If you’re serious about the beautiful game, fuelling your body for training, playing and recovery, requires care and attention. An effective football diet plan should be highly personalised, taking into account everything from your age, gender and the level you play at, to the frequency of your training, the position you play, your workrate and even kick off times.
There are plenty of variables too. A rampaging wingback, playing semi pro and training twice a week, has very different needs than a striker who leads the attack for their Sunday League side with fear of tracking back. Playing and training patterns can change from week to week and there’s the on and off-season to consider.
But from Sunday morning amateurs, right up to the professional game, there are some basic principles you can follow to fuel your game better.
At Veloforte, we’re experts in understanding how powerful and tasty real-food nutrition boosts sports performance and in this guide, we’ll give you all the tools you need, to create a basic football fuelling plan.
Read on for your complete introduction to nutrition for football.
Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for footballers
- Vitamins and minerals: Iron, Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium and Zinc
Let’s start with the basic building blocks – the important macros, micros, vitamins and minerals – that provide energy, help muscle repair and keep your football engine in good working order on and off the pitch.
Nutritional requirements for football players
Footballers need strength, speed and power and that means eating to support training and exercise that ranges from weights sessions in the gym to sprint sessions through the park.
Studies show that metabolic rate (the amount of energy we expend) and energy consumption increases significantly in footballers. In fact, one study on Liverpool players found the average energy intake on match days averaged 3,789 kcal and on training days 2,956 kcal.
Those calories need to come from a balance of quality carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein.
Carbohydrate is your body’s priority fuel source for exercise, particularly at the high intensities you need to support playing football.
Any carbs you consume are converted into readily-available glucose that’s either used immediately to power your box-to-box runs, or stored as glycogen in your body’s main fuel tanks, the liver and the muscles. That limited storage holds between 300 and 600g of glycogen and takes between 60 and 90 minutes of effort to empty.
Just like effective running nutrition in the build up to a marathon, it’s important to get to kick off – or the start of a training session – with your glycogen tanks full. It’s also beneficial to adapt your carb intake for training days, match days and rest days to be well fuelled without any negative effects on your body composition.
Experts at Mysportscience suggest that “on rest days a carbohydrate intake of 5g/kg may be sufficient whereas on match days, in preparation for match day and in recovery from matches intake would have to be closer to 7g/kg to meet the carbohydrate requirements of match play and optimise glycogen resynthesis.”
Those extra carbs support your in-game effort, restock your tanks which is crucial for effective recovery.
Protein is a critical building block for the body. Good quality protein supports recovery between training sessions and after matches. It aids the uptake of glycogen into the muscles, refuelling them for your next session and helps repair the micro tears and muscle damage you may suffer.
How much protein you need varies from player to player. The frequency, duration and intensity of your training and matches all play a part. But research suggests consuming 1.4 - 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day, should be enough.
Much of your protein will come from regular meals, including plant or animal sources and you should aim for combinations that provide complete proteins with all 20 essential amino acids. For example, hummus and pita bread and peanut butter on wholewheat toast.
Protein shakes are convenient too. Veloforte Recovery Protein Shakes contain 13g complete protein and a 3:1 Carb:Protein ratio - optimally balanced for effective recovery.
You need good fats to help with the uptake of fat-soluble vitamins (A,K,D and E) that support recovery, energy supply and your immune system. Mono and polyunsaturated fats can also lower blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol and cut the risk of heart disease. Food like avocados, nuts and oily fish are all good sources of healthy fats.
You should avoid too much saturated fat, found in foods like cakes, biscuits, crisps and fatty red meat.
Vitamins and Minerals
We all need to ensure we get an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals. That includes iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, selenium, sodium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12. But for footballers these are particularly important to health and performance. Many of these can come from regular foods but in some cases supplements can plug gaps.
Iron: Athletes use iron stores more quickly than non-athletes and a lack of iron can induce fatigue, impairing training and match performance.
Calcium: Needed for strong bones and experts recommend athletes, including footballers, should aim for 1,200 to 1,500 mg of calcium daily from food or supplements.
Sodium, potassium and magnesium: Support energy metabolism and muscle function.
Zinc: Required for growth, cell reproduction and testosterone production and has been shown in some trials to help speed recovery from colds. Eggs, peas, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds are all good sources, though the doses used to fight the colds in the studies required supplements.
Best food for a football player’s diet
The best way to meet your body’s nutritional needs is to eat a well-balanced and varied diet. But there are some foods that deliver more nutritional bang for buck when it comes to a footballer’s essential needs.
Easily blitzed in a smoothie or added to salads, this supergreen has high levels of iron plus vitamins A and K which can help reduce inflammation, support bone health and reduce fatigue.
Poached or boiled, eggs are a great source of protein and essential amino acids. They’re particularly rich in leucine, an important amino acid for muscle repair.
Protein-packed oily fish like salmon and mackerel are also high in omega 3, making them ideal recovery fodder and great fighters against inflammation. It’s good for the immune system and bones and joints too.
Low-fat, low carb, high-fibre veggies like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables offer excellent nutritional bang for buck. Great sources of folate, vitamin A and C, they’re also crammed with antioxidants and phytonutrients. These plant-based compounds can help reduce inflammation and support recovery.
Smashed up on wholewheat toast or added to energy-boosting smoothies, avocados are full of good fats and loaded with vitamins and minerals (the long list includes vitamin K, Folate, Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B3.)
Beetroot and beet juice
Beetroot is full of nitrate that can improve stamina to help you push harder, for longer, improve blood flow, and help lower blood pressure. This is more highly concentrated in beetroot juice shots.
Importance of hydration for football players
The fairly recent introduction of drink breaks into the pro game shows the importance of hydration for footballers, not just for performance but for safety too.
Studies show that footballers have a tendency to finish matches dehydrated and just 5% dehydration can cause a 30% hit on performance. So if you want to play at your best for the full ninety, the right approach to replenishing fluids is as important as what you eat.
From fatigue to muscle cramps, and even feelings of faintness or dizziness, dehydration comes at a cost. Your heart works harder to shift blood around your body too, so your on-pitch efforts feel harder when fluid levels are diminished.
You can avoid this by building good hydration habits into your every day. The NHS recommends drinking 1.2 litres of water daily though footballers are likely to need more.
But remember, your fluid replacement needs on and off the pitch are unique. Duration, intensity, temperature and sweat rate also play a big part in hydration levels.
Thirst and the colour of your urine (the lighter the better) provide good hydration cues. It may also be useful to weigh yourself before and after a match as a guide to your own sweat rate. A rule of thumb: every kilogram of body weight lost is equal to 1 litre of sweat loss.
When we sweat we lose important minerals too. Getting into the habit of adding electrolytes like Veloforte’s Attivo, Vivo and Solo Powders to your pre and post-match water bottle can help support the body’s fluid uptake, balance and aid recovery. It also livens up plain water with some fantastic refreshing flavours.
Football diet plan example for Premier League pros
Want to know what’s in the average Premier League footballer diet? Here’s a quick overview of what the big stars would tuck into.
The night before a match
A high carbohydrate meal, often based on gluten-free sources of carbs such as rice, sweet potatoes or quinoa.
Carbs are on the menu again with cereals, porridge and smoothies all popular options.
Around 2-3 hours before kick off, players will eat a meal rich in carbohydrates, with moderate protein but lower in fats and fibre. Some will reach for oats and cereals again, others will choose from things like rice, couscous, beans, fruit juices, flavoured yogurt and fresh fruit.
Some players use caffeine to boost mental alertness and reduce feelings of fatigue. Caffeine can take up to an hour to peak in the bloodstream (though this is highly individual) and so players time their intake carefully.
Immediately after a game, players reach for a classic protein and recovery shake. For the pros, these are often personalised but for example, this would be a 500ml with 30g of protein and 50g carbs. Veloforte’s delicious new Nova and Vita protein recovery shakes are ideal. They’re packed full of complete protein with a trusted 3:1 carbs:protein ratio, and natural electrolytes for fast and effective refuelling.
It’s important for players to continue to take on carbs and protein in the hours immediately after games too. So teams from Wolves to Juventus now commonly also have healthy hot snackable food in the changing rooms.
How to create your own matchday football diet plan
Breakfast and lunch
Kick off time will dictate whether you eat breakfast and lunch and what you eat. But the main aim of your pre-match meals is to top up glycogen stores. The later the kick off, the more likely these will be depleted during the day. Shoot for meals that offer slow-burn carbs and come low in fibre, lower in fat (to avoid any stomach troubles) and moderate in protein.
Last minute fuel-tank top ups can help see you through the first 45 minutes. Energy bars make good snacks more than an hour before kick off, while gels, carb drinks and chews can be eaten for extra calories post-warm up and even right up to kick off.
Half time/during the game
Half time top ups need to tick two important boxes. They should provide fast-acting carbs to power your second half performance and – crucially – play nice with your gut.
Veloforte’s gels use natural sources of energy rather than the over-processed carbohydrates found in many traditional energy gels, that can play havoc with sensitive stomachs and cause unwanted tummy troubles. Our bitesize boosters, energy chews, also make it easy to take on smaller amounts of carbs, and tailor your intake as necessary.
The minute that final whistle blows, it’s time to start thinking about recovery. That means replenishing glycogen stores and providing your body with the protein building blocks it needs to repair muscle. Aim to get a hit of 30g protein and 50g carbs in a 3:1 ratio as soon as you can after the game, like Veloforte’s Nova and Vita recovery shakes. If you’d prefer something solid, the Veloforte Forza bar, has everything you need in just the right ratio to start your body’s bounce back. Or stick a Veloforte Mocha bar in your kit bag to support muscle recovery. From Recovery Bars to Recovery Shakes, Veloforte now offers an all natural way to get your golden ratio. Forza and Mocha offer up to 12g of protein, Recovery Protein Shakes up to 23g!
Getting started with football nutrition
1. Map out your needs
To build your own football player diet, start by sketching out your weekly training and playing schedule and mark down the days where you’re working harder and need more energy, versus the days where you’re resting or prioritising recovery. Having this overview will help to refine your fuelling needs.
2. Create your football nutrition plan
Good football nutrition isn’t just about fuelling for matchday, it’s important to build a plan that’ll fuel your health on and off the pitch, on game days, training days and rest days. Not to mention looking at shifts between the on and off season.
3. Create your hydration strategy
There are many variables to good hydration and understanding your unique needs requires trial and error and attention detail.
Monitoring your sweat rate in different conditions, paying attention to thirst and urine colour can all help you build a sensible approach to fluid intake.
4. Stock up and start testing
You have the tools to create your own football nutrition plan, and now it’s time to stock up on the essentials to fuel your game.
Before, during and after nutrition…..We don’t think you’ll need to look further than Veloforte’s range of Energy Bars, Natural Gels, Hydration Powders and Energy Chews. We provide carefully balanced, powerful and delicious options for every footballer’s needs, no matter what level you play at.