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How to fuel your body on a matchday

How do footballers use energy during a game?
The main energy source fuelling a player over 90 minutes is carbohydrate. We can store approximately 400 g of carbs in our muscles and 100 g in the liver. At the end of a game, almost 50% of our muscle fibres are completely empty, meaning our ability to perform high-intensity exercise and sprints declines in the second half.  Put simply, we have run out of fuel. The importance of carbohydrate for match play was recognised as early as the 1970s where researchers observed that starting the game with muscle energy stores that were only 50% full significantly reduced the total distance covered by 25% when compared with starting the game in a fully loaded state (players ran 12 km versus 9.7 km).

How much carbohydrate should players consume the day before the game?
To fuel the body to its maximum before a game, you should increase carbohydrate intake to at least 8 g/kg body mass. This dose of carbohydrate has been shown to significantly increase distance covered during the match when compared with 3 g/kg and has also been associated with winning the actual game itself. For a regular Saturday game, it is therefore recommended that a 75 kg player consumes at least 600 g on the Friday before the game. Such intakes of carbohydrate are almost double that of what Premier League soccer players typically consume on normal training days of the week (e.g. 4-5 g/kg body mass). You should aim to consume 1.5-2 g/kg with your main meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner and top-up the rest of the dose with high carbohydrate snacks. An example meal plan is shown in Table 2.

Should players consume lots of carbohydrates in their pre-match meal?
While the day before the match focuses on carbohydrate loading, the pre-match meal simply represents the final opportunity to “top-up” both muscle and liver glycogen stores.  Indeed, fuelling correctly at this meal could increase your energy stores by another 15-20%. The focus of the pre-match meal is to therefore consume a high carbohydrate meal (2-3 g/kg body mass) comprised of a variety of easily digestible foods and drinks. Ideal carbohydrate foods include pasta, rice, breads, cereals, fruit juices, energy bars and energy drinks whereas example protein foods include chicken, fish, greek yoghurt etc.  The pre-match meal also represents the key opportunity to start the game hydrated so it is always recommended to include at least 500 ml of an electrolyte drink with this meal (e.g. SiS GO Hydro).

How much carbohydrate do I need during the match?
It’s recommended that players take onboard 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour in the form of sports drinks (e.g. SiS GO Electrolyte) or isotonic gels (e.g. SiS GO Energy gels). Consuming carbohydrate during exercise increases our ability to perform high-intensity intermittent exercise. Studies involving Premier League footballers confirm that elite players consume an average of 34 g of carbohydrate per hour (mainly in the form of SiS GO Energy gels) with those players who performed the highest physical workload (i.e. midfielders) actually consuming over 60 grams.

Should I use gels or drinks?
The issue of whether to consume carbohydrate from gels or drinks does not really matter (our body can digest and absorb both sources at a similar rate) and should be left to the player’s preference. Given the difficulties of fuelling in the match, half-time represents the most suitable time to fuel. Players should have access their preferred carbohydrate source (i.e. SiS GO Energy Gel or SiS GO Electrolyte) and aim to consume their fuelling plan within the first 5 minutes. Where players rely on gels only, then it is also important they remember to hydrate by consuming an electrolyte drink such as SiS GO Hydro.

Key advice

  • Players typically cover between10-13 km in total distance during a match, of which approximately 3 km is at a speed above 14.4 km/k and 250-500 m is classed as an all-out sprint. Football endurance refers to the ability to sustain the capacity to perform high-intensity intermittent exercise.
  • To fuel such high-intensity actions, carbohydrate is king and players should ensure they commence the match with full energy stores by having consumed a high carbohydrate diet (e.g. 8g/kg body mass) the day before the match.
  • The purpose of the pre-match meal is to top-up your glycogen stores and players should aim for 2-3 g/kg body mass at least 3 hours before kick-off.
  • To support the ability to perform repeated sprints during the match, players should also consume carbohydrate during exercise at a rate of 30-60 g per hour.
Dr James Morton
Written By

Dr James Morton

World Class Knowledge Director