Just like there is petrol and diesel for cars, there are different types of food that give you different types of fuel. For football you need to put the right fuel in your engine otherwise you will be very sluggish and probably won’t last the whole game or training session.
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.
The science bit
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 do you need?
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.