Nutrition for team sports
Whether you play sport as part of a team or not, the nutrition needed to perform optimally is very much individual and comes down to no one else but yourself to nail it! Most sports teams set individual and team goals for upcoming seasons, however, how often do sports teams focus on achieving individual nutrition goals for the season ahead? Not very often in my experience, at least not at amateur level.
It has been identified that sports team athletes don’t fully meet recommendations when it comes to nutrition for performance and recovery (1).
Nutrition for team sports requires knowledge of the sport-specific physiology of training and competition, but essentially what it comes down to is that each individual on the team has specific nutrition and hydration needs unique to them; there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to optimising each player’s performance through nutrition.
I’m going to talk a bit more about optimising nutrition and hydration guidelines for performance in prolonged, continuous moderate-to-high-intensity exercise, which takes into account most team sports, including football, basketball, hockey and rugby.
I am particularly focusing on the energy and hydration requirements needed for football, a moderate and long-duration sport which also includes bouts of high-intensity activity throughout as well as lower intensity recovery times.
In a football match, depending on what position of course, players can cover as much as 12km within the 90 minutes playing time. These 90 minutes include multiple movements or activities such as jogging, sprinting, jumping, turning etc. Due to the repeated sprints and short recovery time involved in football, athletes are required to have a high aerobic capacity, a well-developed phosphocreatine breakdown/re-synthesis system as well as a high glycolytic capacity (2). To put that simply, athletes should be fuelling appropriately for the different energy systems they use within a given training/match.
Team sports’ dietary habits are not as well researched as those of individual sports athletes. However, one study on female football players found that carbohydrate intake failed to meet recommendations to promote glycogen repletion (7-10g/kg), whereas protein and fat intake were above the minimum recommendations (3). Different vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E, folate, copper and magnesium were below 75% of those recommended.
From the limited research on sports teams’ dietary habits, as mentioned, the outcomes were similar in that energy requirements, particularly carbohydrate intake, were below the recommendations.
Carbohydrates are especially important in football players’ diets due to the energy demands, and have been shown to affect performance, be it in a positive or negative manner depending on the level of carbohydrates involved.
Balsom et al (4) compared high- vs low-carbohydrate intake on sports teams’ performance, which was designed to manipulate muscle glycogen concentrations in the players. They found that pre-game muscle glycogen concentrations, when on a high-carb (65%) intake, were significantly higher than following the low-carb (30%) intake, as well as players performing 33% more high-intensity exercise in the game following the high-carb intake.
It was concluded that in order to perform multiple sprints at an optimal level, players should administer a high-carb diet prior to training and competition (4). The same study mentioned that the high-carb diet did not show any increase in players’ ability to shoot or dribble in a game and muscle glycogen depletion was not thought to impair a player’s ability to execute game skills. However, it was suggested that other factors such as dehydration or increased lactate production may cause a reduction in skill performance (5).
Taking this into account, let’s discuss the fluid intake required during team sport activity.
Firstly, let’s look at sweat rate between individuals within a sports team. A player’s sweat rate is simply the amount of fluids lost in a given time, normally during training or a match, which should then be replaced by the player. I have put together a simple info graph to help you work out your individual sweat rate HERE. As you would imagine, no two players are going to have the exact same sweat rate, therefore it’s important that sports teams’ managers get their players to recognise their individual sweat rate in order to rehydrate appropriately, which will in turn, improve recovery and performance.
It was shown from various studies that elite footballers generally fail to drink sufficient fluids to replace their sweat loss during both training and competition (6). As well as this, the results showed huge individual variability in hydration status, drinking behaviours and sweat loss. This just emphasises the importance of players understanding their individual needs when it comes to hydration/rehydration as well as the importance of coming up with a strategy to get players to improve their actual fluid intake around training and competitions.
Due to the nature of a football match, with the continuous stopping and starting involved, this means there are multiple opportunities available to ingest fluids and energy so this shouldn’t be an issue. Substitutions, half-time, pauses in play and injuries are all opportune times to take some fluids/energy on board and should be taken advantage of.
The type of fluids taken on board during a match are important and as football is a 90-minute game, it was found that carbohydrate ingestion through fluids elicits an enhanced task persistence, in turn leading to an increase in performance (6). There are limitations in relation to sports teams taking on board enough fluids during match play, and speed of gastric emptying plays a big part in football players’ hydration during games, due to the intermittent, high-intensity style of the game.
As with most sports and general training nowadays, athletes are always looking for ways to improve performance through supplements. One supplement that might benefit the performance of football players is creatine (Cr). Due to the activity profile of football, as well as most team sports’ activity levels and creatine’s alleged ergogenic action which includes the enhanced recovery of the phosphocreatine power system, it may well improve training and competition performance.
"Team sports have a history of individuals within the team not meeting the recommended dietary requirements".
- Team sports have a history of individuals within the team not meeting the recommended dietary requirements
- Overall energy and most importantly carbohydrate intake should be met in order to improve or optimise sports performance
- Daily carbohydrate intake for sports team athletes should be between 5-7g/kg of bodyweight. E.g. 6x70kg = 420g carbohydrates per day
- Daily protein intake for sports team athletes should be between 1.2-1.7g/kg of bodyweight. E.g. 1.5x70 = 105g protein per day
- Daily fat intake shouldn’t be lower than 25% of total daily calorie intake in any individual. E.g. for a 3,000kcal energy requirement, the minimum fat intake would be 25% of 3,000 which equates to 83g fat per day minimum
- Players should work out their individual sweat rate at the beginning of each season to get a better understanding of their own unique hydration requirements around training/competitions
- Carbohydrate and electrolyte based fluids have been shown to benefit athletes whose activity levels exceed 60-90 minutes
- Creatine is a supplement that might improve performance of team athletes due to the activity requirements of the game and creatine being an ergogenic aid
Pre-Exercise Carbohydrate Needs
- Between 1-4g of carbs per kg of bodyweight anywhere between 1-4 hours pre-exercise
Pre-Exercise Fluid Needs
- Between 5-7ml/kg bodyweight 4 hours pre-exercise
- Between 3-5ml/kg bodyweight 2 hours pre-exercise
During Exercise Carbohydrate Needs
- 30-60g of carbohydrates is generally recommended per hour of exercise
During Exercise Fluid Needs
- Use average sweat rate here to estimate fluid intake throughout exercise activity
Post Exercise Carbohydrate Needs
- From 1-1.2g/kg bodyweight is recommended post-exercise, with a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein being sufficient
Post Exercise Fluid Needs
- Again, this is where sweat rate comes into play
- Per kg of bodyweight lost during exercise, rehydrate with 1Litre of fluids, including electrolytes if sweat rate is high
Post Exercise Protein Needs
- A minimum of 20g protein is a decent starting point post exercise
If you would like to learn more about improving your performance through training and/or nutrition, or possibly just improving your body composition/health, then feel free to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org as I have a few spaces left for online clients.
- Zimberg IZ, Cavalieri RB, Camargo LR, Cintra IP. Per l nutricional de adolescentes esportistas frequentadores de um ambulatório de nutrição esportiva. Braz J Sports Nutr 2012;1(1):21-9
- Bangsbo J. The physiology of soccer: with special reference to intense intermittent exercise. Acta Physiol Scand. 1994;619:1-55
- Clark M, Reed DB, Crouse SF, Armstrong RB. Pre- and post-season dietary intake, body composition and performance indices of NCAA division 1 female soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2003; 13 (3):303-19
- Balsom PD, Wood K, Olssen P, Ekblom B. Carbohydrate intake and multiple sprint sports: with special reference to football (soccer). Int J Sports Med. 1999; 20(1):48-52
- Mujika I, Burke LM, Nutrition in Team Sports. Ann Nutr Metab 2010;57 Suppl 2:26-35
- Maughan RJ, Watson P, Evans GH, Broad N, Shirreffs SM. Water balance and salt losses in competitive football. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007; 17(6): 583-94