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What’s different about nutrition for team sport athletes?

Team sport is unique. A powerful blend of full body movement, tests of strength, and switching between low and high intensity aerobic exercise. No wonder it’s so important to make sure you’re properly fuelled, before, during and after taking part.

The demands of the match

Footballers have been shown to cover an average of 10-13km per game. And rugby players aren’t far behind with an average of 7km per game. This is a mixture of walking, jogging and all-out sprinting, and when you combine that with the specific demands of each sport (for example, tackling and rucking in rugby) it makes for a high intensity workout. If a team sport player wants to perform in training and matches, energy and nutrient intake must reflect training and competition loads. It’s very different to an endurance athlete who’ll be thinking about fuelling for longer distances of running or cycling.

“Energy and nutrient intake must reflect training and competition loads.”

    Fuelling a team sport athlete

    Team sport players will use a range of strategies during a training week leading into a match. One method will be to maximise carbohydrate intake to increase glycogen stores for their best performance – research suggests taking on 6-10g/kg/day of CHO two days leading into competition to optimise muscle and glycogen stores (Schokman, Rutishauser & Wallace, 1999). Throughout a training week an intake of 3-5g/kg/day is advised for low-intensity sessions (e.g. recovery/skill-based training), and a CHO intake of 5-7g/kg/day is recommended for moderate training of 1+ hour a day (Burke, Hawley, Wong & Jeukendrup, 2011). As you can see, a team sports player needs to be aware of periodising carbohydrate intake in relation to their daily training load – it will help them maintain a stable body weight throughout a season.

    In contrast, carbohydrate intake for an endurance athlete maybe fairly stable throughout a typical training week with main differences coming in de-load weeks. It has been advised that an endurance athlete should maintain an intake of between 7-10 grams per kilogram of body weight of carbohydrate per day. The increase of daily intake in comparison to a team sports player, is due to the stress and hours of training an endurance athlete commits to weekly.


    The importance of protein

    Team sports feature lots of high-load lengthening contractions, similar to a heavy resistance exercise session. So daily protein becomes important to combat early muscle fatigue and help muscle recovery in-between training sessions and matches. The daily recommended protein intake should range between 1.5g-2.0g per kilogram of bodyweight a day to facilitate muscle activity and recovery during team sports. And it’s not dissimilar to the recommended amount of protein for endurance athletes, where research suggests a daily intake of between 1.2-1.7g per kilogram of bodyweight (Tarnopolsky, 2004).

    Despite this, there is a big difference between the needs of an endurance athlete vs a team sport athlete. Team sports put a much bigger emphasis on strength sessions during a normal week. While endurance athletes will train close to race pace and, during longer distances, will use more fat as a fuel source – so the demands on the bodies of each type of athlete are very different. If you’re interested in finding out how to get the right nutrition for you and your sport, head to Blue Fuel and create a personalised plan.

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    Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., Wong, S. H. S., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), S17-S27. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.585473

    Hawley, J. A., & Leckey, J. J. (2015). Carbohydrate dependence during prolonged, intense endurance exercise. Sports Medicine, 45(1), 5-12.

    Schokman, C. P., Rutishauser, I. H., & Wallace, R. J. (1999). Pre-and postgame macronutrient intake of a group of elite Australian football players. International journal of sport nutrition, 9(1), 60-69.

    Tarnopolsky, M. (2004). Protein requirements for endurance athletes. European Journal of Sport Science, 4(1), 1-15.

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