A recent study published in the journal Nutrients finds that the dietary habits of elite soccer players vary according to their competitive levels and gender.
Study: Dietary Habits of Elite Soccer Players: Variations According to Competitive Level, Playing Position and Sex. Image Credit: matimix / Shutterstock.com
Soccer is a popular sport practiced by both men and women worldwide. On average, players of this high-intensity sport exhibit an oxygen uptake of 70% of their maximum capacity and maintain the heart rate at 85% of their maximum levels during a match.
Nutrition plays a vital role in the performance of soccer players by providing them with essential nutrients for energy, muscle recovery, and injury prevention. Studies investigating the nutritional status of soccer players have found higher-than-recommended levels of protein consumption and lower-than-recommended levels of carbohydrate consumption, which is inappropriate for sustaining optimal performance levels throughout a match.
Considering the significance of proper nutritional status in the health and performance of soccer players, the current study assessed the dietary habits of elite soccer players and their association with the competitive level, playing position, and gender of the players.
A total of 105 male and female soccer players belonging to a Spanish elite soccer team were enrolled in the study. The study was conducted during the 2021-2022 competitive season. All players had at least four years of soccer training experience and participated in up to seven regular training sessions every week.
The participants were asked to complete a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire, which included 24 questions divided into two main sections. The first section enquired about demographic characteristics and playing positions, whereas the second section collected information about food and beverage consumption over the previous month.
The analysis of the food frequency questionnaire revealed higher consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, fermented foods, frozen food, and red meat among male soccer players as compared to that among female soccer players. In contrast, female players were more likely to consume higher levels of lean meat like chicken and turkey than male players.
Considering different competitive levels, a higher consumption of carbohydrate-rich and frozen foods, combined with a lower consumption of lean meat, was observed among cadets. The highest consumption of egg and its derivatives and red meat was observed among juvenile players.
A significant difference in the frequency of alcohol consumption was observed according to the competitive levels of the players. The highest frequency of alcohol consumption was observed among players in the senior category. In the senior categories, male players were associated with a higher frequency of mixed drink consumption, whereas female players were likelier to consume beer and wine.
Considering different competitive levels, the consumption of mixed drinks was higher among junior players, whereas the consumption of beer and wine was higher among senior players. Considering different playing positions, the highest consumption of alcohol was observed among goalkeepers and midfielders.
The current study finds significant differences in the dietary habits of elite soccer players according to their competitive levels and gender.
A higher consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, including pasta, rice, whole grains, and cereals, has been observed among male players. These foods can increase muscle glycogen content, which is required to increase endurance capacity in high-intensity exercises and prevent the rapid onset of fatigue. However, carbohydrates should be consumed according to physical demand in order to maintain an optimal body composition.
A higher consumption of frozen or processed foods has been observed among adolescent players. Given the adverse health effects of these foods, the scientists advise players to comply with the minimum recommendations for the frequency of consumption of unhealthy foods.
Female soccer players have had a lower consumption of red meat and legumes. In this context, the scientists mention that if the diet of these players is not appropriately supplemented, it could lead to the development of certain health complications, such as anemia. Moreover, given the lower consumption of dietary carbohydrates, scientists advise female players to consume carbohydrate-rich sports foods, such as sports bars and isotonic drinks.
- Sebastiá-Rico, J., Soriano, J. M., Sanchis-Chorda, J., et al. (2023). Dietary Habits of Elite Soccer Players: Variations According to Competitive Level, Playing Position and Sex. Nutrients. doi:10.3390/nu15204323