Training Day Nutrition for Youth Footballers

The role nutrition plays in football performance cannot be overlooked. It’s key to both mental and physical performance in the preparation for and recovery from a session.

What a player fuels with and when they fuel will have a direct impact on lots of different areas of performance from strength and speed to accuracy and decision making [1]. Get this right and players will see massively improved adaptations to training and performance on the pitch but get it wrong and they might struggle to see out the 90 minutes.

But what exactly is ‘good nutrition’ and how should youth players be fuelling their training sessions?

How Should Players Fuel for Training?

While each player will have slightly different nutritional needs based on things like their height, weight, age and playing position etc (just think about Pogba compared to Messi!), the general principles will be the same. In this article, we’ll talk about what to eat before, during and after training to get the most out of your sessions and to prepare for the games ahead.

Before Training

How you fuel your body before a training session is going to influence how well you perform on the pitch. Going into a session with little fuel in the tank is going to mean earlier fatigue, less metres covered, lower speeds and poorer passing and shooting accuracy amongst other things [2,3].

The main fuel your body will use during a training session is carbohydrates. The carbohydrates you eat will either circulate in the blood as glucose or will be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. The more glycogen that is stored, the better and longer you can perform for before fatigue hits. To make sure your glycogen stores are well topped up you should eat a high carb meal 2-3 hours before the session. The harder or longer the session will be, or if you have more than one session on the same day, the more carbs you will need to eat.

For hard or intense training days, fill half of your plate with carbohydrates. For regular sessions, fill around 1/3 of your plate with carbs. Make sure to add in a good source of protein, some colourful fruit and veg and drink plenty to stay hydrated as well.

Good options of pre-training meals are:

  • Tuna pasta and orange juice
  • Chicken fajita wraps with fruit squash
  • Homemade chicken fried rice with fruit juice
  • Large bowl of porridge with banana, fruit and honey and water

During Training

Because your body can only store enough glycogen (fuel) to last around 60-90 minutes of exercise, you might need to top up these stores for the longer or more intense sessions. If this is the case, simple carbohydrates that are easy to digest are the best option [1]. This way the energy can be released nice and quickly and you won’t end up with stomach pains. High carb drinks are a great choice for fuelling during a session, as they will also hydrate the body which is again key to good performance. Aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate for every hour of exercise you do.

Options include:

  • Sports drink
  • Fruit squash
  • Handful of jelly sweets
  • Banana
  • 2-3 Jaffa Cakes

After Training

Fuelling doesn’t stop when the whistle blows at the end of the session. What you eat in the hours after training is going to affect how your body adapts, improves and recovers. Get this right and you’re going to see even bigger gains from the hard work you’ve put in.

When it comes to refuelling after training, remember the 3 R’s of recovery; Refuel (carbs), Repair (protein) and Rehydrate (fluids). Choose a meal that ticks off all of these boxes to make sure your body can adapt, recover and prepare and aim to eat this within around 90 minutes of finishing [1].

Some good options are:

  • Chicken and tomato pasta with garlic bread and water
  • Cajun chicken with rice and veg and fruit juice
  • Baked potato with beans, cheese, a side salad and fruit juice
  • Stir-fry beef in a sweet chilli sauce with veg and noodles and a water

If it was a particularly long or hard session, you have another session the same day or if game day is approaching, then a snack before your meal is a great way to kickstart the recovery process and ensure you’re in optimal condition for the next session. Aim to eat this within around 30 minutes of finishing.

This should be high in carbs and contain a good source of protein too. Some good options are:

  • Banana and flavoured milk
  • Oat bar and milk
  • Yoghurt and granola
  • Fruit smoothie

To summarise; the better you fuel your body, the better you will perform in training and the better you perform in training, the better you will play in a match.

Make sure you go into every training session with a full tank of fuel so that you can get the most out of your session and perform at your best.

Just like training sessions are the time where tactics and match strategies are practiced, it’s also the opportunity to work on your match day fuelling strategy too. Get these nailed down on the training ground so that you can go into each match fuelled and ready to win.

Emmy Campbell, BSc., MSc, SENr., Registered Nutritionist @teamYSN_

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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.

2. Krustrup P, Mohr M, Steensberg A, et al. Muscle and blood metabolites during a soccer game: implications for sprint performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006;38:1165–74.

3. Saltin B. Metabolic fundamentals in exercise. Med Sci Sports 1973;5:137–46.

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