There are hundreds of scientific studies showing that getting enough carbohydrate can improve performance across a range of sports but especially in football, if it is eaten in the right amounts at the right times.
Glucose, a type of carbohydrate, is the main fuel for exercising muscles and is stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. The higher the exercise intensity, the greater amounts of glycogen will be used. When glycogen stores are low or empty your ability to make good runs, tackle well or be accurate in front of goal will be affected. Unlike our stores of fat and protein, we have only small stores of carbohydrate and keeping a good level is often difficult for athletes.
As the season progresses you will be able to store more carbohydrates but even then you probably have enough stores to do you for 50–60 minutes and most of your matches and training sessions will be much longer than that.
How much you need will depend on what weight you are. A 70kg player (11 stone) should be trying to eat or drink at least 420grammes of carbohydrates per day. To do this you need to be having meals and snacks that are based around carbohydrates – see the ideas below.
The good thing is that these foods will also give you other things that are important e.g. fruit and vegetables will give you vitamins, minerals and fibre; milk or yogurt will also give you protein and calcium; pasta, rice and potatoes can be good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
You need to eat and drink directly after training (try to do this within 30 mins). This will help recovery. If you don’t get a meal after training, then bring a carton of milk and a banana with you or a carton of milkshake, yogurt or smoothie would be good.
Immediately after training, it is recommended that carbohydrate intake to aid recovery should be approximately 1g / kg body weight.
Getting food and fluid in after training and matches will refuel the muscles and prepare them for your next training session. If you only have a short time between sessions (for example, training on both a Saturday and Sunday), then you need to really make sure that you eat / drink carbohydrates as soon as you can after training (see ‘Getting your timing right’).
It’s easy to forget about your eating habits on rest days but often these are just as important because these are your recovery days.
2 medium pieces of fruit or 1 large banana
60g of raisins
410g tin of fruit salad
150g baked beans* (small can of baked beans is 200g)
1 corn on the cob or small tin of sweet corn
1 bowl of homemade vegetable soup
1 medium baked potato
1 round of sandwiches (meat/chicken/fish/cheese/egg*)
2 slices of bread
1 bagel with spoon of honey/jam/peanut butter*
60g breakfast cereal with 150mls of low–fat milk*
2 medium pancakes
½ pint of flavoured milkshake* or smoothie
300mls of drinking yogurt *
250g of rice pudding* (Pots contain approximately 40g)
1 ice lolly (solero, starburst, twister)
½ pint of dilute squash
½ pint of pure fruit juice
700mls of sports drink
*Also a source of protein
Fluid has a vital role in the body so drinking enough is important for good health and good performance. Even small fluid losses can make exercise seem more difficult and affect your performance in training and matches.
slower reaction time
getting tired more quickly
What should you drink?
Drink a wide range of fluids: water, sugar–free dilute squash, fruit juices, milk, milkshakes, yogurt drinks, soup and sports drinks. Water will also be obtained from foods – for example, fruit and vegetables have high water content. The occasional cup of tea of coffee can be used to get fluids in too.
As a general rule, if you are drinking enough you should be producing urine every couple of hours. Urine that is clear in colour and not strong in smell should mean that you are well hydrated. (If you take a vitamin supplement or sports drinks the B–vitamins can cause your urine to be a bright yellow colour.) During exercise, fluid is lost from the body as sweat and needs to be replaced. Every player has different fluid needs. These are influenced by many factors including your size, how hard you exercise, the weather and what you wear.
The easiest way to work out your usual losses from exercise is to weigh yourself before and after a training session. Any weight loss is fluid loss and this needs to be replaced as soon as possible. Remember that there will be big differences between players on the same team!
For every 1kg of weight that is lost you should aim to drink 1500mls.
Drinking fluids before, during and after exercise will prevent dehydration and re–hydrate you. Sports drinks have the benefit of easily providing fuel, usually in the form of carbohydrates, and also replacing electrolytes (salts) lost through sweat. Carbohydrate is an important fuel for exercising muscles but it will also help you absorb water so long as it is at the right concentration.
Drinking milk can be a good way of helping to get fluids back into your system. It will also give you protein and some salts to replace all these things that you have lost during your training or match.
Sugary and acidic drinks (fruit juices and sports drinks) can have a damaging effect on your teeth and you need to be careful. It is especially a problem if you are sipping drinks over a long period, wear a brace or a gum shield.
Brush and floss your teeth regularly: you may need to consider having a toothbrush and toothpaste in your kit bag
Use sugar free gum to reduce the acid in your mouth
Rinse your mouth with water regularly
Drink sweet or acidic drinks through a straw or squeeze past your teeth
Many athletes in many sports try to gain weight as they believe that this will benefit their strength and power. In football, this may mean that players will be able to deal with tackles better or their sprinting speed will be faster. But you need to remember that any weight gained must be muscle and not fat. If you gain fat then this will only show you down and give you none of the benefits of muscle.
A lot of athletes believe that if you increase protein intake you will gain muscle. How many times have you heard of players and athletes from different sports increasing meat or chicken intake or eating more eggs? As muscle is made up of protein a lot of people think that if you eat more then this will mean that your muscles will get bigger. It’s not that simple, and certainly not in football.
There are a number of key things you must do to gain muscle:
If you don’t eat enough and get enough energy or calories, then gaining muscle will be impossible. As football is a running game played over a relatively long period of time then you will need significant amounts of carbohydrate to fuel this running. If there is little or no carbohydrate then you will have to use some protein to fuel the exercise. As your protein is stored as muscle then you will have to break down and use up your muscles to do this, and so undoing all the good work you may have done in the past.
Eat at least 5 meals per day. Small frequent meals around training and matches are better than 2–3 larger meals. Use milk, milkshakes, smoothies and yogurt drinks as between meal snacks, along with sandwiches, fruit, toast, breakfast cereals and scones.
If you eat well for six days and have one poor day then this will mean that the whole week will just average out. You need to eat well every day of the week.
Late nights out will not help you to gain muscle. You are using more calories and not allowing your own growth hormones to do their job. During sleep growth hormone rises and this helps you to convert the food you’ve eaten into muscle.
This section of our website is specifically for nutrition and health professionals to help keep you up to date with the latest nutrition research, particularly in relation to milk and dairy products. You’ll find summaries and presentations from our conferences and events, together with scientific overviews of dairy and health topics.