What Do Footballers Eat Before a Match?
Some of the most frequent questions from our community members are:
- What is the best pre-match meal?
- When is the best time to eat before a game?
- How much should I eat before a game?
Well, as mentioned in our footballer’s diet guide, there is no one size fits all nutrition plan to suit all players.
However, there are a series of guides and fueling techniques to ensure you can get the most out of your diet, to actually improve your performance.
Here’s a great video showing the best food for football and fueling techniques from the guys over at FourFourtwo:
When should you eat before a match?
First off, let’s take a look at the best time to start your pre-match nutrition prep.
There are two things to consider when planning your pre match nutrition:
- How your body reacts to pre match fueling
- What type of foods you are eating before the match. (Quick or slow digesting foods)
In the days leading up to your match, you should increase your intake of carbohydrates.
If you do not, you are likely to run out of energy on the pitch as your glycogen levels decrease.
This can lead to being subbed off early or even worse, injury. Another important area to consider in the days leading up to a match is your body’s salt and water levels.
1-4 Hours before your match are seen to be the most important period for proper fueling.
In our experience, you want to leave at least an hour between your pre match meal and kick off.
However…some players like to increase this time to two hours.
This is something you will have to experiment with, as you want to feel comfortable on the pitch.
It is safer to leave a larger gap between your meal and kick off, then if you feel any hunger you can top up with a pre match snack in the final 60 minutes for extra energy.
Eating too close to kick off can leave you feeling too full and uncomfortable on the pitch and your mind will be unable to focus on your performance.
How much should you eat before a match?
It has long been advised that players should eat a high Carbohydrate meal up to 3 hours before a match. This means:
- Breakfast for a mid-day kick off
- Lunch for a mid afternoon kick off
- Dinner for an Evening kick of
Studies have shown that combining a sports drinks with a high carbohydrate meal leads to the greater fuel benefits for players, then just eating your carb meal.
However, not all carbohydrates are the same.
Eating a low glycaemic index carbohydrate (complex carbs) meal will make you feel fuller for longer, while also providing a stable energy release over a longer period off time (no sugar spike).
Research have also shown that eating a high carbohydrate meal before a match help to increase your ability to:
- Peform skill activity late in the game
- Perform repeated sprints
- Improves endurance levels
As the main aims before a match is to give your muscles energy, you need to take on board our main energy source…Carbohydrates.
Carb Loading for Footballers
If you play at an intense level of football, it’s important to increase your carbohydrates a few days before a game. Professional players and athletes do this using a technique called carb-loading.
This involves increasing the amount of carbohydrates you eat in the 2-3 days before the match.
This could increase to as much as 9g of carbs per kg of bodyweight.
This increase in carbs will lead to higher levels of glycogen stores in your muscles.
An example of pre-match Carb-Loading:
Proteins Needs Before a Match
Your body’s protein needs tend to stay the same in the days before a match. So aim to keep these at the level you would if performing semi-intensity training.
The food you consume on a match is all geared towards your performance. This is where you can include any sports specific fitness food in your football player diet plan as they can often help more than your everyday diet.
Pre Match Meal Ideas
In the 6 hours leading up to the match, you want to consume foods that settle your stomach and stop your hunger.
A lot of football players have the same pre-match nutrition routine which they stick to.
We suggest finding a routine you are happy with. It’s important for your body function and psychology that you do what works best for you.
Carbohydrate loading may not be necessary for goalkeepers, players who do not do a lot of running, or if you do not train often (less than 3 times a week).
However, active or elite players should eat foods rich in carbohydrates in the build up to your match day.
During the 6 hours leading up to your match you should aim to consume:
Pre Match Meal IdeasHere are some examples of foods that provide 140g of carbohydrates for a pre-match meal (for a player of 70kg)
These examples show how a 70 kg player can reach 140 grams of Carbs in the 6 hours leading up to a match. Note: Other foods can be consumed on top of this amount.
Adjusting Your Carbs for Morning or Evening Kick-OffYou should be aware that you will need to eat different pre-match meals for different kick off times.First thing in the morning your glycogen levels are low and you will be in a fasted state due to not consuming food for 8 hours.During a normal day your glycogen will increase as you eat food. Therefore if you have a game before midday, it is important to increase your carbs in the morning, as your window for carb loading is shorter.If you have an evening kick-off it is a little easier to ensure you hit the correct carbohydrate levels as you can consume throughout the day.You will need to adjust the time you consume your pre-match meal to allow enough time for your body to get rid of unwanted waste before kick off.Check out our post match nutrition guides to help with recovery.
Pre Match Snack Ideas
After you have consumed your pre-match meal and leading up to the final 60 minutes before kick off, your body may benefit from a last minute snack.
This snack should provide a mixture of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. In the past players may have eaten chocolate or cakes to get an extra energy boost, however, you should consume foods low in fiber that will release energy slowly.
High carbohydrate pre-game snack ideas:
- Bagel with low-fat cream cheese
- Energy drinks
- Granola bar
- Protein bar
- Rice pudding
- Tropical fruits
- Tuna Sandwich
- Whole-wheat bagels
- Whole grain crackers
- Yogurt (Greek) + fruit
Remember to drink fluid with any snack or meal.
If you feel you still need more energy during matches you can look to add supplements to your diet.
Check out our supplements for football guide for a full understanding.
How much fluids should you drink?
As we highlighted in our hydration for football guide, it is important to an adequate amount of fluids for optimal performance.
Do not over-hydrate as this will negatively influence your body.
Our pre match hydration advise can be adjusted to fit your height and body composition.
You should always check the weather and playing condition and make sure you have a hydration plan for both hot and cold weather.
Also make sure you do not sit out in the sun for long periods before matches, as this will further dehydrate you.
Pre Match Hydration Guidelines
In the 60-90 minutes before kick off you should aim to drink 500ml of fluid. This will give you enough time to urinate any extra fluid before kick off, so you are not carrying unneeded weight.
As the temperature increases in the summer month, you will sweat more than in winter month.
Therefore look to:
- Drink 300-600ml of fluid 15 minutes before kick off
Practice these hydration techniques before training session to assess how they suit your body.
Youth and female players may need to scale these amounts down to suit your needs.
Matchday Hydration Guidelines
Everytime you train or play matches, you can lose as much as 3 liters of sweat, especially on a hot day.
However, on a cold day, sweat rates will be lower.
When planning your hydration needs, you must remember that player is different and your hydration needs can change throughout the course of the season.
You must train your body to rehydrate during practice sessions so you are not experimenting during matches.
Understand that you need to take on more fluid in hot weather or intense training sessions is key to regulating your body’s hydration levels.
Use your training as a chance to understand your sweat rates and the amounts of fluid you need to drink to feel refreshed and alert.
You are not looking to replace all the sweat that is lost during intense exercise.
However, you must aim to keep your sweat loss below 2% of your body weight.
If you drink more fluid than is lost from sweat will cause some discomfort in your gut and will mean you carrying extra weight throughout the match or training.
Want to work out your sweat rate? Check out our guide to hydration.
In hot conditions, you must use warm-ups, half-time, and any breaks in play to re-hydrate.
The effects of dehydration are severely increased as the intensity of the match or temperature increases.
What to eat during a match?
What Does the Science Say?Experts suggest that carbohydrates such as:
The main aim during a match or intense training session is to consume products that contain a mix of sugars, (CHO gels are good options).
Timing is important. If you’ve taken your pre-match nutrition seriously, you should have enough energy to carry you to at least half time. But as you reach the 60-minute mark, you may need to take on more carbohydrates.
Taking on carbohydrates during a match or training reduces fatigue, whilst also reducing your reliance on stored glycogen in your liver and muscles.
The best part is…
If your glycogen stores are depleted, this carbohydrate intake can provide an alternative energy source, allowing you to compete for longer
How to Work out How Many Carbs You Need?
When you take on carbs during a match, you must aim to replace the lost glycogen without consuming too much that it will cause an upset stomach.
The amount depends on two factors:
- How fast your muscles use the consumed carbohydrates
- The rate of intestinal absorption and gastric emptying
Thankfully, you will not have to work this out, as there are general guidelines for you to work towards.
At the 60 minute mark…
and every hour after that, you should look to take on between 30-90g per hour.
The 30-90g range is a big difference because it all depends on how your body tolerates taking on the extra carbs.
If you are new to refueling during matches, we suggest starting at the 30g range and also practice refueling in training.
Some of the most convenient and cheapest options are:
- Sports Drinks
- Carbohydrate Gels
Should You Consume Protein During a Match or Training?
Many sports enthusiast suggest that taking on extra protein (Branch Chain Amino Acid’s) during training or a match will help your performance.
This theory has circulated for several years and is regularly discussed around the fitness and bodybuilding industry.
The idea suggests…
Taking on protein (BCAA’s) during intense workouts, training or matches will:
- Lead to a reduction in fatigue
- Improve energy production
Although research supports protein intake during intense exercise, it is by far conclusive.
Therefore as it stands, consuming protein or any BCAA supplement will not have a beneficial outcome in your matches or training. So save your money and stick with fast digesting carbohydrates.
Should You Take on Healthy Fats During Exercise?
Simply put, NO!
There are no performance benefits from consuming fats during your training or matches. In fact, the results could be detrimental, causing upset stomach and poor performance.