Nutrition is as important as training for footballers as it ensures that you can play to the best of your ability, while also recovering quickly post training or match.
The nutritional requirements for a footballer differ from nutrition for athletes generally as professional footballers can burn between 1,500 calories and 2,000 calories during a game, meaning that female footballers should be looking to consume 2,400 to 3,240 calories and a male footballer should consume 3,200 calories to 4,320 calories a day.
The best diet for a footballer is one which is high in calories as well as balanced in nutrients so your body is getting everything it needs. Due to the demands of the game and the physical expectations it puts on an individual, footballers must look after their bodies by considering what they consume before and after a game and training.
Carbohydrates are the go-to source of energy for intermittent sports like football, where glycogen is easily depleted through training or gym sessions. Carbs are considered to be the most important aspect of any athlete's diet due to the 'fuel' they provide during training and matches.
When we consume carbohydrates, they are turned into glucose which is stored until we need energy. Without a diet high in carbohydrates, you end up running on empty – something not at all sustainable for an athlete. These are also essential to help our bodies recover after a tough workout. Allowing time for recovery and by putting carbohydrates back into your body, athletes will achieve increased strength gains.
There are certain nutritional requirements for football players in terms of carbohydrates and the ideal dietary intake of carbohydrates for football is 50% to 60% of total daily caloric intake. Therefore, when looking at portion sizes, between half and two-thirds of your plate should consist of carbohydrates.
It is also important to remember as a footballer you should be adjusting your food intake to match your training load. During a heavy training period, pre-season for example, you would expect to have a diet which is heavy in carbohydrate foods to provide adequate fuel to reduce fatigue, sustain performance and focus on recovery. On rest days or time off from the football season, less carbohydrates are needed.
Football players should be aiming to consume some of the following carbohydrates:
- Wholegrains: oatmeal, 100% whole wheat bread, whole wheat or corn tortillas, whole wheat pasta, brown rice
- Fruit: fresh whole fruit including apples, pears, bananas, melon, pineapple
- Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, spinach, peppers, zucchini, lettuce greens. squash, onions, cauliflower, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn
- Beans and legumes: kidney beans, black beans, white beans, lentils
- Dairy: Greek yogurt, low-fat milk
Protein is essential to build and repair muscle, which often occurs during football training and matches. Incorporating lean, high protein meals into your diet is essential and it is very important to have them both before and after a workout. The best way to get enough protein is through real foods as opposed to protein supplements such as shakes, bars and powders.
Protein is best consumed in small amounts throughout the day, especially if you are trying to increase muscle mass. It's important to incorporate protein into your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to prevent muscle breakdown and promote muscle building. Protein also helps you to feel fuller for longer as it reduces your hunger hormone.
Natural protein can be found in:
- Chicken, fish, turkey and red meat
- Eggs, cheese, milk
- Soy products
These foods all contain essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Consuming protein as part of a recovery meal after a match is great for muscle repair and development, a key part of a nutritional diet for footballers.
Fat is often seen as something which is 'bad' for you, but the truth is there are different types of fat and when eaten in moderation, they contribute to a balanced and nutritious diet. Too much saturated fat can put players at risk for increased fat mass which will only slow them down and kill performance goals. Too little fat can affect nutrient absorption and ultimately impact performance as well. Hence why moderation is key. If a footballer is already in good shape, they should aim for roughly 20-35% of their diet to include fats.
Fats can be used as a long-term energy source as they can store calories when you run out of carbohydrates and protein. They also operate as a transporter of the fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K, which are essential for building muscles and the immune system, as well as building red blood cells and healthy bones.
Good fats can be found in:
- Fatty fish
- Nuts and nut butters
- Olive oil
As a general rule, you should be focusing on consuming monounsaturated fats (olives and olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts) and Omega-3 Fatty Acids (salmon, tuna, halibut, walnuts, flax, chia seeds).
Omega-3 in particular is required for brain function, healthy skin, normal blood pressure and blood clotting. You should aim to avoid fats which have little nutritional value, such as; full fat dairy, butter, palm oil, fatty cuts of beef, pork and chicken, fried foods, margarine or cream-heavy foods.
Dehydration can negatively impact sporting performance in a wide number of ways, including endurance, speed and decision making.
Having fluids with all meals and snacks, carrying a water bottle throughout the day and drinking 200-600ml of fluid just before the start of training are useful strategies to optimise hydration levels. During long or intense sessions, sports drinks can be useful as they contain carbohydrates to help replace energy stores, plus fluid and electrolytes for rehydration.
Taking on a small snack at half time is a good idea to refuel and take on electrolytes or fluids to delay fatigue and help with recovery. Some snack ideas which are hydrating as well as offering energy are:
- Orange slices
- Electrolyte drinks
- Coconut Water
- Frozen grapes
- Watermelon slices
- Specialised energy bars/ gels
It should also be noted that water is the priority fluid when training or playing matches, but electrolyte drinks can be useful for players who are lacking energy to replenish fuel. During training and particularly during pre-season in the summer months, players should be drinking something every 15-20 minutes so as not to become dehydrated. Players can plan ahead by bringing multiple bottles of water so they are well prepared to stay hydrated during matches and training.
If you follow a healthy and nutritious plan for football players (as suggested below) then you will naturally consume vitamins and minerals to a standard which is expected. This is really important to consider as a lack of vitamins and minerals impact energy levels, recovery, inflammation, bone strength and muscle contraction.
To ensure you are incorporating enough vitamins and minerals, it is important to consume a large quantity of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, low-fat protein and dairy products. The main Vitamins you should be looking to include in your diet are Vitamins A, C and D alongside the mineral's potassium, magnesium and calcium - cramps and muscle issues can often be down to a lack of these minerals.
- 2 slices of whole wheat toast and jam
- Fruit (apples. Pears, oranges)
- Fresh Juice
Toasted muffin and jam
- Jacket Potato, prawns and cottage cheese
Chicken (high protein quorn or vegan alternative is fine), avocado and salad sandwich
Beef burrito with cheese, avocado and salad
- Fruit and low-fat fruit yoghurt
- Pint of water
- 1 Boiled Egg
- Rice Cakes
- 1.25 litres of water
- Orange slices
- Pasta, chicken, broccoli and tomato sauce
Baked salmon, spinach and new potatoes
- Low fat fruit yoghurt
- Bread Roll
- Pint of Water
- Pint of water
- Glass of Fresh Orange Juice
- 2 slices of wholemeal toast and scrambled egg, tomatoes
- Sports drink
- Jelly sweets or banana
- Sports drink/ gel
- Chicken in bbq sauce, pasta, vegetables
Grilled chicken breast with a low-fat BBQ sauce, oven roasted potatoes, tossed salad (including avocado) and stir-fried vegetables.
Poached salmon, rice, spinach and broccoli
- Bread roll
- Bananas and custard
- Toast and Jam
- Pint of water
With your nutrition planned, it's time to get out on the field. Find out more about our Finesse range of training equipment.
*Please note, high-protein Quorn or other vegetarian and/ or vegan alternatives can be applied.