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Body Composition on Athletic Performance

The speed, strength and endurance of elite soccer players are often addressed by traditional training methods. However, one anthropometric factor that can help improve all of these qualities may be overlooked.

We know that players are getting faster, with speed being the differentiating factor in performance. While the upward trend we are seeing is most likely due to speed and strength training becoming a bigger component of soccer fitness. Top athletes are flat out becoming more athletic.

Natural selection at its finest.

As for the one factor that I alluded to above that can help improve these qualities across the board?

Body composition.

With the Whitecaps, we advocate a general range of 4-10% body fat for adequate performance and recovery measures. Here are a couple of points to consider, outlined in Changes in Body Fat Content of Top-Level Soccer Players that was published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.

Fat Don’t Fly:

Body composition is an important aspect of fitness for soccer as excess adipose tissue acts as dead weight in activities where body mass must be lifted repeatedly against gravity

Ostojic and Zivanic (2001) reported that in elite Serbian soccer players the main improvements in the sprint times were associated with reduction in body fat percentage. As body fat content decreased during the season, players became faster.

If there is excess body weight that is not directly contributing to your speed and power, lose it.

Increase fat loss during in-season:

Soccer players lost more fat during the competitive phase than conditioning period reaching lowest levels at the end of the season.

While this can be a good stat for those athletes that need to lose body fat, there should be some caution if an athlete gets too low (<4%).  At these low percentages, you may find an increase in joint laxity which can put the athlete at an increased risk for injury.

There should be an expectation in place that an athlete’s body composition must be under control so performance qualities are at their top levels.  Keep in mind what type of athlete you are dealing with as this range (4-10%) will not be universal. This range will be dependent on level of play, gender, age, etc. Intermittent checks on an athlete’s body composition can help understand what type of dietary changes, if any, need to be made to boost performance.