Imagine running a distance of 8-12 miles at a moderate to high intensity in 90 minutes, while playing a game where even a single play could be the difference between winning and losing for your team. This is the level of exercise and athletic ability required of soccer players. So it is no surprise that this aerobic and anaerobic workload places a high demand on a player’s musculoskeletal, cardiac, and central nervous systems. For this reason, recovery is extremely important for a player following a soccer match so that performance can be maximized in future matches, risk of injury is reduced, and the overall accumulative fatigue experienced throughout a soccer season can be managed.
Physical therapists at HSS work closely with athletic training staff to address the immediate needs of a player after a match, including:
- Managing musculoskeletal injuries, like strains, sprains and contusions;
- Using icing and compression techniques to reduce pain and swelling, and encourage muscle recovery;
- Using joint mobilization techniques and manual and massage therapy to restore full range of motion before a player returns to high-level training.
- Provide rehab and exercise programs for athletes to promote recovery from injury, returning them not just to their previous level of function, but stronger as well.
Recovery starts as soon as the game is over. While there is great emphasis on warming up before a game, we often neglect the cool down after the game. A series of static stretches can be done as a team and should focus on the quadriceps, hips, hamstrings, and calves. After the immediate recovery, you can consider an active recovery later that day or the next day. These activities can include aquatic exercise, light aerobic exercise, regenerative yoga, or other low-impact activities to increase circulation and decrease muscle soreness. The body needs some assistance to promote recovery. These areas typically focus on three main categories: hydration, nutrition, and rest.
Hydration: It is important to ensure that players adequately replenish fluid and electrolytes that were depleted during a match. Although the amount of fluids required for recovery varies from player to player, it is vital that each individual re-hydrates back to their baseline level following training sessions and matches.
Nutrition: Proper nutrition allows glycogen that is depleted during a soccer match to be restored. High quality carbohydrates and protein are important immediately after a game to help rebuild and repair muscle damage. For high effort matches that require quick recovery, aim for a snack or small meal with easy-to-digest carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein within 30 to 60 minutes, such as a smoothie, sandwich, yogurt and fruit, or chocolate milk. Continue to eat well-balanced meals throughout the rest of the day.
Rest: Although players may have difficulty unwinding after the intensity and thrill of a soccer match, a good night’s sleep is essential for the body to recover and for muscle rebuilding and regeneration to occur.
While these core recovery techniques are essential to a player following a match, it is also extremely important for trainers and athletic staff to understand that each player is different and so is his or her optimal recovery strategy. The player, medical staffs, and coaching staffs must all work together to maximize recovery, maintain high-level performance, and reduce the risk of injury.
Updated March 25, 2020
Aaron Karp, MS, ATC, CSCS is an exercise physiologist at the Tisch Sports Performance Center and HSS Brooklyn. He received his bachelor’s in kinesiology from UMass Amherst and master’s in athletic training from Texas A&M University,and is both a certified athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist.