Soccer players need lots of food to keep engines running

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 18, 2014.

Chris Wondolowski (front) runs resistance exercises with the U.S. men's national team. Photo: Julio Cortez, Associated Press
Chris Wondolowski (front) runs resistance exercises with the U.S. men’s national team. Photo: Julio Cortez, Associated Press

This is something anyone who’s watched World Cup soccer for the first time certainly understands by now: Any team that wants to make a run at the title is truly going to have to run.

An elite soccer player (other than the goalkeeper) who plays an entire regulation length game will likely run around 9,000-10,000 meters. That’s about 6 miles, and quite a bit more than the average for athletes in other major sports.

This data comes from Stats Inc., a company that makes a digital motion-tracking system and provides statistics for the World Cup. The NBA also uses Stats, and for comparison, the basketball player who ran the farthest in the 2012 season averaged 2.72 miles per game.

To win the World Cup, or even place in the top four, soccer teams will have to play seven games, so each non-goalie will cover around 40 miles of ground. And, to run a lot, they will have to eat a lot.

Brian Lee, the head athletic trainer for the San Jose Earthquakes, said midfielders, who run the most, eat up to 6,500 calories a day. (The target diet for most non-athletes is about 2,000 calories a day.) Those calories, Lee says, come in the form of salads, fruits and vegetables, pasta and rice, lean protein like fish or chicken, and soups and sauces that aren’t cream based.

Two Earthquakes players, American forward Chris Wondolowski and Honduran defender Victor Bernardez, are competing in the World Cup. Lee offers advice to kids who want to play like these pros when they grow up: “Stay away from fast food and sugary drinks.” Fruit is a good snack, he said, and water – not sports drinks – is the key to staying hydrated.