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You would not send your kids on soccer pitch (Field) without the right boots (cleats) and shin guards or let them stay up into the early hours the day before a big game.
Proper preparation for sports is as important for children as it is for adults, and the right diet is as key to, if not more so, achieving peak performance as is having all the right gear.
We are all aware that a balance diet is vital to our overall health; essentially we all need foods that contain:

  • Proteins (Build Muscle, maintain and replace body tissue) – meat, fish, eggs, beans, cheese
  • Carbohydrates (broken down to provide energy) – bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereal, fruit
  • Vitamins and minerals (Important for growth, bone development, blood production, wound healing) – Fruit, vegetables, red meat, pulses, breakfast cereal
  • Fats (Not the enemy. The right amount aids growth and vitamin absorption) – Meat, dairy products, oily fish, nuts
However, there remains a good deal of confusion as to the correct balance for young sportspeople and exactly what and when. This is added to by the sometimes contradictory advice coming from dietary and nutrition experts.
A recent survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association’s sports nutrition practice group highlighted the confusion among parents.
Findings and recommendations:

  • Nearly 60 per cent of parents thought a high protein diet was the best way to build muscle.
Latest recommendations – Kids involved in sport build muscles through a balanced diet with high carbohydrates content (50% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 30% fat)

  • More than 70% of parents thought children should drink when thirsty rather than have a regular routine.
Latest recommendations – By the time children feel thirsty they have probably already dehydrated. Drink regularly in smaller quantities before, during and after exercise.

  • More than one third of parents believe protein-rich foods provide the best fuel for young athletes
Latest recommendations – High protein diets remain popular despite overwhelming research showing carbohydrates rich foods are the best short term fuel.
Drinking right is just as important to general health and match-day performance as is the correct diet.
Dehydration, a lack of fluids, can often occur during and after sustained physical exercise and lead to fatigue, lack of concentration and muscle cramps.
To avoid dehydration a sufficient intake of water is necessary. However, it is not always that easy to persuade young athlete to drink plain old H2O. A recent study at the University of Connecticut found that between 50 and 75% of participants were significantly dehydrated despite a ready availability of water.
Liquids should be taken before the game (up to 16 ounces over a two hour period), in small gulps during breaks in play and up to 24 ounces within two hours after the game.
Sports drinks provoke much debate. Some parents seem them as over-priced soft drinks or gimmicks. However, another recent study showing that while kids drank only 50% of the fluids required when offered water, when offered sport drinks they drank 90% more.
Not only is it easier to get children to take sport drinks on account of the taste, there is also a growing consensus that the minerals they contain, particularly sodium helps combats fatigue and cramp and the carbohydrate element does improve energy levels.
The Food Groups:
Your diet will need to be high in complex carbohydrates. It will need to have moderate amounts of protein, salt, sugar and sodium. It should be low in fats, saturated fat and cholesterol.
All this may sound quite complicated, yet in fact it is quite simple. You can easily follow the guidelines by eating in a balanced way including a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups that nutritionists recognize (Grain – Vegetable – Fruits – Milk – Meat).
Active soccer playing kids should get around 50 to 60% of their total calories in the form of carbohydrates – they are the fuel that makes your muscle go. That means around 3.0 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Carbohydrates should be the largest part of your meals both before training or game and after. You should even plan to boost your carb in take during a game with a sports drink, which is also important for rehydration.
The best type of carbohydrates are rich in nutrients and obtained from “complex” (starchy) carbs found in vegetables, bread., cereals, pasta and rice, rather than the “simple” (sweet) carbs found in milk and fruit.
Many people mistakenly think that a diet rich in the protein found in milk and meat helps build muscles and physical performance. In fact a well balanced diet has only 10 to 15% of its calories in the form of protein. Excess protein will stress the Kidneys and lead to dehydration and calcium loss. Muscle size is dependent on sufficient calories from a balanced diet, physical maturity, genetics, and training.
Fat in moderation remains an important part of a balanced diet for a soccer player, and around 20 to 30% of your calories should come from fat. Fat is important for many of your functions. It is a secondary source of energy to fuel your muscles, and is essential for the brain and nerve function. Fat provides essential vitamins A, E, D, K and omega 3 fatty acids which help you recover quickly by reducing inflammation and swelling when you get injuries.
Tips on eating and drinking before & after a game:
Build up your calorie intake days leading up to a game to ensure your muscles contain a good store of glycogen (the agent that powers you)
On the day of the game remember that soccer is a “stop and go” sport which requires fluids and carbohydrates throughout the day of the game.
The night before and 2 hours before a game focus on carbs, moderate protein, low fat foods and fluids (pasta with vegetables and chicken, fruit, skim milk
Cereal, yogurt, toast, juice)
Help your muscules recover fast – eat and/or drink a high carb snacks within 30 minutes after the game.
Young people have different fluid needs to an adult and are more likely to get over heated when playing in hot weather, although fluid loss should also be replenished during cold weather.
Studies show that sport drinks are more effective and often more readily taken than water as a preventative for fatique and dehydration.
You should drink around 5 to 9 ounces of suitable fluid every 20 minutes or so during training, and keep drinking after exercise even if you do not feel thirsty.