We've previously written about how to mentally prepare yourself for a big soccer game, so that you will be fully prepared to perform your best on game
We’ve previously written about how to mentally prepare yourself for a big soccer game, so that you will be fully prepared to perform your best on game day. Today, you will learn how to properly prepare your body for a match. Physically preparing for a game doesn’t start the day of the game, preparation needs to be a continual process throughout the whole week. Therefore, these guidelines are not just for a game day, they are also for practices as well.
There are five major components every player needs to take care of when preparing for a game: sleeping, eating, hydrating, training, and recovering. Are you sleeping the right amount of hours? When is the best time to eat before a game? How much water should you be drinking before a practice or game? This post will break down each of the five components, in order for you to prepare yourself as best as possible before games so you can perform your greatest.
1. Get Your Beauty Sleep!
Players need to get the right amount of sleep in order to achieve optimal performance on the field. If players aren’t sleeping well, their performance will be affected considerably.
Harvard Research states that girls (aged 15-21 years) and boys (aged 16-23) should aim between 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. If you are sleeping less than the recommended amount, you can experience negative effects. When you are training in practice or playing in a match, your brain is working a lot. A great deal of energy is produced from your brain in order to process new information. Sleeping is important for storing memory.
Therefore, if you’re not sleeping enough, it will cause behavioral deficits to your working memory. Think of your short-term memory as a high-speed processor, like the one you would see in a computer; its sole purpose is to process infinite amounts of data and store it.
Similarly to your short-term memory, each time you process a bit of data, by either learning a new skill or tactical drill, your short-term memory (high-speed processor) needs to have had enough sleep in order to process the skill or data you’ve just acquired. With any tech piece, if the material is a bit broken, it simply will not work efficiently, and a decrease in task performance will result. This is what happens when you don’t get enough sleep.
In contrast, too much sleep can also cause negative effects. Make sure you don’t oversleep since that can also leave you feeling groggy and feeling slow during the day. Go with how you feel. You should wake up without an alarm feeling alert and energized for most of your day.
Before every practice, try to aim for 8-10 hours of sleep each night. If that’s not possible, try for no less than 6.5 hours of sleep.
When it comes down to games, the same guidelines for practices apply. Aim for 8 hours of sleep, but no less than 6.5 hours. If possible, get 10 hours of sleep before a game. Remember to not oversleep. More than 10 hours of sleep will leave you feeling overtired, and sluggish.
Napping is great. But if you do nap, you shouldn’t sleep longer than 30 minutes. If you do then you’ll be overtired, and it will take time for you to re-charge. Make sure to not oversleep.
2. Nutrition: “You Are What You Eat”
We have a whole post on how to eat, go check that out, or, read below for a summary and more specific guidelines.
Eating is just as important as sleeping. Nutrients are our main source of fuel for our bodies. As we eat certain foods, mainly carbohydrates, we digest our food which is then broken down and converted into sugar. The sugar broken down can be stripped down even more and transformed into energy that becomes an available source of energy for our bodies. The energy we gain from food, fuels both our brains and muscles to work. We need tons of energy to be able to breathe, digest, walk, run and especially play soccer.
A big concern is whether athletes are eating enough nutrients to fuel their bodies properly. If not, it becomes very hard for your body to perform tasks such as: digesting, walking, or playing soccer. Your body eventually runs out of energy. Once it does, a message is sent to your body telling it to retrieve more energy, however, if there isn’t energy available for you to take, your body will suffer, making you feel weak and tired. That’s why it’s very important for athletes to eat a lot of carbohydrates, so they can have plenty of energy to replenish.
3 Main forms of Nutrients
They are good for providing energy, they protect muscle mass, and maintain body functions. You can find them in simple sugars (sugar, honey, maple syrup, dairy) and in complex sugars (grains, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes). Men should target for 38g(grams)/day, Women should target for 25g(grams)/day.
Proteins replace muscle that has been destroyed during physical activity. It also stimulates growth and includes hormones, enzymes, and DNA. You can get protein from animals (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) and from plants (legumes, nuts, seeds, grains). In competition season, you need around 1.2 to 1.8g (grams)/kg(kilogram per body weight) and in weight loss period (offseason) 1.8-2.7g (grams)/kg(kilogram per body weight).
Lipids are good for storing energy in the form of fatty acids (fats, waxes, oils). You can find them in animals (meat, fish, dairy), plants (legumes, nuts, seeds, oils) and in refined products (chips, fries, sweets). On average, you need about 0.5 to 0.8g (grams)/kg (kilogram per body weight).
Now that you know the basics of nutrients and their benefits, how much food should you be eating? And, how many hours should you eat before a game or practice?
Eating Before The Event: Practice & Game
**It is important to know, that these are simply guidelines. It does not mean you have to eat at each time block.**
Sometimes, we can only eat at certain hours of the day before a game. For whatever reason it may be, if you only get the chance to eat 3 hours before, or 1 hour before, this list tells you what to eat, and how much of it.
You should always go with how your body feels. Feel free to make substitutions around dietary restrictions (ex. vegetarians, allergies, etc.)
5-3 Hours Before:
Have a complete meal. Take nutrients into account, and portion size. Meats should always be the same size of a deck of playing cards, carbs (grains, bread, pasta etc) should be 1/3 of your plate, and your legumes should be 2/3 of your plate. You can also have a coffee, juice, or some fruit (an apple).
2 Hours Before:
Have a light meal. Remember your nutrients and portion size. Your carbs should take up 2/3 of your plate, while your legumes and meat make up the remaining 1/3. You can have some juice on the side.
1 Hour Before:
Have a complete snack. You can choose to eat 2 or 3 out of the following list. Plus 1 item from the dairy list.
Grapes, watermelon, apple, broccoli, bananas, carrots, muffins, toast, and juice.
Milk, peanuts or cheese.
If you’re feeling low in energy, have a snack right before the game. This will give you a quick boost of energy that will wake you up right away. Choose 1 or 2 snacks from this list:
Grapes, watermelon, apple, broccoli, bananas, carrots, muffins, toast, and juice.
During The Event: Practice or Game
If you need to refuel, go right ahead. You can do so by having a small cup of a sports drink (i.e. Gatorade, Powerade, or homemade sports drink etc.), small granola bar, or some energy gel. The idea is to replenish to get energy fast.
After Event: Practice or Game
It is important to eat after your practice or game as soon as you can. When you’re training, your muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel. As a result, your muscles lack sugar. Some of the proteins in your muscles also get broken down and damaged. After your practice or game, your body tries to rebuild its sugar stores and repair your muscle proteins.
Thus, eating soon after you exercise can help your body recover quicker. It is especially important to eat carbs and protein after your workout.
Pick another well balanced meal, and eat as soon as you can after the event.
Hydrating yourself is very important, as it lets you carry out the activities of daily life, like walking, running or playing soccer.
You can check whether you’re hydrated or not by checking the colour of your urine. A clear to light yellow means you are hydrated, while a yellow amber means you’re dehydrated and should drink a bottle of water right away.
However, the most simple way to gauge whether you’re dehydrated is if you feel thirsty. If you are thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
On average we need 2.7 L of water. In order to be fully hydrated, you need to drink 6-12 glasses of water a day.
Tip: Make a homemade sports drink that you can sip on before a practice and game. It contains sugar and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Sports drinks can help replace what you lose during a long practice or game.
Recipe of 1L
375ml of grape juice
450ml of pineapple juice
500ml of apple juice
575ml of orange juice
Complete with water
1/2 teaspoon of salt (3ml)
Lemon juice for flavor
The basic purpose of training is to improve human capabilities in all their manifestations. These capabilities are characterized by physical, physiological, and psychomotor attributes. The goal is for players to meet the demands of match-play in all its aspects. Further development in fitness will enable the player to work at a higher level of performance and match tempo.
On the days leading up to the game, get some touches on the ball. Do some moderate-to-light training, to keep the blood flowing and to keep your touches up.
Ideally, you should try to simulate the game conditions as much as possible, and practice doing different skills under those conditions, especially ones that you’re not 100% confident with. For example, run with the ball at top speed, cut and shoot. Build up your confidence. Do this a few times, but not so much that you’re going to get sore.
In the hours before the game (the night before or the day of) get in some running, stretching, dynamic movements, and skills. Don’t do any weight training or heavy workouts, such as playing full games that include multiple sprints.
This will deplete your glycogen (muscle fuel) and leave you feeling sore, since lactic acid will build up. It takes time to build up your glycogen stores to “full”, and it takes time to relieve feelings of soreness. You don’t want to go into a big game feeling sore, since your muscles will not be working optimally in this state, not to mention that it feels really unpleasant.
Recovering after a practice is SO important. If you don’t recover properly it can seriously affect your performance in the future. The purpose of recovery is to repair all the damaged muscles and tissues from the days before. By cooling down, stretching, foam rolling, and taking ice baths, you are strengthening and conditioning your body back to health.
Cool Your Body Down: Stretching, Foam rolling, and Taking Ice Baths
Cooling down after practice, or going for a light jog the day after a practice or game, promotes blood flow to the muscles. The way blood flows around the muscles in your body has a big impact on how well you can recover since blood flow is what delivers the nutrients that muscles need to rebuild. Blood flow also takes waste away from the muscles, where it can then be properly extracted from the body. As a result, you won’t feel as sore the next day, and your muscles will have repaired making them ready for the upcoming match.
You should ALWAYS get a cooldown RIGHT away after training. A cool down consists of lightly jogging 15-20 yards back and forth for about 5 minutes. While you’re lightly jogging, you can incorporate some dynamic stretching: leg swings (forwards and backward), lunges, arm swings, etc.
After you’re done jogging, sit down and perform some static stretches: sitting hamstring stretch, knee and ankle rotation stretch for 5-10 minutes. Depending on how sore you are, you may want to stretch longer. Stretching a muscle after recent exercise can help the growth rate of the muscle, and improve flexibility, which can help avoid injury.
While stretching your muscles are great, it can’t take out the knots from your muscles. Knots are various muscle fibers that stick together and become adhered causing a hard lump. However, pressing your muscles against a foam roller can release many stored knots. A build-up of knots can be pretty painful and can even impede you from playing. Ideally, you should foam roll before and after every workout for 10-15 minutes. If you don’t know what foam rolling is, check out the video below:
After a game, you MUST cool down (follow the above guidelines on cooldowns). In collegiate and varsity level soccer, it is not uncommon to have games 24 hours apart from each other. If you have a game on Friday, and a game on Sunday, I strongly recommend you ice bath after your cool down.
Because your muscles are full of lactic acid (increase in acidity in the muscle cells) the time it takes for oxygen to recycle around the muscles (which causes the lactate to leave) takes too long, thus delaying your body to recover from the strenuous event. So, when you have games back to back, an ice bath is a quick way to remove the built-up lactate.
Preparing for a game is never easy. It’s tough and involves hard work. However, in life, the things you want the most require a lot of effort. Every single professional player trains their ass off too! Set yourself up for success and prepare yourself as best as possible. I promise you will notice a spike in your performance.
Did this article help you? Were there things that didn’t help you? If you have any questions, please ask! I truly believe, that if you follow these guidelines, you will improve drastically.