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Athletes, including soccer players, need more protein than the average person. A player who eats adequate protein may be able to recover faster and thus train more frequently. Understand how much and what types of protein are optimal and when you should eat them to help you perform to your maximum capability.
Protein consists of amino acids that your body uses for cell growth and function. When you break down muscle during high-intensity exercise, you need protein to expedite recovery, grow and maintain lean muscle mass and enhance immunity. During a soccer game, you cover an average of 5.6 miles. Training sessions for competitive soccer can last hours, and you may participate in multiple episodes daily. You need fuel for this work, and although protein doesn't give immediate energy like carbohydrates, it can act as a backup fuel source, as the Summer 1994 issue of the вЂњJournal of Sports ScienceвЂќ notes. This need for protein as an energy source increases the longer an exercise session lasts.
The American Dietetic Association recommends soccer players eat 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, this amounts to between 90 and 120 grams per day. Choose lean sources of protein such as skinless chicken and turkey, flank steak, pork tenderloin, low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese and soy foods. You can easily consume 90 grams of protein with whole foods if you have two eggs at breakfast, five ounces of chicken at lunch, 1 1/2 cups of low-fat milk and a tablespoon of peanut butter with a snack and six ounces of tofu at dinner. Nuts, quinoa and dried beans are alternative protein sources for vegetarians.
You should spread protein consumption out over the course of the day. Your body can only digest and use about 40 grams of protein for muscle synthesis -- repair and growth -- in any given sitting, notes a study in the September 2009 вЂњJournal of the American Dietetic Association.вЂќ Eating a snack or meal with protein, along with carbohydrates, immediately after practice or competition is critical. Your muscles are particularly receptive to the amino acids within 30 minutes of a workout. You want about 0.7 to 0.75 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight in this post-workout meal. Figure your protein needs by using a 4-to-1 or 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein. So a 150-pound athlete benefits from about 100 grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein. Good options include a large baked potato with three ounces of chicken, a smoothie made with a banana, a cup of fruit juice and a scoop of whey protein or 1 1/2 cups of chocolate milk alongside a small bagel topped with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. Drink plenty of water or an electrolyte replacement drink as part of your post-competition nutrition.
A diet slightly higher in protein is safe for most healthy athletes, notes the International Society of Sports Nutrition. If you are concerned about your protein intake's impact on your health, consult your physician. Most soccer players should be able to get all the protein they need with whole, natural foods. However, you may turn to supplemental protein such as whey or soy protein powders if you find yourself falling short.