or Wheaties™, Kashi™ or other dry cereal, whole grain & dark bread, bagels & English muffins, spaghetti, brown rice, quinoa, popcorn, fruits, vegetables, etc. Read the food label to determine how many grams of carbohydrate is included in each food or use the apps that were earlier discussed to find out how many grams of carbohydrates are in the foods you eat each day.

Protein:  Builds and Repairs Muscles for Tip Top Performance

Protein is important for growth and development, required for healing injuries, and necessary for the maintenance of body tissues. As our body grows, it uses protein to manufacture cells.  For example, the protein, collagen, serves as both building and mending material in tissues such as ligaments and tendons.  Enzymes, hormones, and antibodies are synthesized from protein.   Proteins within each cell are also constantly turning over – being made and being broken down. Protein is composed of individual amino acids strung together in chains. The constant synthesis and breaking down of protein is known as protein turnover. When protein breaks down, they free amino acids to join the general circulation.  Some are recycled into other proteins; others may be stripped of their nitrogen and used for energy.  Protein provides 4 calories per gram. Although protein is not a major source of energy, an active growing soccer player needs for protein may be slightly higher than the needs of a sedentary person.

So how much protein do you need each day? 

Players need to consume an adequate amount of protein for healing, for recovery from soccer practice, for growth, for the formation of red blood cells and hormones. The active growing soccer players needs between 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Example, a 110-pound soccer player would need between 77 and 99 grams of protein per day.

The best way to find out how many grams of protein a food contains is to check out the Nutrition Facts on the food label but most meats do not contain the nutritional information on the label but you can use the My Fitness Pal app to find out the protein amount in your food. Remember to look at the serving size on the label and compare it to the amount in your actual serving.

Table 3. Protein Found in Basic Foods. Read the Food Labels to get an Accurate Count.

  • A small 3-ounce piece of meat about the size of a deck of cards after          cooking has about 21 grams of protein.
  • A typical 8-ounce piece of meat could have over 50 grams of protein.
  • One 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein.
  • One cup of milk has 8 grams of protein.
  • One cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein.

The Take Home Message

A combination of consuming the proper amount of calories, CHO, fluids, and protein each day can help soccer players to enhance their level of play and help to minimize injuries that are caused by fatigue. 


Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N., is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition.  Barbara worked as Nutrition Consultant to the Navy SEALs (8 years) and the University of Louisville Athletic Department (10 years). Barbara has private practice, DayByDay Nutrition,, where she counsels clients on weight loss, cholesterol management, performance nutrition and an array of other medical issues.  Barbara publishes an on-line health & wellness magazine, Barbara writes weekly nutrition column for the Southeast Outlook. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker and a mother and grandmother to 13 grandchildren.    


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