Match days are especially important for soccer players, and the key nutritional goals to keep in mind on a match day are having adequate carbs to replenish glycogen, keeping hydrated, and kickstarting recovery, especially if another match is soon after1.
Pre-gaming done right
Before a game, it is essential to make sure your glycogen levels are restored. Therefore, aim to get a carbohydrate rich meal (around 1-4g per kg of body weight) up to 4 hours before a game. You can continue to build your muscle glycogen before the match, starting with high carb snacks about an hour before the match. Try to get around 25-30g of carbohydrate in those snacks2.
Your pre-game meal should contain about 0.25-0.4g per kg of bodyweight of protein, and a low amount of fat3.
The most important thing will be to pre-hydrate, so start drinking at least 4 hours before the game, aiming to get about 5-7ml per kilo of body weight of beverage. If you’re still dehydrated, add a further 3-5ml per kilo 2 hours before the match4.
During the match
During the match, it’s important to continue getting carbohydrate, aiming for about 30-60g of carbohydrate every hour – this is best achieved through a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink, with some protein. Drink about 150-300ml of this drink every 15-20 minutes during half time to keep yourself hydrated5.
Recovering after a game6
Recovery is especially important during the times where soccer players may be playing multiple matches in a short amount of time. There are specific strategies that can be used to ensure that you’re recovering as quickly as you can.
Immediately after a game
Kickstarting to replenish glycogen is key straight after a game, so a carbohydrate snack should be provided. Aim to get about 1g per kilo of body weight each hour during the first four hours after the game – this will ensure you’re making glycogen as quickly as possible, as keeping your intake frequent can help increase the amount of glycogen you make. Pair carbohydrates with a creatine to help with restoring phosphocreatine, or with a protein source which will provide 30-40g grams of protein, as well as 6 to 9 essential amino acids, with a focus on leucine.
If you’re finding it hard to digest food, aim for a liquid source of carbohydrates and proteins, like a sports drink, flavored milk, or a protein shake. If you’re choosing a protein shake, go for a whey protein powder over casein or soy, if possible, as it is more easily digested.
It is also essential to rehydrate, so choose to drink about 1.5L of fluid per 1kg of bodyweight lost during the game during a period of 2-4 hours after the game. Keep your intake constant to avoid discomfort and include electrolytes by either mixing them with your drink or eating a salty snack during drinking.
Recovering between games
Recovery between games requires care and discipline. Ensure to eat 6-10 g/kg of body weight of carbohydrates between the games, having 3-4 meals and regular snacks in between. Adjust your intake depending on how much you played in a game – if you’ve sat out for a half, eating extra carbohydrate won’t do much good.
For protein, aim to get 1.5-2 g/kg of body weight in equal amounts throughout the day – aiming for 6 portions of about 20g every three hours will allow your body to consistently have enough protein for muscle repair and building.
Follow the strategy for rehydration mentioned above, and ensure you’re hydrated before a game.
Finally, if you’re playing multiple games in a short span of time, you might benefit from adding antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients in your diet, so choose to take in a variety of high-antioxidant foods like berries, broccoli, or tart cherry juice alongside omega-3s, whether from foods or as a supplement.
Supplementing for energy
To supercharge your match day, consider the following supplements to decrease fatigue and boost your performance7.
- Creatine – creatine monohydrate has been around for a while, and to this day nothing seems to have topped it. Creatine can increase muscle strength and power, as well as improve high-intensity exercise performance. As a dietary supplement, take about 16-25g of creatine per day divided into four doses for about 5-7 days before switching to a single dose of 3-5g per day. Creatine is best taken with a carbohydrate and protein meal8. An excellent creatine powder is Maxler Creatine 100% Monohydrate, which provides 5g of creatine per serving in an easily digestible form.
- Caffeine – probably one of the most popular and better studied supplements, caffeine can improve both endurance and sprints, depending on the dosages and timings used. Before the game you should take 3-6mg/kg of caffeine 30-60 minutes before training. To improve endurance during gameplay, take a lower dose of 1.5-2.9mg/kg bodyweight of caffeine while rehydrating9. Avoid taking more than 9 mg/kg body weight at the same time.
- Beta-alanine – beta-alanine supplementation can increase the ability to carry out high-intensity actions which last 30 seconds to 10 minutes. Try taking around 3.2-6.4g of beta-alanine daily for at least two to four weeks. The doses should be split and taken every 3-4 hours, to lessen the chance of side effects10.
- Taurine – taurine can help muscles contract, reduce damage and improve endurance, especially when coupled with caffeine. Take 50mg of taurine per kilo of body weight combined with about 5mg of caffeine per kilo of body weight a day for up to 8 weeks.
- Citrulline – citrulline can increase powder and decrease feelings of tiredness, especially when combined with arginine. Try taking 1.2-3.4g of citrulline and 1.2g arginine together for at least 6 days.
- Arginine – arginine can improve soccer performance, as it increases the amount of oxygen your body gets. Consider taking 1.2-6g a day of arginine for about 14 days11.