Engaging in soccer is one of the many ways in which soccer players and regular individuals can exercise their bodies and stay fit without going to the gym. Nevertheless, it is not advisable to play soccer on an empty stomach since it is a very demanding sport.
We know you might be asking why any soccer player would want to play soccer on an empty stomach, but have you heard of a popular practice called fasting?
In case you are new to the whole concept of fasting, it is a practice where people willfully refrain from eating and sometimes drinking anything for many hours.
Most people often engage in fasting due to its acclaimed spiritual, psychological, physical, and health benefits; soccer players are not exempted from these statistics. Intermittent fasting is actually healthy and encouraged among some patients by medical practitioners.
Soccer players don’t design their calendars and the season often falls within important religious celebrations that mandate the followers to fast. For example, during Ramadan and Lenten periods, Muslims and Christians are mandated by their religion to fast for 30 days.
Fasting doesn’t only apply to Christians and Muslims alone. Some athletes often engage in fasting because they believe it enhances clarity, burns fat, and improves concentration.
Soccer players don’t often fast when engaging in tournaments except in certain cases when it is necessitated by their religion or recommended by the team’s medical crew.
Fitness is the foundation of all soccer activities and available evidence proves that very fit professional soccer players can maintain maximum performance on the pitch even while fasting. Not every soccer player can attain this feat because it involves many years of training and understanding certain simple tricks.
In this article, you will come to understand if it is advisable for soccer players to play soccer while fasting and how professional soccer players often manage to perform remarkably on the pitch even when fasting.
Can you play soccer when fasting?
You can play soccer while fasting but you must make conscious efforts to consult your doctor first before engaging in such a practice, especially if you are under medication, breastfeeding, or have underlying health challenges.
For safety reasons, kids and teenagers are restrained from playing soccer while fasting. Fasting is also recommended for injured soccer players before their surgery or any procedure that requires the administering of general anesthesia.
Intermittent fasting (fasting for periods shorter than 24 hours) is also recommended for soccer players with a large body mass intending to maintain a lean body.
During an extended period of fasting, the body goes from burning sugar or glucose to burning fat to release another energy source known as ketones. This is the major reason why fasting can help out-of-shape soccer players lose weight if done consistently.
Although fasting when playing soccer is considered safe to an extent, playing in a location with high temperatures while fasting can have an untold impact on your body.
This is because, in high temperatures, your body loses a higher volume of water and minerals causing dehydration and exhaustion.
Famous soccer players like Riyad Mahrez, Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah have all played soccer while fasting because of their religious obligation.
Obviously, you can play soccer while fasting. However, you should consider making certain tweaks to your gameplay that can help prevent any negative impact such activity will have on your body.
How to play soccer while fasting?
Fasting is already difficult and takes a toll on the body. Combining it with soccer requires strong will and a high level of fitness. During fasting, the body is intentionally deprived of food and fluids for a very long period.
Dehydration is the biggest issue players usually face while playing soccer when fasting, and this can even slow down many functions of the body organs.
Aside from dehydration, fasting while playing soccer can also cause fatigue and acute depletion of muscle glycogen but there are smart ways to manage this ordeal.
We will show you some of the effective tips and ways professional soccer players cope with fasting during competitive tournaments like major league games and the World Cup.
Train for it
It is highly reckless to run into the pitch while fasting without some form of training that will prepare your body to handle such stress. Just like you perform different drills to improve your skills, you also have to perform drills that will help you learn how to play on an empty stomach.
Ideally, soccer players are expected to eat 3 to 4 hours prior to the start of the game so they will have the proper fuel to drive them throughout the game. You cannot just move from not eating for 4 hours to not eating for over 12 hours. That will hurt really bad.
So, you have to push up the hours you play without food gradually. Start with not eating 5 hours before a game and once you are comfortable with that, push back the clock by one hour.
Do that gradually until your body becomes comfortable with playing for over 12 hours without food. Once your body becomes comfortable with the 12-hour mark, you can play while fasting—because most fasting doesn’t exceed 12 hours.
It is evident that not drinking any fluid or eating food for a long period can trigger a certain level of anger in humans, especially when it is combined with an activity like soccer which causes severe exhaustion and dehydration.
The first time you try playing soccer while fasting is usually the hardest and you are most vulnerable to giving into anger and foul play at the slightest provocation.
One important rule in soccer is never to show your emotion or your opponent will use it against you. For example, if your opponent discovers that playing dirty makes you angry, they will likely increase their ‘dirtiness’ which may force you to retaliate and get a card (a red card if you are unlucky).
Also, if your opponent discovers that you are fasting, they will want to make you work harder and get exhausted. Maintaining your coolness even while fasting requires lots of mental and physical fitness.
With adequate discipline, you can be fasting yet be able to train and play with your teammates while giving your 100% effort without them even knowing that you are fasting.
Eat right before and after fasting
Even though the whole idea of fasting is to stay away from food and drinks as long as you possibly can, what you eat before and after fasting while engaging in soccer matters a lot.
If you have plans of playing soccer while fasting, it is paramount that you eat the right food and drink a lot of fluid before and after fasting.
The meal you ingest before you start fasting should be highly rich in protein so that your body will have enough energy to carry you through the entire period of the game. Things like chicken, fish, avocado, eggs, and nuts are excellent food choices that are rich in protein.
Food varieties that are highly rich in fiber are also good for soccer players who intend to play soccer while fasting. Some examples of such foods include veggies, lentils, and oatmeal to name a few.
Fibrous foods are right for such situations because they keep you full and fueled for a long period and they also slow down the breakdown and absorption of food thereby providing your body with stable energy that lasts.
After fasting, you are required to consume enough fluid and glucose to help your body replenish the depleted muscle glycogen stores emptied while playing soccer. You can also take a small amount of quick-release carbohydrates such as pasta, smoothies, fruit, and dates to help your body recover.
The common mistake that most athletes often make is that they go ahead to ingest large portions of meals after fasting. This is the most impulsive thing you will feel like doing because your body will be craving it.
However, that will not benefit your body as much as you think. It only counters the purpose of fasting in the first place.
Fatigue usually comes with playing soccer and is worse when you are playing on an empty stomach. Playing soccer while fasting can decrease your body’s energy level drastically.
Tired players often tend to lose focus on the pitch which can cost their team a victory. With an empty stomach, you run the risk of getting exhausted early unless you learn to conserve energy.
Since your body isn’t properly fed during fasting, playing smart on the pitch is very important. All your actions must be properly calculated—only spend energy on choices that matter.
When possible, take up roles on the pitch that doesn’t demand too much running and physical exertions like the center back position.
Getting lots of rest the day before your matchday is also a great way to conserve energy while fasting. You must stay away from any rigorous physical activity that can deplete your body’s stored energy.
However, don’t forget to stretch out before the game because it will help to warm up your muscles and prevent cramps during the game.
Healthy breathing practices are also very helpful when trying to conserve energy because when you breathe, your body takes in oxygen which helps to facilitate aerobic respiration for energy production.
If you fail to breathe properly, your body will not be able to properly break down stored food to produce energy leading to the accumulation of lactic acid that increases your fatigue.
Practice breathing techniques that require you to hold your breath for a few seconds after which you exhale slowly. Repeat this action 2-4 times every time you are training.
This breathing exercise can enhance your breathing rhythm and help you conserve more energy on the pitch.
Playing soccer while fasting doesn’t happen overnight and those that do it are not super humans either. What it takes is constant practice to get there.
The more you learn about the techniques professional soccer players employ to achieve this the more likely you will become successful at it.
Proper preparation before fasting like consulting a doctor, eating right, exercising right, and adequate rest are some of the common ways you can shield yourself from the risks attached to playing soccer while fasting.
In all that you do while on the pitch, learn to listen to your body, and don’t overdo anything that can cause harm to your body.
While it is possible to play soccer while fasting, it is definitely something that you don’t want to do if you have an underlying health condition. Therefore, always make sure that you consult with your physician to make sure that it is safe for you before attempting it.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!