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Match Day Football Nutrition Guide

10/12/2019
JD

The days of rocking up to a match after eating a little bit of what you fancy and then hoping to go out on to the pitch and perform at your best for 90 minutes are long gone. That is whether you are a professional football player or simply having a run out for your local team on a Saturday/Sunday.

Nutrition is an area of football performance capability that is not down to skill, fitness, game awareness and is therefore an easy win for players to ensure they are giving themselves the best opportunity to support their performance. Moving forward this guide is targeted at adult football players who regularly engage in training/competitive matches, whilst also helping to educate coaches and support staff. Highlighted within this article are the key themes for each phase of match day nutrition:

Section 1 – Preparation
  • Carbohydrate
  • Hydration
  • Supplement Considerations
Section 2 – Performance
  • Carbohydrate
  • Hydration
  • Ergogenic Aids
Section 3 – Recovery
  • Replenishment
  • Repair
  • Rehydration
  • Recovery Aid

Download The Match Day Football Nutrition Guide

Preparation
(1) Carbohydrate: The Day Before Match Day

This is a simple step that many players may miss out on. With the repeated high intensity efforts needed within a match, simply relying upon your dietary intake on the day of a game will leave you short changed and struggling to optimise your performance. You may not be running a marathon (thankfully!), but an increased carbohydrate consumption based upon the required football expenditure should be a strategy you should consider having in place. 

As I like to give readers an evidence-informed approach, what does the scientific research suggest regarding acute fuelling strategies for football players?

Well, the match demands on elite players may vary due to position, but research has found that players can cover between 9 to 12km (some players maybe even more), with approximately 1350 activities and around 220 high intensity runs.

Players become progressively fatigued throughout the game, with a decrease in high intensity activities (e.g. sprinting performance). Due to the intermittent bouts of high activity within football, carbohydrate stores (glycogen) reduce during a match. At an individual fibre level a great amount of fibres are either partly empty or completely empty. Of particular note is the depletion of Type IIx fibres (fast twitch fibres) and this can explain as to why sprint performance is reduced as a game goes on.

But don’t worry! This is where your nutrition strategy can help out …

As carbohydrate plays an important role in football performance, it is important that players boost their carbohydrate stores the day before and day of a game, when compared to typical carbohydrate intakes during the training week. But how much carbohydrate should players be consuming?

One view put forward is that in preparation for events less than 90 minutes the consumption of carbohydrate intake around 7 to 12g per kg of body mass per 24 hours as for daily needs – quite a range though right?!  A suggested guideline that I work from is the consumption of 7 to 10g per kg of body mass.

So far example, a 70 kg player the day before a game could consume approximately 490g to 700g. For a player to achieve approximately 500g shouldn’t too much of an ask. A carbohydrate loading strategy for outfield players could therefore incorporate carbohydrate source(s) within all meals (increased portion size compared to training days) and snacks throughout the day and pre-bed.

The above numbers should be tailored to the needs of the individual and inform a sensible carbohydrate intake strategy. Furthermore, individuals who may just play for fun at a weekend may wish to lower the recommended guidelines. However, this guide is targeted at the adult player who regularly plays football and is looking to optimise their game day performance.

Below are the carbohydrate contents of example food sources that a player may consider consuming within their strategy. If players struggle to take on board sufficient carbohydrate due to limited appetite, then considering fluid carbohydrate sources could be a possible solution (e.g. flavoured milk, fruit juice and sports drinks). Players opting for a high fat, low carbohydrate diet will be putting high intensity performance at risk.

Although I shall not mention in depth the other macronutrients, you may typically find that suggested daily protein intake for footballers would be around 1.6 to 2.2g per kg of body mass and daily fat approximately 1.0 to 1.2g per kg of body mass. Research in elite footballers shows this may vary and may actually be potentially higher (particularly during intensive training/competition periods).

For competition it is important that carbohydrate is prioritised, due to the high intensity nature of football match play. Therefore in preparation for games players should not over consume protein and fat at the expense of carbohydrate.

What about goalkeepers? Do they have the same fuelling requirements as outfield players? The average daily expenditure of an elite premier league goalkeeper is around 600kcal less than in comparison to elite outfield players. The elite premier league goalkeeper also self-selected carbohydrate intakes of 2.5g per kg of body mass per day in training and 3.5g per kg of body mass per day for match days. Goalkeepers should opt for a sensible carbohydrate intake taking into account their lower expenditure compared to outfield players. However, further research is needed on carbohydrate intakes for goalkeepers.

“When loading up on carbohydrate does it matter if intake is via high glycemic index (HGI) or low glycemic index (LGI) foods?”

First, let me give you an example of both. Common LGI options are wholegrains and vegetables, whereas HGI choices may be white rice, white bread or sugary items. Research has shown that within a 24 hour period greater glycogen storage may be achieved with HGI foods. Opting for solely consuming LGI options may result in greater fibre intake than compared to HGI options. This could influence carbohydrate absorption and potentially reduce overall carbohydrate consumption due to the satiating effect (feeling of fullness) of fibre.

Opting for LGI options in day to day training diet is obviously beneficial for health, but don’t think this would put health at risk integrating HGI options in for competition preparation or during recovery.  Personal preference may include integrating a mix of both HGI and LGI, but the important message is to not perceive HGI as an unhealthy option within a pre-match fuelling strategy. Additionally, protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, therefore do not over consume protein as this could suppress appetite resulting in reduced total intake of carbohydrate. 

Match Day

Now that we have addressed the day before the match, attention now turns to competition day. The big day has arrived and it is time to top up the energy levels at breakfast. Liver glycogen will have reduced overnight, so this will need to be topped up, as well as another opportunity to top up muscle glycogen. The primary focus of the breakfast meal will be a carbohydrate focus, with moderate protein and low in fat. This will also be a similar theme throughout the day with carbohydrate snacks and the pre-match meal.

 

Guidelines suggest the consumption of a pre-match meal containing 1 to 4g per kg of body mass of carbohydrate in the 1 to 4 hours prior to competition. From experience the pre-match meal will be around 2 – 3g per kg of body mass, although appetite may vary amongst individuals. Carbohydrate snacks throughout the day and prior to a game can provide a further boost to carbohydrate energy stores. A focus at meals/snacks should be upon easily digestible carbohydrate sources. Example sources are included within the above infographics. Opt for sources that you know that you handle well and cause no gastro-intestinal discomfort. It is not advisable to try new foods around competition time.

Players may then continue to top up energy levels en route to competition likely via a carbohydrate snack around 60mins pre-match (e.g. granola bar, flapjack or sports drink) or intra-warm up (sports drink and/or energy gel). If appetite is suppressed (e.g. pre-match nerves) sports drinks and gels can be a convenient source of carbohydrate with minimal chewing required.

It is also important to comment on the other components of pre-competition meal (e.g. early lunch for a 3pm kick off), as it is unlikely the individual will solely be eating carbohydrate. Although a high quality protein serve is recommended for daily muscle growth and repair, this serving is to be moderate. Over consumption of protein will suppress appetite and potential lead to the underconsumption of the required carbohydrate for fuelling. Furthermore, high protein, fat and fibre intakes may slow digestion which poses the risk of gastro-intestinal discomfort during the match – no-one wants this! The inclusion of fresh fruit or salad can aid general health (which is certainly a key focus within normal weekly training nutrition), however consider limiting higher fibre options within the pre-match meal.

Struggling for meal or snack recipe ideas? Then check out the recipes page.

(2) Hydration

Although not as expansive as the other sections it is still just as important. In the preparation period players should look to maintain hydration in the build up to competition. Good habits may include accompanying meals with a fluid source (e.g. glass of water), being mindful of hydration throughout the day (e.g. keeping fluid sources on the work desk/in your bag), replenishing electrolyte losses (especially if active) and considering the consumption of carbohydrate fluid sources to aid the topping up of carbohydrate energy stores if required. 

With regards to a target daily fluid intake, the required intake for the individual may vary from player to player. This can be dependent upon body mass, activity, climate and individual sweat rate. If individuals consume fluid with all meals and are mindful to drink throughout the day then they will typically maintain hydration. Urine colour could also provide some approximate feedback upon hydration status when inactive (see above).

For individuals that regularly consume coffee, this can contribute also to fluid intake. However, it is advisable not to consume caffeine greater than 4mg per kg of body mass, as higher than this may impair hydration status. Additionally, consider the timing of caffeine ingestion so as not to impair sleep the night prior to competition. A solution is potentially limiting caffeine consumption from mid-afternoon. Also, consider avoiding the consumption of alcohol prior to competition due to its diuretic effects. No-one wants to be out there playing football with a hangover – and no you are not kick starting your recovery with the antioxidants in that bottle of red wine!

(3) Supplementation Considerations

Before we get into discussing potential considerations, let us first define what a supplement actually is:

“A food, food component, nutrient, or non-food compound that is purposefully ingested in addition to the habitually consumed diet with the aim of achieving a specific health and/or performance benefit” – IOC Consensus Statement (2018)

Prior to even considering the use of supplements an individual should look to optimise their dietary intake first. Then, if the need for supplementation has been identified, it is important that an individual opts for evidence-based supplements. No, not what is the latest claim in your fitness magazine or on social media, but supplements that are backed by scientific research.

When selecting a product ensure that it contains no prohibited substances and abides by the WADA Anti-Doping Code. It is not only professional athletes that must abide by anti-doping rules, but all athletes. Here is an example of the UK anti-doping sanctions (data compiled May 2019). So if considering supplementation, work your way through the SENr supplement decision tree.

Informed-Sport is a quality assurance programme for sports nutrition products. The website displays all products that have undergone anti-doping testing. This is the place therefore to check that any product you consider is listed along with its product batch number. If the product and the batch number are not listed, do not consider using this supplement.

If an individual were to choose to integrate supplements within their nutrition strategy where does science stand with regards to what might be useful for the football players during the preparation period prior to competition? Please note acute supplement considerations (day of competition) will be considered in the performance section.

If considering supplementation, first trial the supplement within training to ensure that there are no negative side effects. Do not trial a supplement strategy for the first time during competition! If no side effects are noted during training, consider whether to implement this within the competition strategy. Additionally, you do not have to integrate all supplements discussed below. I am simply highlighting evidence-based supplements that may be considered. Any options implemented should be upon an individual basis, taking into account the needs of the individual.

Note: Under 18 players should focus on optimising dietary intake instead of utilising supplements. If 18 years old or over, consult the advice of a nutrition professional regarding supplements.

Work Capacity
Creatine Monohydrate

This supplement is one of the most researched supplements and has been shown to be effective for performance when athletes are engaging in intermittent bout activity (repeated short-term, high intensity activity). Why is this? During intense exercise phosphocreatine (PCr) stores become depleted, which reduces the ability to maintain high-intensity effort, as energy (ATP) cannot be created rapidly to maintain performance. Supplementing with creatine monohydrate increases muscle creatine content, therefore aiding the resynthesis of phosphocreatine (PCr).

Creatine is produced naturally within the body and can also be consumed through dietary intake via meat and fish. However, such methods may not be optimal to fully saturate muscle creatine content. To rely on muscle saturation from dietary sources would require a great amount of meat/fish consumption, which could require excessive protein intake, and not to mention some financial expense! Therefore, this may not be considered a practical creatine loading strategy. Instead to saturate muscle creatine stores an athlete may opt for creatine monohydrate supplementation. This would require consumption to commence prior to competition, where the individual would consume creatine monohydrate over a period of time.

There are typically two loading approaches utilised:

  • Fast Load

The consumption of 20g creatine monohydrate for 5 days split into 4 doses per day (e.g. 5g x 4 doses per day) to saturate the muscle. Following this loading phase a daily maintenance of 3 – 5g per day is consumed.

  • Slow Load

Consumption of 3 – 5g creatine monohydrate per day. This will take approximately 4 weeks to achieve muscle saturation.

Does it matter which loading strategy you implement? No, one approach will just achieve muscle saturation quicker than the other. However, both approaches will eventually lead to muscle saturation.

Beta-Alanine

Benefits of beta-alanine consumption have included an increased work output of high-intensity intermittent bout activity lasting 30 seconds to 10 minutes. This can therefore be of potential benefit to football players during repeated high-intensity efforts within a match.

First, we must appreciate the role of carnosine. Carnosine within the muscle plays an important role in buffering, as during intense activity the muscle will decrease muscle pH (increase in acidity) due to the accumulation of hydrogen ions. However, a limiting factor in the synthesis of carnosine is beta-alanine. Therefore, by supplementing with beta-alanine an improvement in intracellular buffering capacity is brought about via increased carnosine muscle content.

Supplementation strategy:

3.2 to 6.4g per day via a split dose approach. For example, daily intake may be based upon the consumption of 0.8 to 1.6g beta-alanine every 4 hours. This would be consumed over a 4 to 12 week period.

Some individuals may cite paresthesia (tingling sensation) when supplementing with beta-alanine. To limit the occurrence, it is suggested to opt for a slow-release formula and to supplement at the lower range of the recommended protocols within the research. If the paresthesia is negatively impacting upon preparation/performance/health, then do not use beta-alanine supplementation.

Nitrate (Beetroot Juice)

Potentially a supplement that not too many players may have heard of or may have not of thought of integrating into their nutrition strategy. Nitrate is naturally found in food sources such as rocket, spinach, pak choi and beetroot. With beetroot being such an abundant source of nitrate, recent supplementation advancement has seen the creation of concentrated beetroot shots (e.g. Beet It – remember ensure any product considered is Informed Sport). For those interested in integrating dietary sources into their strategy, below are the nitrate contents of example food sources.

But why would nitrate help enhance performance? When team-sport athletes supplemented with nitrate research has found an improved performance in short duration maximal sprinting and high intensity running. Such an improvement is thought to be based upon the ability of type II muscle to increase force production. Supplemental strategies typically used within the research have used supplement protocols of 5 – 9mmol nitrate for 2 – 6 days. If any negative side effects are experienced then supplementation should be stopped.

Even when consuming all nitrate via foods sources an improvement in exercise performance has been noted. However, with regards to nitrate food sources around competition it is important to ensure that such an approach does not negatively impact upon gastro-intestinal comfort, as some nitrate sources may elevate fibre intake which is usually kept relatively low to moderate around competition. However, during day to day (training) nutrition nitrate via vegetables and fruit are a good consideration for health.

Recovery
Tart Montmorency Cherry

There is now a lot of interest around integrating ‘functional’ foods within the diet for exercise performance, recovery and health. As with all the above supplements discussed, initially a food-first approach is the desired strategy. Integrating a wide range of vegetables and fruits will provide nutrient density to diet. However, to achieve the desired content of certain nutrients may require excessive food consumption that simply may not be practical or appealing. Therefore certain evidence-based supplements may be considered. 

One such approach that has shown mixed results with regards to aiding recovery is the consumption tart Montmorency cherry juice – a high anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant source rich in polyphenols. A 30ml concentrated cherry juice product is reported to be the equivalent of 90 whole cherries. Research suggests that loading the week of competition/activity (e.g. 4 days), the competition/activity day and following competition (e.g. 3 days) has aided recovery via decreased muscle soreness and accelerated recovery of muscle function. For more upon recovery from competition via alternative dietary sources please see section 3 – ‘Recovery’.

Although a decrease in muscle soreness and improved muscle function recovery may be cited within some research, it is worth noting that the design of studies may vary which can explain the mixed results of the discussed interventions upon muscle recovery and caution is therefore required with regards to the effectiveness of potential interventions. As previously mentioned, ensuring the diet has a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in anti-oxidants (e.g. dark coloured fruits) is a sensible approach to assist recovery.

Download The Match Day Football Nutrition Guide

Performance

The whistle has blown and attention now turns to performance. How can nutrition support high-intensity performance so that the football player can perform to their optimum? Here are three key themes to consider:

(1) Carbohydrate

As we discussed in the preparation section, football match play, particularly the high-intensity actions, is primarily fuelled by carbohydrate. Therefore, to maintain blood glucose and spare muscle carbohydrate stores (glycogen) carbohydrate ingestion during the match should be considered.

“Does it matter in what form of carbohydrate I utilise?”

No, as fluid (e.g. sports drink), semi-solid (e.g. gel) or solid (e.g. bar) are used for energy at the same rate. Therefore, what you utilise will be based upon personal preference and convenience. It is recommended that you are familiar with whichever option(s) you use, to minimise the risk of any negative side effects e.g. gastro-intestinal issues. To avoid such an outcome, trial your option within training first.

Due to the nature of football match play there are limited opportunities to take on board some fuel. Therefore, once the game has kicked off there are only typically two opportunities to top up carbohydrate:

  • During breaks in play (e.g. player receiving treatment or substitution)
  • Half-Time

Research suggests carbohydrate ingestion for activity lasting 1 to 2 hours to be approximately 30g to 60g per hour. 

(2) Hydration

Ensure you start the match in a hydrated state. The primary source of fluid loss during a match is via sweating, which is a process that aids the dissipation of heat from activity. However, failing to replenish fluids losses and maintain hydration can lead to negative effects upon cognition, performance and health (e.g. cardiovascular strain).

It is therefore important to commence your hydration strategy with breakfast by accompanying your meal with fluid (e.g. water or fruit juice). Continue to mindful of hydration throughout the day and also accompany your pre-match meal with fluid. En route to the game, and during your warm up, you may also be sipping on fluid to aid hydration – don’t rapidly drink the fluid as you don’t want to bring about increased urination losses. Aiming to start the match with a pale straw like urine colour is a good rough gauge of hydration status (see above).  Athletes should look to lose no more than 2% of body mass during competition in order to avoid the negative effects of dehydration.

Sweat also contains electrolytes, with sodium being the primary electrolyte lost, with also lesser amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Therefore, when rehydrating consider the replenishment of electrolyte losses. An individual’s sweat composition is highly individual, which also makes it hard to give specific recommendations. 

Sweat rate too can be highly individual, which makes it hard to again give specific recommendations. Sweat rate can be influenced by activity duration, activity intensity, environmental conditions and clothing/equipment worn, as well as individual characteristics such as body weight, genetic predisposition, heat acclimatisation state and metabolic efficiency. Intra-match there are limited opportunities to consume fluid and players are therefore encouraged to take on board some fluid at half-time (e.g. water, water and electrolyte, sports drinks) and during breaks of play where appropriate (e.g. player receiving treatment or during a substitution).

As discussed within the above carbohydrate section, consideration may be given to the use of a carbohydrate sports drink during the match. This is due to it possessing carbohydrate (top up energy stores) and fluid/electrolytes (aid hydration). If fuelling prior to the match has been sub-optimal (e.g. reduced appetite, lack of accessible food options, travel issues) regularly swilling the carbohydrate sports drink in the mouth (mouth rinse), and then ingesting the fluid, potentially may provide a performance benefit via stimulation of receptors which send signals to the brain. If playing in a cup game, where extra-time is a possibility, then this is certainly an approach you may wish to consider to help maintain performance.

(3) Ergogenic Aids

As the more chronic supplement considerations have been covered in the preparation section of this guide, I shall now discus acute supplementation strategies that can be implemented prior to kick off or intra-match. There are two particular ergogenic aids that may be worth considering:

Carbohydrate

As previously mentioned within this performance section, the repeated high-intensity efforts of football shall primarily be fuelled by carbohydrate. In order to maintain blood glucose and preserve muscle glycogen stores, it is worth considering the consumption of carbohydrate during the match. For further information, please refer back up to ‘carbohydrate’ within this performance section.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can benefit performance via an increase in alertness, decrease in the perception of effort and decrease in reaction time.

A commonly consumed source of caffeine is coffee. If wanting your coffee to have an impact upon your performance, then consider consumption around 90 mins prior to a match. An approximate target of caffeine to consume would be 3mg per kg of body. But how do you know your chosen coffee will reach this target?

Well the caffeine content within coffee can vary considerably depending upon two main factors:

(1) Industry Control
Coffee variety, bean preparation, amount of bean roasted and form of roasting.

(2) Extraction variables under the control of the technician
Water temperature, water pressure, grinding grade, amount of coffee ground and the amount of pressure (tamping) applied to coffee.

For example, 1 cup (8oz) of instant coffee roughly provides on average 60mg of caffeine (range 12-169mg), whereas a brewed coffee roughly contains 80mg (range 40-110mg). Regarding espresso coffee, an average coffee provides around 106mg of caffeine per serve. Interestingly, from a sample of 97 coffees purchased from coffee shops located within 5 different Australian shopping centres the caffeine content of espresso coffee was found to show great variability with caffeine ranging 24-214mg. Furthermore, the caffeine content of the same coffee option bought from the same coffee store can vary day to day in its caffeine content.

For those based in the UK and are regular visitors to high street coffee stores, here are some approximate data regarding caffeine content of coffee options.

With the difficulties in quantifying coffee caffeine content within your drink this potentially may not be the most appropriate pre-match method of caffeine consumption. Add to that the practical issues of accessing coffee due to travel and team requirements, whilst some it may even cite gastrointestinal issues. Having said that, if you find consuming coffee prepares you from a mental aspect and you look forward to your coffee and use it as a form of relaxation prior to competition, then stick with your usual preparation routine. 

For some supplementation may be the most convenient and suitable option. Above are 4 common options that may be considered. The fastest absorbed source would be via the chewing gum. The caffeine content of a UK caffeine gum product is approximately 85% absorbed within 10-15mins. The alternative caffeine options typically take a little longer for caffeine to reach peak concentration in the blood and are therefore consumed earlier (30-60 mins pre-match).

With regards to total dose, caffeine consumption of around  3mg per kg of body mass has been found within the scientific research to enhance performance.There has has been some support in the research for lower dose caffeine consumption <3mg kg of body mass (~200mg caffeine), although research has typically focussed on greater amounts than this.

It is important to exercise caution with regards to total consumption. The over-consumption of caffeine can bring some unwanted negative side effects, as intakes greater than 6mg/kg of body mass may cause jitters, headache, high heart rate, diuresis, nausea and in some unfortunate instances running to the toilet and not around the pitch!

“Will caffeine consumption enhance performance for all that take it?”

The answer to this in short – maybe not. This is due to the influence of an individuals genes (e.g. CYP1A2 gene) involved in the metabolism of caffeine. Some individuals may positively respond, some may not. For those that have not consumed caffeine, or typically consume limited caffeine day to day, it would be sensible to maybe opt for a low dose initially to see how they react and to avoid any negative side effects (if there were any negative side effects do not use this supplement strategy). As with any strategy trial it in training before use in competition. If opting for a supplement, ensure that this product is Informed Sport.

A question I often get asked regarding caffeine supplementation is whether there is a need to reduce, or remove, caffeine intake in the lead up to competition? Some individuals fear that their habitual coffee intake will dampen down their response if implemented as a performance strategy. However, such individuals need not worry, as the beneficial performance effects of caffeine consumption are still observed irrespective of whether prior caffeine withdrawal is imposed.

Download The Match Day Football Nutrition Guide

Recovery

The match is now complete. You are fatigued and hopefully celebrating a win! Your nutrition focus should now be upon optimising your recovery.

This starts with the 3 R’S:

  • Rehydrate (Fluid)
  • Repair (Protein)
  • Replenish (Carbohydrate)
(1) Rehydrate

Players will incur sweat losses during activity (e.g. warm up and match). As discussed in section two (‘Hydration’) an athletes sweat rate will be individual. Post-exercise hydration strategies put forward suggest the consumption of 125-150% of body mass (kg) loss during activity. The above infographic highlights such a rehydration protocol.

For example, if an individual were to lose 1kg during a match, this would require an approximate fluid intake of 1.25 to 1.5 litres (1kg x 1.25 or 1.5 = 1.25 litres to 1.5 litres).

The above infographic provides examples of fluid intake based upon 125-150% of body mass lost during activity. It is advisable during rehydration for fluid to be consumed over a period of time, as opposed to being drank rapidly and potentially leading to increased urination losses.

To effectively rehydrate it is important to not only replenish fluid loss, but also electrolyte loss. Sodium being the primary electrolyte lost, with also lesser amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Examples of electrolyte sources may include: electrolyte tablets added to water (Informed Sport products only), sports drinks (Informed Sport products only), milk (natural electrolyte content), salty snacks (e.g. salted pretzels) and seasoning food.

I must also point out that there are certain limitations for the above rehydration protocol (pre and post-match weighing).

  1. There is the assumption that the athlete is in a hydrated state prior to competition.
  2. Assumption that body mass loss is all fluid loss.
  3. Weighing scales may be inaccessible within the changing rooms.
(2) Repair

Protein plays an important role in the growth and repair of muscle, which makes it integral for adaptive remodelling of muscle. Ensuring sufficient protein intake throughout the day and after the match, as well as in the evening, is a good nutritional strategy to consider. A total daily protein intake of approximately 1.6 to 2.2g per kg of body mass (some may potentially reach around 2.0 to 2.2g per kg of body mass) may be a sensible target to cover the needs of the football player.

It is important to remember though to not over consume protein at expense of carbohydrate in the recovery period. I say this as protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, and may fill you up. Therefore consumed in excess protein could reduce overall calorie intake, as you may have no room for the other macronutrients due to a suppressed appetite.

Within 30mins post-match consider kick starting muscle recovery with around 0.4g per kg of body mass of protein. As appetite may be suppressed, and food accessibility impractical, the consumption of a fluid high quality protein source (e.g. milk, chocolate milk, whey protein) may be the most convenient option. This will be followed by the consumption of a similar protein feeding dosage later within your meal. Also the ingestion of a greater protein feeding, potentially derived from casein protein (e.g. Greek yoghurt) – a slow release protein, prior to sleep has been suggested due to the prolonged fasting period when sleeping in order to aid overnight muscle growth and repair.

(3) Replenishment

Football match play is characterised by repeated high-intensity efforts, separated by longer periods of lower intensity recovery. The intermittent high intensity efforts are primarily fuelled by carbohydrate. Therefore, come the end of match the carbohydrate stores (glycogen) are reduced and require replenishing.

Most non-professional players will be resting for the next 24 to 36 hours following a match with minimal activity, so there is less urgency to fully replenish stores at an optimal rate. However those players who may be competing again with shorter recovery e.g. weekend and mid-week fixtures, the ingestion of 1.0 to 1.2g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate per hour is suggested for the first 4 hours.

It is a sensible idea for all players to commence their recovery immediately following a match. Below is an example overview of what recovery may look for players with 1 game per week e.g. every Saturday afternoon (for those players playing 2 games per week, please see the ‘Recovery Bonus’ section below):

  • Within 30 mins of full time: Carbohydrate snack (0.8g/kg body mass) – Note: protein will be consumed also.
  • 60mins later: Meal with carbohydrate (1.0 to 1.2g/kg body mass) – Note: protein will typically be consumed too.
  • Evening Snack: Carbohydrate (1.0 to 1.2g/kg body mass)
    (Players may schedule another evening carbohydrate snack, especially if a congested fixture period)
  • Pre-Bed Snack: (0.8g/kg body mass) – Note: protein may be consumed also.

The form of carbohydrate (solid vs fluid) does not seem to influence the rate of muscle glycogen recovery. For those with reduced appetite and may typically struggle to take on board food during recovery, consider opting for easy to chew or fluid carbohydrate sources. Opting for HGI carbohydrate sources over LGI can facilitate greater glycogen replenishment in the short-term. However, if rapid replenishment is not needed e.g. activity within the next 8 to 24 hours, then a mix of HGI and LGI options may be preferred.

Research has also highlighted that the co-ingestion of protein and carbohydrate can be effective in aiding muscle glycogen synthesis when sub-optimal carbohydrate choices are available. If this is the case, a combined protein intake of 0.4g/kg of body mass and carbohydrate intake of 0.8g/kg of body mass can help with recovering glycogen stores.

With regards to post-match recovery, milk and flavoured milk have both been found within the scientific research to be great choices for recovery as they fit the criteria of the 3 R’S of recovery. It is not only recovery that milk can play a role, but also within health. If you are individual who fears that dairy is bad for your health, I have previously covered this common nutrition myth in a previous article.

Smoothies can provide an opportunity to supply the 3 R’S., as well as providing a decent amount of calories for recovery. Furthermore, there is the ability to enhance nutrient density of intake through the inclusion of fresh fruit, whilst frozen fruit and addition of ice can aid thermoregulation, particularly following competition in the heat. Above is an example infographic that works through the steps of tailoring a smoothie to an individuals demands and taste preferences.

(4) Recovery Aids

Ever felt sore in the hours or days after a game? Silly question! Well, high-intensity intermittent activity, as seen within football, results in what is called exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD). This can cause muscle soreness and a loss in muscle function. What you don’t want is for this soreness, or impaired muscle function, to stay around for days and impair training ability for the next week. Athletes have therefore turned there attention to recovery modalities with nutrition playing an important role.

The first consideration is optimising dietary intake. Players should be ensuring sufficient total energy intake. The expenditure of football players throughout a match day can be quite high, incorporating warm-up, matches, recovery and the influence of exercise-induced muscle damage, which should be considered within recovery nutrition.

As we have already covered the role of protein and carbohydrate within this recovery section, we shall now turn our attention to alternative nutrition sources. The intake of adequate intake of fruit and vegetables will provide a source of dietary polyphenols which play a beneficial role in recovery due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as providing nutrients important for health. For example, the consumption of dark fruits (e.g. blueberries, blackberries) for muscle recovery is often promoted.

Although a food first approach is always the preferred choice, such an approach may not be feasible if access to such foods is limited (e.g. travel), or if elevated intakes of a particular nutrient are desired. This is when supplementation may be considered. An approach often used in the management of exercise-induced muscle damage is the consumption of tart Montmorency cherries, with a common supplement choice being concentrated tart cherry juice (for more on cherry juice please refer back to section one – ‘Supplement Considerations’). Other considerations may be other dark coloured fruit sources including pomegranate and blackcurrant. Further considerations put forward to enhance muscle recovery are ensuring adequate consumption of omega-3 (food-first approach where possible), optimising vitamin D status and turmeric (curcumin) consumption. Although a decrease in muscle soreness and improved muscle function recovery may be cited within some research, it is worth noting that the design of studies may vary which can explain the mixed results of the discussed interventions upon muscle recovery and caution is therefore required with regards to the effectiveness of potential interventions. Continued research is required within this field.

Recovery Bonus: Short Recovery Time Between Matches

In some instances football matches may be played in quick succession. For example, some players may have a mid-week match and then a fixture on the weekend. Within professional football it is not uncommon during congested periods for players to play 3 games within 8 days. This can cause an issue with regards to recovery, as research suggests that it can take up to 5 days in some instances for the body to recover following match-play.

Such quick succession of matches and accumulation of fatigue can decrease performance, as well as increasing the susceptibility to injury and illness. Injury rate was found to be 6.2 times higher in those players who played twice, in comparison to those who played once. Interestingly, 76% of the reported injuries were due to overuse. It is therefore important to implement a recovery strategy of which nutrition can play an important role.

We have already discussed in the above section nutrition considerations for recovery, whilst also briefly mentioning an immediate match recovery carbohydrate nutrition strategy for players with short recovery due to another game within days (carbohydrate intake of 1.0 to 1.2g per kg of body mass per hour for the first four hours of recovery post-match). However, what about the days following the first match? It is therefore important to implement a specific daily strategy for the days in between matches.

The biggest consideration would be carbohydrate. As you are now aware, the intermittent bouts of high intensity efforts during a match put great demands upon carbohydrate energy stores. However, even when consuming a high carbohydrate diet post-match (10g per kg of body mass) 48 hours later players had insufficient restoration of muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores) compared to pre-match levels.

So what could be an evidence based strategy to implement? Well, research suggests the daily carbohydrate consumption of between 6 to 10g per kg of body mass, that should be tailored to individual needs. Protein plays an important role with muscle growth and repair, so it is important to optimise daily intake to optimise muscle recovery. Total daily protein recommendations suggest an intake of approximately 1.6 to 2.2g per kg of body mass, more than likely towards the 2.0 to 2.2g per kg of body mass. However, during intensified periods a higher protein intake (up to 3g per kg of body mass) has been shown to support immune health and aid recovery. Furthermore, a diet incorporating healthy fats and dense in micronutrients will provide a variety of nutrients to aid health and recovery.

We have now explored some of the key nutrition themes to consider regarding game day nutrition with particular focus upon preparation, performance and recovery. If looking to optimise your development and performance as a football player, do not underestimate the role nutrition can play.

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