There’s no doubt that hard work on the training ground and sound tactics suited to the opposition and the game are key to success in a football match. But how well you actually play on the day is going to come down to how well fuelled you are. Just as teams will have a match strategy planned for games, players should also have a fuelling strategy too. This will ensure they get their nutrition right in the build-up to a game and can perform at their peak for the full 90 minutes.
Getting your food choices right will hugely impact your performance on the day, influencing everything from how far and fast you can run, to your decision making and passing accuracy and how quickly you tire . Get your fuelling right and you’ll have a huge advantage over the opposing team and will be much more likely take the 3 points. But get it wrong, or don’t think about it all and you’ll be running on fumes by the time the final whistle blows.
So, what should youth footballers eat in the build-up to matches?
Match Day -1
When it comes to nutrition, fuelling can’t be left to the match day alone. Think of your body like the fuel tank in a car; the more fuel in the tank, the better you will play in the game. Unlike in a car though, this tank can’t be filled in minutes, which is why your fuelling has to start on MD-1.
A high carbohydrate diet is what’s going to fill your tank up with the energy it needs to play at your best. To do this, players should aim to eat 6-8g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass . So, for a 65kg player, that would mean eating between 390- 520g of carbohydrate a day, which is a lot! The best way to do this is to include plenty of carbs in each of your 3 meals and add in lots of high carb snacks too. Having a snack before bedtime is also a great way to top-up the energy stores as well.
Good sources of carbs to include in each meal are:
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Fruit smoothies or juices
- Cereal and granola bars
- Rice crackers
- Toast, crumpets & bagels
Whether you’ve got a morning, midday or afternoon kick off, your pre-match meal is absolutely essential. This is your last main chance to ensure you have enough fuel in the tank, so make it count. This again needs to be high in carbohydrates, contain a good source of protein and should be eaten 2-3 hours before kick-off to give your body time to digest and absorb the nutrients.
Some good pre-game meal options are:
- Porridge made with semi-skimmed milk with honey and fruit
- Large bowl of cornflakes with semi-skimmed milk and a banana plus fruit juice
- Chicken pasta in a tomato sauce with a bread roll
- Tuna baguette and a fruit salad with a glass of juice
Use your time in the changing room to get in your final nutrition preparations and make sure you’re hydrated too. While getting ready for the game, and after the warmup, be sure to have some high carb snacks handy. These need to be simple foods that are light on the stomach and easy to digest like:
- Sports drinks
- Fruit juice or cordial
- Banana plus water
- Jelly Sweets plus water
Even If you’ve nailed your nutrition on MD-1 and pre-game, your body can only store enough fuel for about 60-90 minutes of high intensity exercise. So, to prevent you running out halfway through the second half, you need to refuel and rehydrate at half time. Aim to consume around 30g of easy to digest, simple carbohydrates, such as those shown above.
Your fuelling strategy doesn’t stop at full-time. What you eat in the hours after your game is going to determine how well you recover and will set you up for the training week ahead. A high carb and high protein snack in the changing room, followed by a nutritious meal in the 1-2 hours afterward is ideal.
- Chocolate milk and a banana
- Recovery shake
- Sweet chilli chicken or Quorn with stir-fry veg and noodles
- Beef or bean chilli with rice
Match Day +1
The day after the game is often the most overlooked by players with their nutrition. Think of your rest days as your recovery days. Your body will still be replenishing the energy stores used from the day before and muscles will still be adapting and repairing. Carbohydrate intake should be nice and high at the start of the day to help refuel the tank but can be reduced later on. Add in plenty of anti-inflammatory foods and foods high in Omega-3’s to help reduce muscle soreness.
Some Ideal meals for MD+1 are:
- Breakfast- Scrambled eggs and avocado on toast with orange juice
- Mid-morning Snack- Greek yoghurt and a banana
- Lunch- Asian salmon, rice and greens
- Afternoon snack- handful of mixed nuts
- Dinner- Chicken fajitas with veg and salad
So remember; to perform at your best, you have to fuel properly. Having a match day fuelling strategy will mean you go into every game fully prepared and fully fuelled. Use your training sessions to nail down your nutrition and see how your body feels with new foods or snacks. Match days aren’t the day to try out new things!
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1. Collins J, Maughan R, Gleeson M, et al. UEFA expert group 2020 statement on nutrition in elite football. current evidence to inform practical recommendations and drive future research. Br J Sports Med 2020.