Every four years, the World Cup showcases the talents of some of the fittest athletes in the world.

What’s true of armies is also true of professional athletes: they march on their stomachs. The way pro soccer players fuel their bodies is different from how most of us eat because it has to be.

Teams participating in the 2014 World Cup have to focus intensely on their nutrition. They traveled to Brazil with both nutritionists and chefs in tow, as well as home-country favorites to make them feel more comfortable.

The Associated Press reports that Italy brought parmesan, olive oil, and prosciutto, while Mexico brought ingredients for pozole, a few types of chiles, and nopales.

pros [Photo: La Quercia]

The United States brought oatmeal, Cheerios, peanut butter, and A1 steak sauce.

oat [Photo: Quaker Oats]

Italy’s team nutritionist, Elisabetta Orsi, explains how the team keeps their pre-game fueling needs simple:

“Pasta is our preferred fuel, and before matches we play with the tricolore: pasta (white), tomato (red) and extra virgin olive oil (green).”

Orsi also explains that nutritionists work hand-in-hand with team physicians, who analyze each player’s particular needs and confer with the team’s nutritionist to devise a specific dietary strategy.

The U.S. team’s chef, Bryson Billapando, and team nutritionist Danielle LaFata visited the team’s hotels to check the kitchens and food options. One big thing on the list: avocados. The team downs an entire case each day—that’s 25 pounds of avo.


Hydration is even more important, especially given the climate. LaFata also stresses that timing of nutrition is key. She makes some pre-workout energy shooter drinks for the team, as well as personally blending smoothies for each player post-game that take into account both the player’s body weight and the amount of time they played. 

U.S. midfielder Kyle Beckerman approves. He tells AP,

[pullquote]“I think [Coach Jurgen Klinsmann] has really taken the U.S. national team in terms of all of those things to another level. You just really trust in what you’re eating. You know that whatever you’re eating, it’s giving you the best thing to recover and to be at your top level come practice or game time.”[/pullquote]

So what kind of physical demands are World Cup players facing? 

In 2005, FIFA put out a handy guide called the F-MARC Nutrition Guide for Football, which they’ve kept up to date with the latest in sports nutrition information. In it, FIFA explicitly states:

“Football is a game of intermittent work. Players generally perform low intensity activities for more than 70% of the game, but heart rate and body temperature measurements suggest that the total energy demand is high. The high energy demand may be partly explained by the repeated high intensity efforts that players are called upon to perform. A top class player performs about 150-250 brief intense actions during a game. These efforts place high demands on the anaerobic energy systems, and are a major factor in the fatigue that occurs at all stages of the game.”

The guide goes on to stress the importance of carbohydrates, calling them “the most important fuel for energy production.” (Tell that to your no-carb, no-fun friends.)

pasta [Photo: Beach Bum]

Then the guide aims to answer a question we’ve probably all wondered: just how much energy do World Cup players expend during the course of a game?

“The total distance run by a player during a game depends on many different factors, including the level of competition, the player’s position, the playing style, and fitness level of the individual. At the elite level, male outfield players typically cover about 10-13 km, making football an endurance sport. The physical demands are increased by the fact that more than 600 m are covered at sprinting speed and about 2.4 km at high intensity. Over the whole duration of the game, heart rate is about 85% of the maximum rate and the oxygen demand is about 70% of the maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max). These values suggest that the total energy cost of a game for a typical player weighing about 75 kg would be about 1800 kcal (about 5.5 MJ).”

That’s a lot of tricolore pasta.

[via FIFADelawareOnline, AP]