Carbohydrates For Footballers

This is the ultimate guide to Carbohydrates for a footballers diet.

This isn’t a simple post about 5 high carbohydrates foods to give a you a bit more energy.

Instead, you’re going to learn the best science-back carbohydrate strategies for your pre, during and post match nutrition

So if you want to top up your energy before your game, and recovery faster after, then you’ll love this guide.

Let’s dive right in.


What is a Carbohydrate?

We often get asked:

Why do football players need carbohydrates?

To answer this, its best to go over what a carbohydrate is and the benefits they have on your health and performance.

So here goes…

Carbohydrates are the starches, fibers and sugars found in vegetables, grains and fruits. Often given a bad rep in modern diets, they are one of the main foods groups needed in a healthy diet and must be planned to ensure optimal nutrition.

And when it comes to football… 

…Carbohydrates are an integral part of a players diet. They are broken down by the body and stored a fuel in our muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.

This glycogen is your main energy source throughout a match and therefore must be topped up so you can perform at your best.

Before we go into how to plan carbohydrates in your football nutrition plan, check out this video to show exactly what carbohydrates are:

Carbohydrates and Footballers Muscle Energy

A 2013 study found that levels of glycogen in certain quadriceps muscles were near empty towards the end of a football match. This lead to lower sprint performances at key stages throughout the match including especially towards the end of the game. The main reasons for this the reduction in spring performance was down to low glycogen levels, due to the energy-sapping nature of competitive football.


To ensure you can perform at your best throughout the 90 minutes, you must plan your carbohydrates to cover:

Daily carbohydrate needs

  • Pre-match
  • During a match
  • Post Match recovery

This will give you the best chance of playing at not only playing at your best but recovering faster, so you can train or play again sooner.


Daily Carbohydrate Needs

What are the daily Carbohydrate Requirement of a footballer?

To perform at your peak on the pitch, you must consume a high amount of carbohydrates on a daily basis. This will enable you to have the optimal amount of muscle glycogen when you need it.

Research  shows that athletes performing physical exercise lasted 60-120 minutes should aim to take on 5-10g of carbohydrate per KG of bodyweight a day.

This means a player weighing 70 kg daily carbohydrates needs are 350 – 700g.

However, there are more recent studies  that suggest lowering your carbohydrate intake on the days of training and upping your intake the day before, during and after a match.

You need to also take into account the number of matches you are playing per week. As playing 1 competitive match a week, will mean you having fewer rest days and more intense training sessions compared to a 3 week comprising 3 competitive matches.

Therefore, your daily carbohydrate intake must reflect your playing schedule and time of the season.

So, it is advised you lower your carbohydrate intake on the days of light training, an increase of days of intense training or matches if you have 1 or 2 matches a week.

However, on weeks where you are playing 3 competitive matches, stick to a high carbohydrate daily intake to ensure you have sufficient fueling and recovery to perform at your best.

Our best supplements for football players guide gives you an insight into nutritional supplements that have been proven to help performance, focus and recovery.


Pre Match

Pre-Match Carbohydrate Needs for Footballers

A high carbohydrate meal 3-4 hours before a match is key to ensuring your glycogen levels are topped up before kick off.

Research  shows that players who eat a high carbohydrate meal in the lead up to a match performed more frequent high-intensity actions throughout a match.

The players in this study consumed a high carbohydrate pre-match meal comprising 65% carbohydrate foods compared to players who had eaten a low carbohydrate meal (35%)

Another study  showed that eating a pre-match meal comprising 2.5g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight resulted in a 10% increase in muscle glycogen and increased endurance.

Therefore, aim to take on a pre-match meal consisting of:

1-4g of carbohydrates per KG of bodyweight

This will depend on your personal preference and how you react to taking on these amounts of carbohydrates. We suggest practicing and monitoring your carbohydrate intake in training before implementing this intake a matchday routine.

Check out our football nutrition plan for a great list of meals for football players before games

Pre-match meal timing

24 Hours before kick off
To ensure you perform at your best you must fuel for a match 24 hours before you take to the field. Research suggest that you take on around 6-10g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight during this period.

3-4 hours before a match: Main Meal
This meal should comprise familiar high-carbohydrate foods that are easy to digest. The familiarity of foods during this time is important. As many players may experience pre-match nerves, adding a new pre-match meal may cause diarrhea or nausea.

So remember to keep it simple!

60-90 minutes before warm-up
Many players often take on a light snack in the in the final hour before warming up. This snack can be used your last muscle glycogen top up, to ensure you are all set for kick off.

Aim to consume a snack high in carbohydrates with around 25- 30 grams.

For a full guide to pre match nutrition check out what to eat before a football match


During A Match

Carbohydrate Intake During a Match

Studies have proven that players’ performance decrease towards the latter stages of a match. Providing your body with an adequate amount of carbohydrate throughout the match can help to prevent or delay your levels of fatigue.

Research  carried out by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute found that taking on board between 30-60 grams per hour of carbs will provide football specific performance benefits for players.


Carbohydrate intake throughout a match benefits not only physical performance, but it also plays an important role in improving cognitive and motor skill performance, which can sometimes suffer towards the end of matches. A 2013 study  showed that taken on carbohydrates mid-match can lower the rate or eliminate the effects that fatigue has on of cognitive and skills levels.

Rinse and spit

Sometimes you may get an upset stomach from taking on too much carbohydrate drink throughout a match. If you are a player who has suffered from this in the past, we have some great news for you.

Research suggests  that rinsing your mouth out with a carbohydrate solution can improve performance by up to 3%. You can also use this technique when you are training for less than an hour, over a high carbohydrate intake before training.


Post Match

How Many Carbohydrates Should Footballers Take on After a Match

After a match, you need to aim to replace your muscle glycogen levels as soon as possible. This process is known as muscle glycogen resynthesis.
Studies  have shown that as your muscle energy (glycogen) levels are depleted after a match this will instigate the resynthesis phase even without taking on carbohydrates.


Research from the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne found that taking on board a high carbohydrate post-match meal or snack can increase liver and muscle glycogen resynthesis by as much as 10 times compared with not eating after a match. It is believed full recovery can take up to 24 hours (or longer if you do not consume the right amount of carbs). 

Our guide to post match nutrition gives a more indepth view of all of the best foods to eat after training or matches. 

Tournament or Double Training Sessions

Sometimes you may have two matches or training session on the same day, therefore you will not have the luxury of a 24-hour window to recovery.

In these cases, you must plan and ensure you use your time wisely to instigate the recovery process as soon as you finish the exercise. Research  has shown that taking on both solids and liquids forms of carbohydrates can both help with recovery, but the key to maximizing the short recovery period is ensuring that you aim to start as soon as you have finished the match or training.

Our website provides readers with content for informational and educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice from qualified healthcare providers. You must always consult a qualified healthcare professional when undertaking fitness, training or nutiritonal programmes.

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