Gaining lean muscle is one of the goals of most people in general, but especially soccer players. Gaining muscle helps soccer players run faster, jump higher, shoot harder and generally force their dominance on weaker players. If there are two players of equal skill, but one is stronger than the other one, it is obvious who the better player is. Simple as that.
Soccer players, however, have a couple of difficulties to overcome that non-players don’t understand. These are that we need to gain lean muscle that doesn’t slow us down. I don’t care how big your muscles are or how strong you are if you can’t even move or if you’ve gained unnecessary fat while packing on muscle. The second problem we face is that running breaks down muscle, and soccer players run a lot. This muscle breaking down process is called catabolism.
If you practice soccer almost everyday and are trying to gain muscle at the same time, then you’ve definitely run into at least one of the two problems above. I have, players I work with have and past teammates have. I saw one of my teammates lose 20 lbs of muscle over 6 weeks of training camp practices.
Luckily, nutrition can help us get over these obstacles, and it’s really not that difficult.
Here are my top 5 diets tips for gaining lean muscle:
Most people know that protein is needed to build muscles. When we lift, we create micro-tears in our muscles, then our body uses amino acids (what protein is made up of) to rebuild these muscles bigger and better than before. This process is called hypertrophy.
As players who are practicing, lifting, doing fitness and playing games all within the same week, we need more protein then what is expected. We need at least 1.5 grams of protein per 1 lb of body weight each day (2.2 g per kg of body weight).
When we lift, our body uses amino acids to build muscles for up to 24 hours and peaks at 2 hours after lifting. This means that within 1-2 hours, we need a big protein meal. Protein shakes work if you don’t have time to get a meal in, but I prefer to use whole foods that offer much-needed vitamins and minerals along with the protein.
We should continue to eat protein at every meal, since we practice/lift often, our body is in constant need of protein. I wrote this article to explain more about protein and list the best sources: Soccer Players and Protein.
Take Advantage of Insulin
If you have heard of insulin, then you probably have heard of it negative terms. Insulin is the hormone in our body that stores extra glycogen (which comes from carbohydrates). For people who don’t workout, they’re body naturally uses about 125 grams of carbohydrates a day for natural body functions. If we eat more carbs than our body naturally needs, then insulin is released and decides where to store this extra glycogen.
If we haven’t worked out, then the extra glycogen, beyond what our body regularly needs, gets stored as body fat. However, if we have worked out, such as lifting or practice, then our muscles need this glycogen to replenish their storages and to help build muscle. Insulin promotes muscle repair and helps glycogen get into our muscle cells (1).
This doesn’t mean that we need to eat carbohydrates until we explode after lifting or practice, because insulin is permissive in the muscle growing process (2). This means that once insulin has been released and is doing its job, we don’t need more insulin released.
What we should do instead of eating until we’re uncomfortable is spread out our extra carbohydrates between a couple of meals after lifting. This works because, as I mentioned before, our body builds our muscles back for about 24 hours, and our muscles restore their glycogen storages for about 24 hours (3).
I cover more about carbohydrates and the best sources for them in this article: Soccer Players and Carbohydrates.
Eat a Diet with Higher Fat Intake to Boost Testosterone
Getting the big T up is a great way to not only pack on muscle, but to also improve you’re life overall, since testosterone also affects your sex drive and confidence. When it comes to packing on muscles, testosterone stimulates growth hormones in the skeletal muscles, along with increasing protein synthesis directly, since it is a steroid hormone (4)(5).
One of the best ways to increase your testosterone is to increase the good fats in your diet. I go into great depth in this article about where we should be getting our fat from, and why the low-fat diets are crap: Soccer Players and Fats.
Creatine is a hell of a supplement. It increases your body’s output of ATP, which is your body’s first fuel for explosive movements, such as lifting. This means that creatine helps your body work harder for longer, which in turn helps your body put on more muscle (6).
This supplement covers a lot of bases, and I recommend it for soccer players. But as it is with all supplements, they should be used on top of a good diet foundation. It doesn’t matter how many supplements you’re taking if your food choice is crappy. Supplements are the icing on the cake to give you the extra edge beyond a solid foundation based on real food.
Here’s the brand I use here (this is an affiliate link, but giving you value is more important than making a quick dollar to me, so I wouldn’t recommend anything I don’t truly recommend): Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder
When looking at dosage for creatine, make sure NOT to do the loading phase. You’ll be able to avoid the water logging that comes with creatine by slowly building it into your system. Yes, this will take longer to see benefits, but you also won’t balloon up with water. I recommend 5 grams a day.
If you’re still struggling, start tracking calories
In general, I don’t recommend tracking calories. As soccer players, we tend not to need to worry about this. However, when it comes to gaining muscle, if it’s not coming with the above tips, counting calories could be extra insurance for you.
I do think the calories in, calories out model is technically right, it is very simplified by most proponents of it. Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates all act differently in your body, so it’s hard to count exactly in and exactly out.
Multiply your bodyweight by 24 to get about your daily expenditure of calories as a soccer player. You will want to then go over this number. Make sure you are using the above rules when going over your calorie expenditure, good sources of food, keeping the fat higher (25-30% of your daily food), along with the right carbohydrate and protein sources.
Another way to get in the extra calories and protein you need is to down a protein shake before bed. When trying to pack on muscle while constantly training, you have to find ways to get all the food you need, which can feel like a job in itself.
So there you have it, my 5 diet tips for gaining muscle as a soccer player. I know it’s a difficult task. I was pretty small throughout high school, but during my senior year of high school and my freshman year in college I was able to pack on about 20lbs of muscle. I ended up losing about 7lbs of it to meet my playing weight before the next season, but it was nice to know what was possible.
I know the struggle that comes with this, but I overcame it, so I know you can too. If you have anymore questions, don’t be afraid to comment below or if you have any tips to add, we’d all be glad to have them.
Keep up the hard work!
Head Trainer at Optimal Soccer
*Bonus Tip: To help maintain muscle while playing a ton of soccer (lots of running breaks down muscles), try taking BCAA’s and Turmeric before practicing/fitness/games. They’ve both been proven to be anti-catabolic. I have an article coming up for you all expanding on taking advantage of catabolic food and supplements, so make sure to join the mailing list so you don’t miss it.