Nutrition for Football
Welcome to our all-encompassing guide, where we explore the world of nutrition and its power to elevate your performance on the football pitch. As avid football enthusiasts, we recognize the crucial role nutrition plays in boosting both your on-field abilities and overall health. Drawing from reputable scientific studies and resources from sports dietitians, we offer expert guidance on nutrition strategies to help elevate your football game.
Fueling Your Body For FOOTBALL
Football is a highly intermittent sport that involves bursts of high intensity output such as jumping and sprinting, followed by a constant baseline of aerobic activity where the player is jogging or walking on the pitch. Professional footballers cover on average 11-13 km of ground per match depending on position (1).
Football's varying energy requirements underscore the importance of carbohydrates as the main energy source for both training and match performance. A balanced diet consisting of lean proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, is also crucial for a football player's overall well-being and performance. It's equally important to customise food and fluid intake to align with individual training intensity and match timings, recognizing that nutritional needs differ from one player to another.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source that powers your body, which is then broken down into glucose and then stored in the form of glycogen in your muscles (~500g) and liver (~100g) (3). It’s crucial for football players to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates to keep glycogen stores topped up so they have the energy required for training and matches. When players have low glycogen stores, it may impact overall performance and increase the risk of injury.
Complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, pasta, starchy vegetables and legumes, offer a gradual and sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream, facilitating prolonged energy availability. Conversely, simple carbohydrates, such as fruits, muesli bars, and honey sandwiches, provide rapid but short-lived spikes in blood glucose levels, resulting in rapid energy release.
Football involves muscle stress and recovery periods. Protein emerges as a key player, aiding in muscle repair and growth. Make sure to incorporate lean protein sources such as lean meats, poultry, fish, and legumes into your diet. Distributing protein intake across your meals facilitates consistent recovery. To ensure sufficient protein synthesis and recovery, it is essential to consume an appropriate daily protein intake. Findings in the 2020 study, suggests that football players' protein requirements fall within the range of 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day from high-quality protein. Additionally, during brief periods of intense training, this requirement may be elevated to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (4).
A food first approach is always encouraged, however if players are struggling to meet their daily protein requirements, supplementing with protein shakes such as SCI-MX Ultra Whey is a great option. Our Ultra Whey shake provides 35g protein per serving with 3 sources of whey protein – concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate.
Football players are generally advised to consume around 30% of their daily caloric intake from fat sources. During regular high volume training, players caloric intake from fats can be up to 50% (4). Fat serves as a vital energy source and facilitates the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. While the direct impact of fat on exercise performance remains inconclusive, it plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy testosterone levels. Insufficient fat intake in one's diet can have detrimental effects on overall health, potentially leading to reduced absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and decreased muscle glycogen storage capacity (4).
Unsaturated fats, or most commonly known as healthy fats are found in avocados, salmon, olive oil, nuts, seeds, nut butters and oily fish.
Vitamins and minerals
The paper, Energy Requirements and Nutritional Strategies for Male Soccer Players: A Review and Suggestions for Practice, highlights the role of vitamins and minerals in football nutrition. Antioxidant-rich foods like colorful fruits and vegetables combat oxidative stress, while minerals like calcium and magnesium support muscle function and recovery.
Hydration is paramount in football, impacting both physical and cognitive functions. Dehydration can lead to decreased performance and decision-making ability. Regular intake of water and electrolyte-infused beverages should be consumed during extended matches to replenish vital minerals that are lost through sweat. In hot, high-intensity conditions, excessive sweating can pose challenges. Although drinking opportunities are limited during matches, staying well-hydrated before the game is crucial in combating fatigue and dehydration during play (2).
For improved performance it is routinely suggested to consume high amounts of carbohydrates 24 hours prior to match day to maximise muscle glycogen stores. Footballers should aim to consume 6-8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight during the 24 hour lead up. Carbohydrates must be consumed at every meal opportunity to try and achieve a high carbohydrate load. Adequate hydration is strongly advised also as water is a critical component in glycogen storage (1).
A convenient easy option to boost carbohydrate intake is with SCI-MX’s Cream of Rice. Each serving provides 38g of fast acting carbohydrates and 23 vitamins and minerals. Simply add water, microwave and enjoy.
The half-time break offers a chance to consume carbohydrates, particularly beneficial for high-workload players like midfielders. Quick, easy-to-eat options like chopped fruit or muesli bars are recommended, but specialised sports nutrition products like energy bars and sports drinks can also suffice. Consuming half of a protein bar like the SCI-MX Ultra Mass Bar is a quick and easy carbohydrate fuelled option. While water remains a priority, sports drinks with electrolytes can benefit players with high energy demands and fluid losses during intense matches (2).
The 2022 review observed muscle glycogen levels decrease to approximately 43% of players pre-match levels following a match. This reduction persists significantly for more than 24 hours after the match (1). Therefore, it’s essential football players prioritise carbohydrates post match to help restore glycogen levels and aid in muscle recovery and repair. As well as carbohydrates, players should prioritise consuming protein to further aid muscle repair. A convenient option to help with post-match recovery are carbohydrate and protein rich shakes such as the SCI-MX Total Mass protein powder which provides 81g carbs and 32g of protein per serving.
The recovery meal or snack should be consumed promptly after exercise, recognizing that the importance of recovery nutrition extends well beyond the initial post-workout hours, especially when facing consecutive training sessions or games. Hydration, mainly through water, should be prioritised based on estimated fluid losses. Minerals lost through sweat can be replaced with electrolyte based drinks, further supporting post-match recovery. Some recommended recovery food options include a chicken, avocado, and salad sandwich, a dairy-based fruit smoothie, yoghurt with muesli, nuts, and seeds, or burritos with beef, cheese, avocado, and salad (2).
Empower your football journey with our insights sourced from scientific articles and dietetic resources. By adopting evidence-based nutritional strategies, you can elevate your skills, enhance your endurance, and promote overall wellness. Remember, every player is unique; listen to your body, make informed nutritional choices, and seek professional guidance to unlock your full potential on the field. With the right nutrition, combined with relentless training and dedication, you're poised to achieve remarkable success and savour the joys of football.
We advise players should always collaborate with Accredited Sports Dietitians to optimise their nutrition strategies during training and matches, tailoring food choices to individual requirements.
- Hulton, A.T. et al. (2022) Energy requirements and nutritional strategies for male soccer players: A review and suggestions for practice, Nutrients. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8838370/ (Accessed: 21 September 2023).
- Food for soccer (2019) Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). Available at: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/food-for-your-sport/food-for-your-sport-soccer/ (Accessed: 21 September 2023).
- Jensen, J. et al. (2011) The role of skeletal muscle glycogen breakdown for regulation of insulin sensitivity by exercise, Frontiers in physiology. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3248697/ (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
- Książek, A., Zagrodna, A. and Słowińska-Lisowska, M. (2020) Assessment of the dietary intake of high-rank professional male football players during a preseason training week, International journal of environmental research and public health. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7699180/ (Accessed: 22 September 2023).