Train Like a Pro: Top Nutrition and Wellness Tips from a Professional Soccer Player

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(BPT) – Whether you’re an exercise buff, a weekend warrior or an athlete, a healthy diet and a sound state of mind are key to performing your best. Professional soccer players are among the world’s most fit athletes. So, international soccer superstar, Jesse Lingard, agreed to share his tips below for eating and thinking like an athlete.

Food to Fuel

Whether you’re just starting out on an exercise program or training for a marathon, a healthy diet is as important to overall performance as the physical component. Carbohydrates give the body the energy it needs to perform, while protein, vitamins and minerals help the body to rebuild muscle and recover after physical activity.

Lingard knows this well because professional soccer players can burn more than 2,000 calories in one game. While it might be tempting to replace those calories with unhealthy foods, Lingard relies on nutritious staples to fuel his body. “I snack on pistachios pretty much every day,” says Lingard. “I even take them on the road, so I always need to have a few packs on me at a time.” Other nutritious staples that Lingard relies on include bananas, scrambled eggs and pasta with chicken and vegetables.

Plant-Based Diets for Athletes

Many athletes are converting to a plant-based diet and are reporting improved strength, fitness and overall performance levels as a result. A plant-based diet is a diet that consists mostly (or entirely) of foods that come from plants. Plant-based diets rely heavily on fruits, vegetables and nuts — foods that contain carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, all of which are important for physical performance.

Lingard includes many plant-based foods in his diet to help fuel him before and after games. He routinely eats fresh fruit for quick bursts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. “I realized at a young age that nutrition is a key component to success as an athlete. I’m a better soccer player when my body is well fueled,” says Lingard. “Plant-based foods are always going to be good for you and put you into a good mood when you go into the game.”

Recovery Nutrition

It’s just as important to fuel the body after a hard workout or a competition as it is beforehand. The nutrients in food play a critical role in exercise recovery. “Food is key with recovery,” notes Lingard. “Especially after a game, it’s important to get the right food. You have to regain to recover faster after for the next game.”

According to Dr. Mike Roussell, nutrition adviser for Men’s Health, the goal of nutrition in recovery is to help give your body the nutrients it needs to heal from the activity just completed and to help muscles to grow back even stronger.

“For an athlete, when talking about muscle recovery and muscle growth, those complete proteins are needed because they’re basically amino acids and things your body can’t make. So you have to get them from your diet,” Roussell said.

Complete proteins must be consumed in the diet through foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. Plant-based sources of complete protein include soy, quinoa and pistachios. “Pistachios contain protein, antioxidants and amino acids that can help the body refuel and recover after physically demanding activities,” says Roussell. “You want to focus on complete proteins when you’re trying to refuel, and pistachios are not only considered a complete protein, but they are also a source of important vitamins and minerals.”

Fuel Your Body, Rest Your Mind

The physical demands of an athlete combined with the mental stress of competition can take a toll, which is why Lingard makes it a priority to refresh mentally between games. His wellness routine includes taking walks, reading, working out and spending time with his family. The brain needs rest days just as the body does. Creating a routine of peaceful activities that allow your mind a chance to rest and replenish will allow for mental clarity and peak performance at the next competition.