The physical load of football performance on an elite player is high during each 90-minute game. Distance covered can reach over 12000 meters, with high intensity sprint distance reaching well over 1200 meters depending on position. Factor in tackles, collisions and areal battles – this can be tough on the body. The demand of an elite player is heightened during winter period, with a congested fixture list- usually around Christmas and the New Year. Chelsea FC have 5 games in 15 days this year, including 3 away games in 7 days. This provides a challenge for nutritionists and physical performance coaches to help players prepare, recover and prevent injuries.
Increased physical demands
Loading the body causes physical stress, resulting in a disturbance in the biochemistry of the body. Immune function can also be suppressed for up to 72 hours following performance, raising the chances of contracting upper respiratory tract infections. Nutrition is a main factor in preparing the body for physical performance and in the case of increased fixtures, nutrition is important for both recovering the body from the previous game and preparing the body for the next game. If players are not given sufficient rest and the correct nutrition, they may start to develop symptoms of over-training, also known as under-recovering, which results in a greater risk of injury and fatigue. Here are the main factors considered by elite teams during this ‘congested fixture’ period.
Changes in game frequency and the associated training load have obvious implications for nutritional strategies. Carbohydrate stores (liver and muscle glycogen) are the fuel for the repeated sprints in football performance. Appropriate carbohydrate intake before, during and after training or matches ensures that players have appropriate energy. This should be a main priority for elite players with the focus fuelling up the day before a game; on match-day itself and refuelling the day after to restore energy levels. Get this wrong and it may result in residual fatigue and underperformance due to insufficient time for recovery whilst also increasing the risk of injury.
What are the elites doing to prepare?
- Increasing carbohydrate intake to 7-10g of carbohydrate per kilo of their body mass, the day before and on the day of competition
- Consuming a high carbohydrate breakfast and/or pre-match meal in the hours pre-match
- Consuming 60g of carbohydrate per hour during games and utilising sports foods like Blue Fuel gummies at half-time and during breaks in play
Recovery strategies allow players’ muscles to recover in the hours post-exercise and adapt to the training stimulus longer term. Taking on nutrition at the right time (and quantity) can improve player ‘robustness’ and help decrease the risk of illness and injury. Research has investigated SIgA (salivary immunoglobulin-A) level, which is directly linked with illness and physical stress during times of intense training and competition. It’s suggested that the scheduling of games in this way (i.e. 2 games in 72 hours) may suppress immunity, increasing the risk of over training (or under-recovery). In addition, during periods of fixture congestion, players with limited recovery time are at risk of not fully restoring carbohydrate stores and fluid levels, which will ultimately limit the players’ ability to perform at their best.
What are the elites doing to recover?
- ‘Pre-hydrate’ and ‘re-hydrate’ pre and post-match. Players will use Blue Fuel Hydrate if sweating rates are high and to aid overall hydration. Players will aim to consume 150% of the fluid lost during the game (through sweating) in the hours post-match
- Consume a recovery shake immediately post-game to kick start the recovery process. Blue Fuel Recover contains balanced protein and carbohydrate, including key vitamins (C and D) to help support immune function
- Consume a balanced post-match meal within 1 hour of finishing
- Consume carbohydrate based snacks every hour for up to 4 hours post-match
- Aim to be back to baseline body weight and hydration levels the day after a game. Continue to adopt high carbohydrate feeding to promote refuelling
Morgans, R., Orme, P., Anderson, L., Drust, B., & Morton, J. P. (2014). An intensive winter fixture schedule induces a transient fall in salivary IgA in english premier league soccer players. Research in Sports Medicine, 22(4), 346-354.
Anderson, L., Orme, P., Di Michele, R., Close, G. L., Morgans, R., Drust, B., & Morton, J. P. (2016). Quantification of training load during one-, two-and three-game week schedules in professional soccer players from the English Premier League: implications for carbohydrate periodisation. Journal of sports sciences, 34(13), 1250-1259.