Hydration and Nutrition in Youth Soccer Players

By Michael Morris, MD
Medical Director and Orthopedic Surgeon, Seattle Sounders FC
Department of Sports Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA

Hydration and nutrition are extremely important in young soccer players. Lets start with a brief quiz.

Quiz Question #1

Which of the following can improve a player's performance in the second half by up to 25 percent?

  1. Steroids
  2. Energy Drinks
  3. Water

The answer is water.  Studies of professional soccer players have shown that a well-hydrated player’s performance can be up to 25 percent better than those that are poorly hydrated. These studies showed that dehydration may lead to decreased speed, passing, shooting and dribbling skills, as well as a decrease in the ability to focus.

During a game in warm weather, a player can lose as much as 3 to 4 pounds of fluid. It has been shown that a loss of just 1 percent of body weight can lead to decreased performance.  Greater than 2 percent loss of the body weight in hot weather can be a safety issue, leading to issues such as heat exhaustion.

Water or sports drink? There remains some controversy over this, but in general, before a game or training, water is best. During or after a game to help replace electrolytes and some carbohydrates, a sports drink should be utilized.

How much should a player drink? Within a few hours before training or playing, a player should drink 16 to 20 ounces of water. During training, a player should drink 8 to10 ounces of a sports drink about every 20 minutes. During a game, a player should drink 20 ounces of a sports drink at halftime. Weigh yourself before and after training or a game, and you’ll discover that you may have lost some weight, which is mainly attributed to fluid loss. For every pound of weight loss, drink 22 ounces of a sport drink or water. This last tip is especially important for tournaments where you will play more than one game in a day.

Hydration is not just for kids — we have signs in the Sounders’ training room to remind their players to stay hydrated as well.

Quiz Question #2

Which of the following, taken after a game, can improve a player's performance in the following game by 25 percent?

  1. Steroids
  2. Energy Drinks
  3. Chocolate milk

The answer is chocolate milk. To understand this, we must look at the science behind it. Glycogen is stored in our muscles and is the fuel our muscles need to work. When we run, exercise depletes the glycogen stored in our muscles. Carbohydrates replenish the glycogen stored in muscles. Studies in high-level professional soccer players in the English Premier League showed that those players who optimally replaced their glycogen stores in the first 30 minutes after training or a game performed up to 25 percent better in the next training or game situation.

We also need protein to perform our highest level. During games or training, our muscles break down and need protein after play to help rebuild. It is important to get the carbohydrate and protein into your body shortly after training. If one waits for a couple of hours and then eats, it will not have the same effect. Optimum effect is in the first 30 minutes after games and training. Here is a good rule of thumb: Eat one gram of carbohydrate for every two pounds of body weight, and eat 10 to 20 grams of protein. For example, a 120-pound player would eat 60 grams of carbohydrates and 10 to 20 grams of protein.

Chocolate milk is a very good recovery drink, because one cup of chocolate milk contains 30 grams of carbohydrates and eight grams of protein, so two cups of chocolate milk would cover the appropriate amount of replenishment that a player needs. A good choice for this is the packaged chocolate milks that are available at a store such as Costco; they do not require refrigeration and can be kept in the back of the car to be utilized after training. Other options include nutrition bars or a combination of sports drinks and bagels with peanut butter. Be sure to check the nutrition labels to see how many grams of carbohydrates and how much protein are available. 

Low carbohydrate and caveman diets are not for youth soccer players.  Players need carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the fuels that replenish the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles. Decreased glycogen is the major reason for fatigue at the end of a match.

How much carbohydrate does a youth soccer player need on a daily basis? If they are playing regularly at high intensity and training regularly, they should eat at least three grams of carbohydrates per pound per day. Here is a list of a few substances and their carbohydrate value:

  • Rice: 45 grams per cup
  • Bagel: 60 grams
  • Beans: 45 grams per cup
  • Banana: 20 grams
  • Yogurt with fruit: 45 grams

Protein is also critical to build and maintain muscle and strengthen the immune system, but protein is only useful if you consume enough carbohydrates to provide the body with energy. How much protein should a youth soccer player take in a day? About 0.5-0.7 grams for each pound of body weight.

Manage your hydration, recover right, have an appropriate diet for an active young athlete and see improved performance.

Washington Youth Soccer

Washington Youth Soccer • 500 S. 336th St. Suite 100 • Federal Way, WA 98003
1-877-424-4318 (Toll Free) • (253) 4-SOCCER (476-2237)

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