How to Recover From a Hard Soccer Practice

What About Recovery Electrolytes?

After a hard practice or game, many soccer athletes reach for a sports drink, thinking Gatorade or PowerAde is "loaded" with sodium (an electrically charged particle). Think again! Milk and other "real foods" are actually better sources of electrolytes than most commercial sports products. These electrolytes (also known as sodium and potassium) help enhance fluid retention and the restoration of normal fluid balance. Here's how some common recovery fluids compare:

Beverage (8 oz) Sodium (mg) Potassium (mg) Protein (g) Carbs (g)
  • Water: 0 sodium, 0 potassium, 0 protein, 0 carbs
  • PowerAde: 55 mg sodium, 45 mg potassium, 0 protein, 19 g carbs
  • Gatorade: 110 mg sodium, 30 mg potassium, 0 protein, 14 g carbs
  • Low-fat milk: 100 mg sodium, 400 mg potassium, 8 g protein, 12 g carbs
  • Chocolate milk: 150 mg sodium, 425 mg potassium, 8 g protein, 26 g carbs
  • Orange juice: 0 sodium, 450 mg potassium, 2 g protein, 26 g carbs

As you can see, after a hard workout, recovery fluids that such as chocolate milk, orange juice, or a latte offer far more "good stuff" than you'd get in a sports drink. Sports drinks are dilute and designed for during extended exercise.

To assess how much sodium you lose in sweat, weigh yourself naked pre-post an hour of exercise, accounting for any fluid consumed. Loss of one pound equates to loss of about 700-1,000 mg sodium.

If you sweat heavily and lose a significant amount of sodium, you can easily replace those losses with pretzels (300 mg sodium/10 twists), a bagel (500 mg) with peanut butter (200 mg/2 tbsp), Wheaties and milk (300 mg), or a spaghetti dinner with tomato sauce (1000 mg/cup Ragu sauce). Most soccer players consume plenty of sodium!

More: How Far Do You Run During a Game?

Recovery Can Start Before You Exercise

What you eat before you exercise impacts your recovery. According to research presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before lifting weights enhanced recovery better than consuming a protein drink afterwards.

That's because your body digests pre-exercise protein into amino acids (yes, your body can digest food during exercise) and puts those amino acids right into action repairing damaged muscles.

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What If You Never Recover Well?

If you have to drag yourself through workouts and games, questions arise:

  • Are you overtraining? Rest is an essential part of a training program; muscles need time to refuel and repair. Take at least one, if not two, days off from exercise per week.
  • Are you anemic? Anemia is common, so have your MD monitor your serum ferritin (stored iron). If your iron stores are depleted, you'll feel needlessly tired during exercise. An estimated half of female athletes are iron-deficient, as indicated by low serum ferritin stores. (About 14 percent of all women are iron deficient.) A survey with collegiate male runners suggested about 20 percent had low serum ferritin. Iron supplements help resolve the problem, alongside a good recovery diet. Eat wisely, recover well, and feel great!
More: An Inside Look at a Pro Soccer Practice

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