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Nutrition in Soccer: A Brief Review of the Issues and Solutions

  • D. Caruana Bonnici
  • M. Greig
  • I. Akubat
  • S. A. Sparks
  • D. Bentley
  • L. R. Mc NaughtonEmail author
Review article

Abstract

This review examines the issues surrounding soccer nutrition, including the nature of the game, training, and how nutrition can play a significant role in improving player performance and recovery. In soccer match-play, a total distance covered of up to 13 km is characterised by an acyclical and intermittent activity profile. The aerobic system is highly taxed, with average heart rates of ~ 85% of maximal values, and the finite muscle glycogen stores represent a key aspect of the interface between training, performance and nutritional support. Diets with high CHO content can optimise muscle glycogen, reduce net glycogen depletion, delay the onset of fatigue, and improve soccer performance. It is more common, however, for players to consume an excessive amount of protein in their daily diet perpetuating the popular belief that additional protein increases strength and enhances performance. More comprehensive recommendations suggest that soccer players should consume a high CHO diet from nutrient-rich complex CHO food sources that ranges from a minimum of 7 to 10 g/kg BM and up to 12 g/kg BM on match or heavy training days. Unfortunately, players often have a low energy intake, which can lead to negative energy balance, especially at times of schedule congestion. In many cases, soccer players often consume diets that are not very different from those of the general public. Therefore, despite a clear understanding of the physiological demands of soccer, and the association between nutritional preparation and performance, the dietary habits of soccer players are often characterised by a lack of education and mis-informed sporting traditions. This review discusses the potential barriers and various nutritional phases that need to be considered for training, pre, on the day of, and post-match to enable players and coaches to be more aware of the need to achieve more optimal macronutrient nutrition.

Keywords

Football Carbohydrate Protein Performance Fluids 

Introduction

In soccer match-play, a total distance covered of up to 13 km [67] is characterised by an acyclical, and intermittent activity profile [72, 116] that challenges a variety of physiological systems [5, 10]. During 90 min of a match, ~ 90% of activity is performed at a low to moderate intensity [10]. This is usually characterised as movement ≤ 15 km/h in elite players [71]. In this case, the primary energy pathway might be presumed as glycogenolysis and glucose oxidation [109]. The aerobic system is highly taxed, with average and peak heart rates of ~ 85 and 98% of maximal values, respectively [13, 62], corresponding to an average oxygen uptake of around 70% of maximum [6]. The ratio of low-to-high intensity exercise (where low, moderate and high are 4–12, 15–17, > 18 km/h, respectively), has previously been reported as ~ 2.5:1 in terms of distance, or ~ 7:1 in time [91].

While constituting a small proportion of the total distance covered, the high-intensity efforts, characterised as high running speeds (> 18 km/h) or sprinting (~ 30 km/h) [71] are a crucial element in elite soccer performance [10, 39], since the most decisive actions in a match are often performed in this category [62, 109]. High-intensity activities require use of the anaerobic systems which fuel actions such as tackling, jumping, sprinting [7], and ball possession [7, 91]. Elite players complete around 150–250 high intensity bouts [41, 72] of up to 4 s duration [79], which may occur every 40–70 s [16, 90], but 98% of these bouts are under 10 s in duration [79].

The intensity profile of match-play therefore has implications for energy expenditure and the nutritional strategies required to support these energy demands. Many factors contribute to success, with nutrition playing a small, but vital part, relative to the influence of genetic endowment, skill, training, motivation and others [68]. Nonetheless, a carefully-planned nutritional strategy that meets overall energy expenditure demands, should optimise energy stores, reduce fatigue, support training, achieve and maintain optimal body mass and physical condition, promote rapid recovery, and supply adequate hydration. This can offer additional related benefits and provide a competitive advantage. The aim of this review is therefore, to consider and evaluate the nutritional demands and dietary habits of elite soccer players, and to provide evidence-based recommendations for macronutrient and fluid intake.

Nutrition and Soccer Performance

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate (CHO) is a vital macronutrient for both soccer training and performance. It is an essential fuel for high intensity long duration activity, but storage of these carbohydrates is limited, and it can easily become depleted [101, 122]. When CHO stores are inadequate to meet the energy needs of the players’ training requirements, several physical, technical and cognitive parameters are at stake, jeopardising training/playing capacity [13, 25]. A common feature, which is often experienced during prolonged sessions of ≥ 90 min of submaximal or intermittent high-intensity activity, is fatigue. Noakes [77] and Nybo [78] reported that such fatigue may be experienced in the skeletal muscles (peripheral fatigue) and/or in the central nervous system (central fatigue), both of which will negatively impact performance by reducing either skeletal muscle contraction or central drive.

Conversely, a chronic excessive macronutrient intake may alter the players’ body composition [29]. Early work by Sherman et al. [102], suggested that an upper limit of around 600 g/day, (or 8 g/kg), beyond which additional CHO does not contribute significantly to muscle glycogen storage and performance. Thereafter, the loading intake suggestions were revised to include high CHO intake in the 2 or 3 days before competition [46], to maximise muscle and liver glycogen reserves [66] and enhance prolonged intermittent exercise performance. Balsom et al. [8] observed a 38% increase in muscle glycogen concentrations following 48 h of high CHO intake, which is likely to result in more high intensity running [11]. Other researchers have also demonstrated the important contribution of pre-match meals such as breakfast, which has been shown to increase muscle glycogen content by up to 10% [28]. What is also clear now, is that such loading strategies are not required for every day, and fuelling should be specifically targeted to address the needs of session that players are preparing for a practice session or game [2].

Nicholas et al. [76] reported that CHO ingestion during exercise, normally in the form of fluid which enables absorption, has been found to improve soccer-specific exercise capacity. Fluid CHO ingestion has been associated with spared glycogen [76, 116], reduced risk of hypoglycaemia, maintained plasma glucose concentrations and improved running time to fatigue [43]. In a previous review, Phillips et al. [87] concluded that studies are almost unanimous in supporting the consumption of CHO-electrolyte solutions during prolonged intermittent exercise for maintaining and/or improving exercise performance and capacity.

Adequate post-exercise CHO intake has been shown to maximise recovery of muscle glycogen stores, allowing for more frequent and higher-quality training sessions [69, 89], recovery between matches, and enhanced training adaptation [80]. This strategy produces an increased rate of muscle glycogen re-synthesis [52] compared to a normal mixed diet [24]. Failure to consume CHO in the immediate phase of post-exercise recovery leads to very low rates of glycogen restoration and can impair performance [116]. The appropriately timed intake of such ingestion is paramount, because it provides an immediate source of substrate to the muscle cell to start effective recovery [52]. The type of CHO provided is also important, CHO-rich foods with a moderate or high glycaemic index (GI) appear to have some advantages in promoting glycogen synthesis [21]. Fluid versus solid CHO does not appear to affect glycogen synthesis [60]. The pattern of food intake does not appear to affect glycogen storage in overall daily recovery so long as the total CHO needs are met [23], but when exercise is likely to occur again within 8 h, CHO should be consumed as soon as possible to maximise the rate of glycogen resynthesis [24].

Therefore, planning strategies, which include consuming CHO before, during and in the recovery period between exercise bouts, is of great importance for the player. The player’s eating and drinking plan must therefore provide enough CHO to fuel their training programme and to optimize the recovery of muscle glycogen stores between workouts and demanding matches. In addition to these acute manipulations, more recently, researchers and practitioners have attempted to further enhance training adaptations by periodising nutritional intake [1].

Protein

In comparison to CHO, there are only a few studies that have investigated the effects of protein ingestion in soccer [47, 69, 111]. Protein ingestion near the time of exercise may promote a positive nitrogen balance across the active muscles and facilitate a more effective adaptation to training. If players delay protein supplementation after a match or training, net protein balance will remain negative, which is likely to result in a decrease in muscle mass, a vital component in soccer performance. Data from Levenhagen et al. [65] show that delayed feeding of just 3 h reduces the whole-body protein synthetic rate by 12% (based on the rates of appearance of endogenous leucine of 2.69 ± 0.13 mg/kg/min and 2.40 ± 0.11 mg/kg/min for early and delayed feeding, respectively). In addition, eccentric contractions caused by deceleration, associated with soccer movement patterns and contact between players, causes skeletal muscle damage [92]. There is a considerable volume of research, which has investigated a wide variety of protein ingestion strategies for the promotion of training adaptations and recovery from damaging exercise [84]. Therefore, in the absence of studies which have directly used soccer as an exercise model, much of the recommendations are based on work examining other participant populations and exercise protocols [32, 74, 105].

Protein supplementation has been shown to expedite skeletal muscle protein turnover by upregulating muscle protein synthetic rate under conditions of increased physiological stress that would otherwise favour negative protein balance, such as those applied during a congested soccer schedule [36, 83]. In a recent study, Poulios et al. [88] provided evidence that protein feeding may be advantageous for eccentric and concentric lower limb muscle strength and high-speed running performance, whilst also allowing faster recovery of protein and lipid peroxidation during a congested schedule. Other studies suggest that, recovery from injury typically requires additional protein [112], gelatin or hydrolysed collagen [31]. Protein is therefore a key macronutrient required to optimise recovery after matches and hard training sessions [92].

Evidence suggests that the inclusion of 3–4 g of whey protein with CHO may be beneficial for performance in intermittent exercise [48]. Adding protein to a CHO supplement increased endurance running capacity towards the end of a simulated soccer match by 43% when compared to a CHO solution with equal energy content alone [4]. Where a lower amount of CHO is consumed, the co-ingestion of protein (0.4 g/kg/h) could be useful for increasing post-exercise muscle glycogen synthesis rates, as it may stimulate insulin secretion and muscle glycogen synthase, which have previously been shown to be key determinants of glucose disposal and uptake [40]. Further research investigating the precise type and amount of each nutrient required to optimise training and competition in soccer is warranted, since even elite players may not be ingesting optimal nutrients for the volume and type of training they are undertaking [3, 18].

Nutritional Demands of Soccer Players

Carbohydrate Requirements

Players should be aware of issues relating to quantity, quality and timing of their CHO intake [41]. Considering the heavy reliance on endogenous CHO stores in soccer, and the fact that only enough CHO to last for a single day of hard training can be stored [34], the primary need for players is to consume sufficient CHO nutrient-rich complex food sources. Diets with high CHO content can optimise muscle glycogen, reduce net glycogen depletion, delay the onset of fatigue and improve soccer performance [118]. Such a strategy will enable training load and intensity to be sustained, as well as to facilitate recovery between games [95, 122]. The CHO recommendations for soccer players suggests between 60 and 70% [41] of total daily energy intake (TDEI) from CHO. More comprehensive recommendations suggest that soccer players should consume a high CHO diet from nutrient-rich complex CHO food sources that ranges from a minimum of 7 g/kg BM daily [25, 47] to 10 g/kg BM daily [46], and up to a maximum of 12 g/kg BM daily for intensive training or maximum glycogen refuelling [24]. The majority of CHO intake should come from nutrient-dense CHO-rich or complex foods, rather than simple CHO foods containing refined sugars that are not particularly nutrient-rich [35].

Carbohydrates are classified according to their postprandial glycaemic response (Glycemic index, GI) [22], relating to how quickly CHO raises blood glucose concentrations following ingestion [22]. High GI (≥ 70) foods are rapidly digested and absorbed and characterised by a rapid increase in blood glucose and muscle glycogen, making them particularly useful for recovery between training session in the same day [24]. Foods in this category include white bread, white rice, sports drinks, many soft drinks, sugar, jam, and honey among others [116]. Low GI (≤ 55) foods are digested and absorbed slowly, resulting in a lower rise in circulating glucose [116] and insulin [53], and include beans, brown pasta and rice, and nuts. Ingestion of these CHO foods may have long-term health benefits and usually increase fibre intake compared to High GI alternatives. However, whilst High GI pre-exercise meal may increase muscle glycogen more than an Low GI isocaloric meal [115], the potential performance benefits are equivocal [51, 120].

Protein Requirements

Amino acids from proteins are essential for the production of the hormones and enzymes that regulate metabolism and other body functions [119]. The metabolism of amino acids can also serve as an auxiliary fuel source during the intense prolonged phases of a soccer match [24, 47], typically when glycogen stores are severely depleted [116], but this auxiliary fuel source is estimated at only 3% of total energy metabolism [113]. Protein also plays a key role in the adaptations that take place in response to training [41, 64]. The intake of small amounts (20–25 g) of high-quality protein that includes leucine, particularly after exercise [85], enhances protein synthesis, promotes the remodelling of both muscle tissue [73, 74] and brain vasculature [49], as well as enhancing endothelial renewal [121].

Despite the extensive research on many aspects of protein intake, few studies have specifically evaluated the protein requirements of soccer players [44], but Packer et al. [81] showed that the daily protein requirements were increased in trained males following a soccer match simulation. Several other studies have suggested that these athletes typically ingest adequate amounts, sometimes at the expense of CHO [3, 18]. Becoming prematurely CHO depleted may increase the reliance of protein as an energy source, so players should aim for a daily protein intake of between 1.3 and 1.75 g/kg BM, rising to ~ 2.0 g/kg BM during periods of intense training [20]. These recommendations are based on intakes of 0.25–0.40 g/kg/meal [73] and pre sleep intakes of 0.55 g/kg [93]. As some protein-rich foods are also high in saturated fat, players need to choose lean meat, and low-fat milk and dairy products, while ensuring that meals are prepared with minimal added fat. Fish is considered the best choice of protein from the animals, but other sources such as vegetables, breakfast cereal, soy milk, nuts, seeds, tofu, legumes and lentils, should also be consumed to meet requirements and add dietary variety [35].

Lipid Requirements

Fat is a necessary nutrient that assists in a number of bodily functions including the preservation of body heat, cushioning of vital organs, and the provision of valuable energy storage and supply. While fat is not the primary source of energy in soccer, it is necessary for low-intensity aerobic activities [13] and for recovery from high intensity exercise during match-play or training [12, 13, 63]. Clarke et al. [30] demonstrated that during simulated soccer performance, fat oxidation rates increase from 0.25 to 0.35 g/min over the course of a 90-min treadmill protocol. These authors also demonstrated that the rate of fat oxidation was inversely related to the intake of CHO during exercise. Interestingly, in both the CHO and placebo ingestion trials, plasma non-esterified fatty acids and glycerol increased during the course of the match simulations. Plasma free fatty acids have also been shown to increase from 433 ± 77 μmol/L, to 1.5 and 3 times after the first and second halves, respectively, these data suggest that lipolysis and fat oxidation play a role in overall energy provision during a game [63], especially if CHO is not ingested during the match [30].

Historically, soccer players were advised to consume less than 30% of their TDEI from fat [41], with a distribution of 7% from saturated fat, 10% from polyunsaturated fats, and 13% from mono-unsaturated fats [41]. Food containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as the oily fish, salmon, mackerel, sardines may also be beneficial in reducing post-exercise inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness [57]. Whilst this may be a useful addition to the diet, even the leanest players will have adequate fat available as an energy substrate during exercise, so players should focus on achieving appropriate protein and CHO daily targets.

Dietary Habits of Soccer Players

Despite the reported benefits of optimal nutrition in soccer performance [80, 94], research among soccer players reveals many nutrition concerns. Players often have a low TDEI [1, 18, 44]. Soccer players also consume diets that are not very different from those of the general public [44], which may result in a suboptimal distribution of energy with respect to the basic energy-producing nutrients, namely in levels of fat and protein that are too high when compared to evidence-based recommendations, and CHO volumes that are too low. Inadequate CHO intake is likely due to low consumption of the main sources of dietary CHO such as breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables, especially at dinner time [98]. Unlike CHO intake, nutritional assessment of soccer players generally reveals that protein consumption is sufficient to accommodate even the highest estimates of protein requirements [1, 18], but with additional concerns regarding the suboptimal timing and quality of intake [5].

Hyper-ingestion of fat has been reported among soccer players, although in contrast to protein this excessive ingestion is normally involuntary. Fat is the most proportionally over-consumed macronutrient [44, 98]. This is however unlikely to pose problems for the body composition of players, because they often do not attain their energy intake target [3, 18], and this will likely be exacerbated during a congested match schedule. In such a scenario, this may also restrict muscle and liver CHO storage capacity [116] and reduce the rate of muscle protein synthesis [107]. Most concerning of all is the evidence of under-reporting energy intake when using self-report food diaries, and photographic confirmation of food portion sizes [1], as this makes accurate assessment of TDEI potentially inaccurate for some players.

Barriers for Optimal Nutrition in Soccer

The dietary habits of soccer players are often not compatible with peak physical performance [94]. Deficits in nutritional knowledge by professional staff and players [103] represent a barrier to change. Nutrition information is often obtained by athletes from diverse sources including coaches, teammates, athletic trainers, fitness trainers, parents, supplement manufacturers, and the media [15]. A bias or lack of awareness can add to the myths surrounding nutrition that may ultimately adversely affect players’ diets [26]. This is particularly common among coaches, many of whom are former players possessing knowledge of nutrition limited to what they learnt throughout their own professional careers [80]. This may lead to the adoption of practices that are not evidence-based and the reduced likelihood of consulting with qualified nutritional professionals [80, 97]. This is problematic, since for many players, the coach remains a primary source of nutrition education, whose knowledge is often regarded to be accurate and complete [58, 103, 114]. Soccer players tend to acquire and internalise such knowledge as soccer habitus, and unconsciously embody it throughout their career span just as their coaches did before them, resulting in many false beliefs and misconceptions. Players should understand that improvements in performance and fitness occur as a result of long-term changes in diet and effective training, and not via quick-fix solutions as marketing efforts by nutritional product manufacturers might suggest [97, 116].

A common barrier to effective nutritional practice among players is the tendency toward infrequent meals [56], which may promote muscle catabolism, fat synthesis and overall undesirable changes in body composition, such as reductions in muscle mass. Ruiz et al. [98] noted that as players get older (> 20 years), they also tend to skip meals or substitute the items they eat, especially in the case of breakfast and snacks. Cultural issues can also influence dietary habits [42], with implications for a culturally diverse team. Ono et al. [80] showed that professional players’ personal eating habits were influenced predominantly by their social class and national habitus. Eating habits are likely to be related to players’ upbringing and influenced by the food culture and environment established by parents and guardians, [80].

Nutritional Planning

Soccer training and competition must be accompanied by an increased energy intake to maintain performance capacity and prevent the development of excessive fatigue [9, 64, 116]. Various nutritional challenges emerge as a result of a busy training and competition schedule; players may lose their appetites after training, eat poorly or regularly miss meals, or become ravenous and resort to take-away or fast foods [27].

The typical daily energy demand for senior male players has been estimated between 3500 and 4000 kcal on training days [94]. The estimated energy expenditure of soccer match-play has been reported at ~ 1700 kcal [99, 109]. Influencing factors, such as training volume and intensity, physical status, and phase of the season, must be taken into consideration in estimating total energy requirements and planning a successful nutritional strategy [44]. The energetic and metabolic demands of soccer training and match play will also vary as a result of environmental influences, standard of competition, patterns of play and their playing position [38, 100]. Indeed, Anderson et al. [3] recently used the doubly labelled water technique to determine that the daily energy intake of goalkeepers in the English Premier League (EPL), may be ~ 600 kcal/day lower than outfield players. Nutritional demands are further influenced by temporal variations in basal metabolic rate, thermic effect of food and thermic effect of activity.

Historically, guidelines of 55–65% CHO, 12–15% protein, and less than 30% fat were provided by Clark [29] and FIFA [41]. Expressing daily requirements as a percentage of TDEI may however be misleading and is difficult for athletes to attain such targets in real-time. The use of percentage targets is wholly discouraged for CHO and protein, and instead, researchers and practitioners now prefer to express recommended intake in terms of g/kg BM. These options might be used simultaneously in order to provide a more complete overview of macronutrient intake recommendation for soccer players [44]. The provision of generic guidelines is also made more complex with the observation that some practitioners in elite club settings, are now using a periodised approach to facilitate fuelling for and recovery from specific training sessions and matches [1]. This approach highlights the large daily variations in energy intake previously observed in EPL players on match (3789 ± 532 kcal) and training days (2956 ± 374 kcal) using the photographic, and 24 h recall method [1].

Nutrition on Match-Day

Menu planning on match-day is traditionally considered a nutritional priority by many soccer players and technical staff [50]. Burke et al. [25] suggested that soccer players traditionally attach more importance to pre- and post-match meals than to the daily diet. The main goals of a pre-match meal are to; support and maintain euglycemia, maintain glycogen stores [96] and hydration [92]. Failure to do so will lead to early losses of glycogen, which can lead to hypoglycaemia, fatigue and impaired performance [34, 41]. According to Jentjens and Jeukendrup [54], glycogen synthesis is affected by the amount of CHO consumed, with the optimal intake for glycogen storage reported at 7–10 g/kg BM/day. If the match begins in the afternoon, players will typically have a light breakfast followed by a main meal around midday. If the match is played in the evening, players will have a late breakfast followed by a light lunch and a pre-match meal during the late afternoon. Players should start a match on an almost empty stomach, so they are generally advised to focus on CHO-rich foods to provide a total of at least 1.0 g/kg BM during the 3–4 h period before kick-off [17]. Protein intake is not considered to be a nutrient of utmost importance at this particular time. The meal should contain low-GI, complex CHO-rich foods, for long-term stable blood glucose concentrations and general feelings of satiety [108], especially when adequate CHO has been ingested in the previous 24–36 h before the match, as the GI of the meal is likely to have less of an effect on muscle glycogen content [115]. Players should avoid inappropriate foods such as those containing large quantities of fibre, or those representing high protein sources that also inadvertently contain high concentrations of fats, such as ground beef and dairy products. Such protein-rich sources take longer to digest and absorb, and are therefore inappropriate for consumption prior to long duration high intensity exercise [37].

A pre-match snack with a small amount of CHO that is rapidly digested and absorbed, such as dried fruit or CHO energy bars [35] administered within an hour prior to kick-off, may help spare liver and muscle glycogen and maintain blood glucose [101]. The closer the ingestion of CHO occurs to kick-off, the greater the reliance should be on liquid-form CHO, such as a fruit smoothie, yogurt drink, fresh or tinned fruit [35], or sports drinks [33] (Table 1).
Table 1

Pre-match carbohydrate (CHO), protein (PRO) and fluid intake recommendations

Timing

Pre-match intake

Daily intake

7–10 and up to 12 g/kg BM of CHO

1.3–1.75 up to 2.0 g/kg BM of PRO

3–4 h before kick-off

1–4 g/kg BM of CHO

1 g/kg BM or PRO

2 h before kick-off

6–8 mL/kg BM of fluid

1 h before kick-off

25–30 g of CHO

15 min before kick-off

300–600 mL of fluid

Inter-match CHO Intake

The primary purpose of inter-match nutrition is to maintain sufficient concentrations of blood glucose and muscle glycogen, in order to sustain a high rate of energy production and delay fatigue as much as possible [71]. This is achieved by consuming adequate fluids that can move through the stomach and into the bloodstream without causing any form of distress to the player during the match.

The best opportunity for the player to replenish some of the fluid and CHO lost during the match is during the half-time interval. In this regard, the most effective and convenient way to consume a combination of fluids, CHO and electrolytes is to ingest a well-formulated isotonic sports drink containing 6–8% CHO [19, 116] or CHO supplementation of 30–60 g/h. This choice of intake is easily digested and absorbed, helps maintain hydration status, provides substrate to delay fatigue, and maintains skill and cognitive function, to minimize diminishing performance towards the end of a match. Other sources may include diluted fruit juices, high-CHO energy bars, fruit, water and gels, although they are less recommended due to their association with gastrointestinal discomfort unless the players have specifically trained their gut to be familiar with this strategy [55]. Smith et al. [104] highlighted the importance of isotonic hydration in the case of prolonged training lasting more than 1 h, due to the substantial increases in energy demands. Such supplementation was shown to permit the preservation of energy throughout the entire session by promoting glycogen storage.

Post-match Nutrition

The restoration of muscle and liver glycogen is a fundamental goal of recovery between training sessions or competitive events, especially when the athlete must undergo multiple workouts within a condensed time period [23]. The main goal for recovery nutrition in soccer is therefore to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle damage, ensuring recovery in time for the next match or training session, given the highly congested schedules that typically characterise soccer at any level [25]. Timing of intake is crucial to ensure rapid recovery at this stage [117]. While complete recovery in soccer is likely to take more than 5 days [106], recovery nutrition in the 15 min to 4 h after the match is considered the most critical time-frame when training is scheduled the following day. Souglis et al. [106] observed that both male and female players had elevated blood uric acid and creatine kinase concentrations 4–5 days after competitive soccer matches. Therefore, nutrition strategies should also target recovery from muscle damage sustained during training or match play [88].

One of the key nutritional ingestion strategies to enhance recovery is to consume protein which can be absorbed rapidly. Some research suggests that the timing, rather than the overall quantity of daily protein may be of more importance to soccer players [92]. Immediately after exercise, whey protein is likely to be the best choice of protein to consume as it can be quickly absorbed and contains high amounts of leucine, which is believed to be an important in the optimisation of the mTOR muscle protein synthesis pathway [112]. Another important aspect of recovery, is that the quantity and quality of protein required in the diet to both maintain and increase body protein deposits, is closely related to the amount of energy consumed [86]. Animal protein, which is believed to be a main trigger for increases of muscle protein synthesis, contains more leucine [112], while whey protein is rapidly digestible and has been shown to be superior in terms of muscle protein synthesis compared to soy or casein, when taken in isocaloric amounts [110]. Optimal myofibrillar protein synthesis rates may also be reduced by up to 24% during recovery from exercise when alcohol is co-ingested with protein, compared to only consuming protein [82], so players should avoid drinking alcohol during the recovery period. An effective recovery strategy should therefore include both CHO [25, 52] and protein [14] for the restoration of nutrients and energy stores, with the aim of an efficient return to normal physiological function, lessening of muscle soreness, and the disappearance of the psychological symptoms associated with extreme fatigue, thereby reducing the risk of injury [75]. The co-ingestion of milk-based protein and CHO has previously been shown to reduce blood myoglobin, creatine kinase, and increase peak muscle torque 48 h after a damaging exercise bout, compared to CHO alone [32]. More recently, Sollie et al. [105] also demonstrated that CHO and protein co-ingestion (0.8 and 0.4 g/kg/h, respectively) was more effective at promoting anabolism compared to the ingestion of 1.2 g/kg/h CHO following exhaustive aerobic exercise. Furthermore, the CHO and protein strategy also improved sprint performance by 3.7% and time trial performance by 8.5%, 18 h after the exhaustive exercise bout.

An immediate recovery strategy that involves ingesting of 1.0–1.2 g/kg BM/h of CHO [25], perhaps in a series of small snacks every 15–30 min [54] for up to 4 h after a match, is necessary to provide an immediate source of substrate to muscle cells to initiate effective recovery [24, 59]. This strategy aims to enhance glycogen restoration, stimulate insulin secretion, increase glucose uptake and muscle glycogen synthase [54], and reduce overall muscle soreness [70]. There may also be a role of providing CHO for the improvement of skeletal muscle function, which has been previously glycogen depleted. Gejl et al. [45] showed that calcium release from muscle sarcoplasmic reticulum was impaired in a glycogen depleted state, when insufficient CHO was consumed in the recovery period.

Therefore, post-exercise nutrient intake should consist of a high GI CHO source such as a serving of fresh fruit or juice, breakfast cereal, oats, or CHO based sports nutritional supplements in solid or liquid form [35]. Adding a dose of protein provides added benefits as it helps upregulate muscle protein synthesis for training adaptation and the repair of damaged muscle [32, 74, 92, 105]. The ideal amount of protein to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis is likely to be at least 20–25 g or ~ 0.3 g/kg BM [74], but may be as high as 40 g in some individuals, depending on the quality of the protein and the age of the athlete (for a more detailed review of these factors, readers are  referred to the paper by Phillips et al. [84]). In view of this, Nedelec et al. [75] suggested the timely co-ingestion of a CHO to PRO ratio of approximately 3:1, such as flavoured milk combined with a chicken/honey/peanut butter sandwich. A post-match meal consumed within 4 h of the final whistle should comprise a low-fat PRO source such as chicken, combined with potatoes and vegetables to satisfy recommended co-ingestion ratios [61, 75], when the primary goal is recovery and refuelling (Table 2).
Table 2

Post-match and training nutritional intake recommendations

Timing

Intake guidelines

Within 15 min of exercise

1 g/kg BM of CHO

20–40 g high quality protein containing 2–3 g of leucine

Up until 4 h after exercise

1.0–2.4 g/kg BM of CHO

0.3 g/kg BM of PRO

Fluid with electrolytes replacement—150% of BM losses

Summary

Despite a clear understanding of the physiological demands of soccer, and the association between nutritional preparation and performance, the dietary habits of soccer players are often characterised by a lack of education and mis-informed sporting traditions. The onus is often on the player and relevant support staff to better monitor and support players’ nutritional strategies and find effective implementation strategies. This review provides clear evidence-based recommendations for macronutrient and fluid intake for heavy training and match days, so that more optimal nutrition might be achieved.

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Copyright information

© Beijing Sport University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Caruana Bonnici
    • 1
  • M. Greig
    • 1
  • I. Akubat
    • 2
  • S. A. Sparks
    • 1
  • D. Bentley
    • 3
  • L. R. Mc Naughton
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Sport and Physical ActivityEdge Hill UniversityOrmskirkUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Arts, Society and Professional StudiesNewman UniversityBirminghamUK
  3. 3.College of Nursing and Health ScienceFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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