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Fuelling the Elite: Field Hockey

Physiological and Physical Demands 

Hockey requires players to engage in high-speed running intertwined with accelerations, decelerations and changes of direction. Players execute multiple offensive and defensive skills in condensed areas during match-play.


Female players typically cover on average 5-7km in an elite hockey match compared to 9-10km in an elite male game.
Female defenders have been shown to cover higher total distances (> 6km) when contrasted against forwards (around 5km) and midfielders (5.5 – 6km).
Despite this, forwards have been shown to cover more distance at higher intensities.


Like most field-based team sports – average heart rates are around 174 bpm in both the male and female game. Heart rate is around 85-80% of the players max heart rate. This suggests that the aerobic energy system is the dominant energy system used during a hockey game, but the high number of intense actions indicate that the rate of anaerobic energy turnover is high, which can cause fatigue. Calorie expenditure can range between 1200-2000 kcal per game, but one must also consider energy expenditure in the warm-up and cool-down, especially when considering nutritional demands. Defenders and midfielders have the highest energy expenditure compared to attackers which is in line with distance covered in match-play.


Week in the life of (what do they do?)

The international field hockey season takes place over a nine-month period. The premier competitions of interest are the World League and World Cup which provide a path for teams and individual players to qualify for the Olympic Games. Many players are not actually professional and often have part-time jobs alongside playing at a high level.


This can make the demands on the athlete hard while juggling training, work and often family commitments. An elite training schedule involves 3-4 pitch-based sessions with 2-3 strength sessions per week. With such high demands on the player, off-days will often include some element of recovery or strength training. Double sessions are often undertaken, particularly in ‘pre-season’ stages or in preparation for the Olympic Games. This is often split into morning and afternoon to allow players to refuel between sessions.



Field Hockey players will aim to periodise their nutrition intake. High carbohydrate availability (7–10 g/kg body mass) is promoted on the day prior to match day and on match day itself (this high intake could also take place the day after a game if in a tournament with multiple games in a week), which equates to 640-800g per day for an 80 kg player. This will promote fuelling and recovery. High carbohydrate intake may not be required on the other training days or days off. On training days incorporating single sessions, daily carbohydrate intakes of 4–5 g/kg body mass would be sufficient to fuel and promote adaptations.


The pre-match meal is a key part of team sports like Hockey, with players consuming 1-4 g/kg of carbohydrate. This is often seen as the last opportunity to take on fuel for the match. During match-play, players should consume between 30-60 g/ hour (mainly pre-match and at half time). Players are also encouraged players to take advantages of natural breaks in play (e.g. injuries/ substitutions). Players should mix and match their preferred feeding sources (usually fluids and gummies during the game and perhaps solid food at half-time e.g bananas) to achieve their fuelling targets.


Serving a meal containing high-glycemic index carbohydrate (1.2 g carbohydrate/kg/h) and protein within the hour following a match is effective in replenishing substrate stores and optimising muscle-damage repair. Recovery shakes are often used as a convenient solution to take on nutrients after sessions/games when players may not always feel hungry, but refuelling is a priority in tournaments.

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