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Nutrition For Optimum Performance

Nutrition For Optimum Performance
Dr Gary Mendoza
by Dr Gary Mendoza

It is acknowledged that the nutritional practices of some athletes are sub-optimal (1). This may be due to lack of time, preparation or lack of knowledge. Whatever the reason it is important that all football players consider nutrition an integral part of their training and match preparation. This Brief handout is intended to highlight a few key areas of nutrition directly applicable to football players, with regards to carbohydrate intake. The intake of carbohydrate is one specific macro-nutrient, it should be noted that a complete and balanced diet should be consumed based on current nutritional guidelines for optimal athletic performance.


Official dietary guidelines for athletes are unanimous in their recommendation. To provide for the maximum amount of glycogen storage (muscle fuel), you should be consuming ~7-10 grams per kg body weight (2). This figure should be achieved over the course of the day. Taking account of all meals and snacks as well as sports drinks used throughout the day. One study, although small, found that to optimise performances in football a high carbohydrate diet should be administered in preparation for intense training and competition (3)

Before a match or training session

The main aim of the pre-exercise meal is to ensure that the body is optimally fuelled. This means that liver and muscle glycogen stores (body’s fuel stores) are maximised and that all other required nutrients are present in sufficient quantities. This meal should not leave you in any discomfort due to the digestive process continuing during the event. The degree of success achievable in terms of optimising the body’s fuels is to a degree dependant on how much recovery there has been from any previous training or matches.

By tapering the training and eating CHO-rich foods for 24-72 hours the glycogen stores can be normalised or in some cases even increased. This is clearly an ideal situation prior to a match. Research has shown that by consuming a large amount of CHO (~200-300 g) within 4 hours of exercise improves performance and/or endurance during prolonged moderate intensity exercise. Carbohydrate intake on the morning of the event may be important, as liver glycogen stores (fuel stores) will have been used during the night. This intake may help to maintain blood glucose levels. This would be especially significant in the latter stages of a training session or match.

During a match or training session

In a paper considering the use of macronutrients and performance, Williams (4) comments that the consumption of a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink immediately before and during an endurance type event may be beneficial to a glycogen sparing effect. Colgan and Swanson (5) found that the most effective quantity of carbohydrate for improving performance and running capacity seems to be between 40 to 75 g per hour. This should be consumed little and often throughout the game. This type of replenishment is most easily achieved using some of the commercially available sports drinks.

After a match or training session

The two to three hours after exercise is the optimal window to provide this refuelling. For most footballers following an intense schedule of high-level training followed by matches, the problem of restoring muscle glycogen stores is very complex. At least 20-24 hours of refuelling is required to restore exhausted muscle stores. This is because, with no obvious muscle damage, glycogen storage in the muscles occurs at a typical rate of ~5 mmol per Kg wet weight (ww) per hour (6). The two to three hours after exercise is the optimal window to provide this refuelling, as this is when the muscle cell will most avidly take up glucose. Blom et al (7) found that the best way to take advantage of these conditions was to get an immediate intake of carbohydrate directly after competing/exercising. Intakes of somewhere between 0.7 to 1.5g per Kg body weight proved most effective. This becomes particularly significant if you do not have much time between exercise bouts, so that refuelling becomes a critical issue if you are to optimise your match day performance. The best foods to use straight after training are High Glycaemic index foods, such as some sports drinks and sweet sugary snacks (8).

Although general in nature this advice is applicable to all athletes and should be considered in the context of the overall training, match and recovery cycle. Refuelling should be high on the agenda of all players before, during and after a formal training session or match. This equally applies to players, who then continue their own personal training programme, whether this is in the gym or playing a round of golf. All these activities require fuel, and failure to replenish fuel stores will, in the long-term, affect your match day performance. Planning is crucial, and carrying an energy bar or sport drink in your training bag or golf bag is straightforward. This minor detail could be the difference between the perfect performance and that missed last-ditch tackle or shot on goal.

If you would like more specific and individual advice on the perfect training diet please contact Dr Gary Mendoza at


Hawley, J.A., S.C. Dennis, F.H. Lindsay and T.D.Noakes. Nutritional practices of athletes: are they sub-optimal? J. Sport. Sci. 13: S75-s87, 1995
Balsom, P.D., Wood, K., Olsson, P., Ekblom, B. Carbohydrate intake and multiple sprint sports: with special reference to football (soccer) Int J of Sports Medicine. 20(1): 48 – 52, 1999
Williams, C. Macronutrients and performance. J. Sport Sci. 13: s1-s10, 1995
Colgan, A. and S. Swanson. Nutritional manipulations before and during endurance exercise: Effects on performance. Medicine and Science in sport and exercise. 24:s331-s335,1992
Coyle, E.F. Timing and method of increased carbohydrate intake to cope with heavy training, competition and recovery. J. Sport. Sci. 9(suppl): 29-52,1991
Blom, P.S.C., A.T. Hostmark. O. Vaage, K.R. Kardel and S. Maehlum. Effect of different post-exercise sugar diets on the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 19: 491-496, 1987
Burke, L.M., G.R. Collier and M. Hargreaves. Muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise: Effect of the glycaemic index of carbohydrate feedings. J. Appl. Physiol. 75: 1019-1023,1993.
Burke, L.M., Cox, G.R., Cummings, N.K., Desbrow, B. Guidelines for Daily Carbohydrate Intake: Do Athletes Achieve Them? Sports Medicine. 31(4):267-299, 2001

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Valentine Rawat
Personal Trainer · S&C Coach · Official Trainer to Sky1 Obese A Year to Save My Life & SkyLiving FAT: The Fight of My Life I'm a father and a husband, and my girls are my inspiration to be better, do better & continually help others achieve better of themselves.

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