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Fuelling the Elite: Football

Physiological and Physical Demands 

The demands on a football player during a game or training can be determined from match/training analysis and physiological measurements during match play. Many factors influence the demands of a player, such as the players physical capacity, playing position, style of playing and even how much possession a team has during a game.


A team without possession may run more to get the ball back. The aerobic energy system is the dominant energy system used during a football game, with average and peak heart rates around 85% and 98% of maximal values. The high number of intense actions during a game also indicate that the rate of anaerobic energy turnover is high, which can cause fatigue.


High intensity periods are the key to success in football with elite players covering more high-speed running compared to amateur players. The amount of distance covered at different speeds can depend on player position and can contribute to up to 1500 calories burned during a competitive game:


Average Distance covered (m) at different speeds during a match in relation to playing position (Mallo et al., 2015)


Slow Walk (m) Walking (m) Jogging (m) Running (m) High-Speed Running (m) Sprint (m) Total (m)
Central Defence 101 4323 3709 1483 343 247 10026
Full-Back 97 4456 3535 1433 437 494 10452
Central Midfield 140 4077 4256 2079 396 208 11154
Wide Midfield 122 4290 4015 1878 533 482 11321
Forward 69 4370 3605 1715 461 505 10726
Average 107 4299 3839 1726 437 385 10793


Week in the life of... an elite footballer

During a one game per week schedule, an elite player will typically cover around 25 km in total distance, equating to a 50/50 split between the match and training. Players generally have 4-5 training days with the aim to recover and prepare players for the next game. Sessions involve a mixture of pitch-based football sessions that include small sided and large sided games with the aim to simulate the intensity of match-play. A large focus is also on strength sessions, usually in the afternoon after the players have refuelled. Recovery sessions play a key part in the players schedule and usually involve low intensity exercise or yoga.



Careful planning of training and nutritional strategies is required in preparation for training and games. Carbohydrate is the main fuel for football performance and players should ‘fuel for the work required’ by reducing carbohydrate intake on training days and days off. However, players may benefit from consuming greater amounts of carbohydrate on the day before, the day of and in recovery from match play to help muscle glycogen storage so they are able to go again.

Players should always adhere to the basic guidelines of consuming carbohydrate in quantities equating to 7-10 g/kg in the day prior to the match, 1-3 g/kg in the pre-match meal and between 30-60 g/ hour during match-play (mainly pre-match and at half time). Players are also encouraged to fuel during natural breaks in play (e.g. injuries). 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.


Players should consider their individual physical demands and base energy intake and food choices around this. For example, midfielders cover the most distance in a game (both total and at a high intensity), so the focus should be on hitting carbohydrate targets. Central defenders cover the least distance but may cover more high intensity actions, challenging opposition attackers for the ball. This may require this position to build strength and increase protein and carbohydrate intake around periods of strength training to help maintain or build lean muscle mass. Recovery is key for all positions with players consuming balanced carbohydrate-protein meals, high in antioxidants post session/match and throughout the day. 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.



Mallo, J., Mena, E., Nevado, F., & Paredes, V. (2015). Physical demands of top-class soccer friendly matches in relation to a playing position using global positioning system technology. Journal of human kinetics47(1), 179-188.

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