Football Nutrition & Sports Supplements for Footballers
The game of football or soccer as it is also known, is played by many millions of people all around the world and is recognised as one of the most physically complex sports there is, combining the need for high levels of skill, spatial awareness, game tactics, speed, physical power and endurance.
Did you know that in a typical football match a professional footballer can cover up to 10 to 11 kilometres, sprint for about 800 to 1200 metres, accelerate 40 to 60 times, and change direction every five seconds?
Such alternating fast and slow running patterns can easily deplete important leg-muscle fuel stores, known as glycogen.
Studies have shown that a professional footballer spends more than two-thirds of a typical match at 85 per cent of maximum heart rate and can deplete up to 90 per cent of their muscle glycogen – more than enough to cause significant athlete fatigue and dramatically reduce their ability to accelerate and run at speed.
Combining the right kind of training techniques with a well balanced nutritional programme is therefore essential if players are to optimise their footballing performance.
Football training programmes need to be demanding in order to build up the necessary levels of skill, strength, speed, agility and fitness; which means lots of energy, carbohydrate and fluids.
Sports science research has discovered that on average, footballers require between five and eight grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day in order to fuel training and fitness sessions, as well as preparation for games; making carbohydrate rich foods such as wholemeal bread, breakfast cereal, fresh or dried fruit, pasta, rice, fresh vegetables, natural yoghurt and sports bars a pre-requisite for meals and snacks.
Combining the right kind of training with a well balanced nutritional programme is essential if players wish to optimise their footballing performance
If, as a player, you are failing to meet these nutritional requirements your performance will almost certainly suffer, with mid-week slumps and a progressive loss of form over a season.
If you are a part-time professional or a keen amateur footballer, with a full-time job taking up most of your time, there are the added complications caused by fitting in training and matches; and often good nutrition habits are hard to stick to on a longer term basis.
Popular takeaway foods like curries, pizzas, chips and burgers can be a big danger, but they can also be the answer if the right choices are made.
During periods of particularly intense training it is important that you focus on recovery nutrition as soon as you finish a session.
Your aim should be to consume between 50 and 100 grams of carbohydrate within 30 minutes of finishing, with fluids being an important part of any recovery snack.
The following list will give you an indication of what 50g of carbohydrate looks like:
- 800ml sports drink
- Three medium sized portions of fresh fruit
- Two cereal bars
- Two 200g cartons of yoghurt (without added sugar or artificial sweeteners)
- One and a half cups of fruit salad with one tub of low fat unsweetened yoghurt
- 250-350ml fresh fruit smoothie
- One large bread roll
- Two pancakes with a topping of jam or maple syrup
- Three slices of toast with honey or jam
Maintaining your fitness levels
You should also watch what you eat and drink during the close season to prevent body fat levels from creeping up.
Physically eating less food is one way to counteract this; continued fitness training also helps, and playing another sport will assist in maintaining the status quo.
In football fluid needs are generally fairly high because of the intense “stop-and-go” nature of the game, with opportunities to take a drink during matches being limited, so it is important you are properly hydrated before kick-off, you make full use of any breaks in play such as injury stoppages, as well as half-time.
Specially formulated sports drinks are ideal, not only do they help to maintain correct levels of hydration, they also contain carbohydrate to assist with the replacement of vital energy stores, and small amounts of electrolytes (salts) to replace what has been lost during play.
When playing in hot conditions, extra attention needs to be given in this area, with refreshing fluids, kept as cool as possible, on hand to drink at every opportunity.
As dehydration adversely affects physical ability, skill, and decision-making function, it goes without saying that it has to be avoided at all costs.
Following a game or intense training session athlete fluid losses should always be carefully assessed – weighing before and after games will give a good indication of the amount of fluid loss, and is considered the best method – the lost fluids should ideally be replaced as quickly as possible.
What a player eats and drinks before a football game can also have a big impact on performance levels.
A pre-match meal is best consumed three to four hours before kick-off and it should ideally be high in carbohydrate and low in fat.
This should then be followed up with high-carbohydrate, low-fat sports snacks nearer kick-off time.
Consider the following as a typical footballers pre-match menu:
Three to four hours before kick-off: A bowl of rice or pasta with a low-fat sauce washed down with 400ml of fruit juice
Two hours before: A 200g low-fat yoghurt and small portion of dried fruit (40g)
One hour before: 500ml sports drink to assist with hydration needs
As we’ve already identified, there are genuinely very few opportunities for eating and drinking during a game, so you should make the most of the 15-minute half-time break to consume fluids, and a sports drink is the best option, providing not only liquid but also vital carbohydrate, which is ideal at a time when rehydration is the main priority.
Post match nutrition and recovery
After a match or an intense training session it is essential that you recover body carbohydrate and fluid stores before the next session.
The recovery process is vitally important and there are no two ways about it; footballers need to recover properly, especially if they want to keep their body fighting-fit and in the best possible shape.
There are three golden rules to a footballers successful rehabilitation; and we refer to them as the three R’s:
Bodily carbohydrate stores (glycogen) must be quickly restored to allow performance levels to be maintained – the optimum time to restore muscle glycogen stores is during the first hour after a match or training and this is when you need to consume carbohydrates.
If you do not replenish glycogen stores adequately however, recovery may well be affected leading to unwanted fatigue and poor performances may then follow.
Carbohydrate-rich foods are key in helping to quickly replenish lost muscle glycogen stores. It is equally important during weeks of heavy training.
During this post match recovery time it is also vital to include some form of lean protein source to aid muscle tissue repair and growth.
A snack of, for example, a chicken salad roll taken with a sports drink, or a bowl of breakfast cereal with dried fruit and milk could also be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing a football match, or, indeed, a training session, helping to replace lost carbohydrate, protein and fluid.
The next meal, preferably within three to four hours of the final whistle, should see a resumption of your normal eating patterns, with carbohydrate, protein and fluids again the essential ingredients.
Want to get involved in football?
If you’re not currently involved in football as a recreational activity or at a competitive level and are keen to learn more about taking part then read on. Here we’ve brought together a number of useful links to football organisations that may be able to help you.
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