WRITTEN BY DR CRIONNA TOBIN
One of the most common questions any nutritionist receives is how to ensure players are fuelled optimally. The aim of game day nutrition is to ensure muscle glycogen levels are maximised, the player is fully hydrated while minimising hunger or any type of gastrointestinal distress before and during the game. It is also important to consider including foods that are familiar to the player potentially due to physiological factors and always practicing game day nutrition in training.
Regardless of what position or level the player is competing at, game day nutrition is vital and can have a huge impact on performance and therefore the outcome of the game. The following tips will answer the most commonly asked queries around match day nutrition so your players will feel energised and focused to perform to their best on game day.
Fuel up with carbohydrates the day before a game:
Research has consistently found that players consuming a high carbohydrate diet in the day(s) leading up to a game cover more ground and at higher intensity during the game1. Therefore, the 24 h before a game is the ideal time to carbohydrate load to ensure glycogen levels are maximised to support high intensity play. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen and the aim of “carbohydrate loading” is to maximise a players glycogen stores so that they have enough energy to support all the high intensity plays such as sprinting, tackling, shooting, scoring and jumping, during the game. Players should aim to consume approximately 10g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight the day before the game. For example, an 80kg player will need to consume close to 800g of carbohydrate. In this period, including some low fibre sources such as basmati rice, pasta, fruit juices, bread, sports drinks or sugary sweets may make it easier to consume such large amounts of carbohydrate. This is due to the low fibre content of these sources, which will reduce the feeling of satiety and allow for the substantial intake required. Sometimes it can be difficult for players to achieve such a high carbohydrate intake due to their high body weight. In these instances, they may prefer to load with a lower more practical amount of 6-7g/kg over a period of 2-3 days. It’s important to note that this carbohydrate loading strategy should be implemented in combination with a taper in training to maximise glycogen stores2. As with all nutrition strategies, it should be practiced prior to implementing it on game day to ensure it works for each client.
Below are some sample meal ideas that are perfect in the lead up to a game. You can find more recipes here
Chicken stir-fry with rice
-100g basmati rice
-100g mixed vegetables
Salmon with patotes & Veg
-150g salmon fillet
- 400g potatoes
-100g mixed vegetables
-100g mixed berries
-300ml Avonmore Protein Milk
Calories: 538 kcal
Calories: 688 kcal
Calories: 475 kcal
Fuel up with carbohydrates 1-4 hours prior to an event
It is common practice for players to consume an enormous amount of carbohydrate in the hours before a game. This often leaves them feeling lethargic and sluggish going into a match due to what is known as postprandial somnolence. By getting players to consume the majority of the carbohydrates the day before the game, their glycogen stores are near full capacity. This removes the pressure to consume large amounts of carbohydrate on game day, allowing them to eat to satiety instead. The main aim for game day should be topping up their glycogen stores and avoiding stomach or gastro-intestinal issues. A low fat, low fibre meal is the aim in the 1-4 hours prior to a game in order to allow for easy digestion. An example of a pre-game meal could be white rice with chicken. The timing of their last meal is a personal preference and should be tested before a training session to avoid the possible impact of stomach upset on performance. The aim should be to start the game with an empty stomach and full glycogen stores. Consuming a meal 2-3 hours before a game followed by a small snack containing carbohydrates 60-90 minutes before a game is a popular strategy often used. For example, granola bars are a simple and effective snack that can be used as a snack prior to a game.
Tip #3 – Consume carbohydrates during the game
Truth be told, assuming players have implemented the above tips and maximised glycogen stores and play less than 70 minutes, they do not need to consume carbohydrates during the game3. However, most players like to consume carbohydrates throughout the game to ensure they have enough fuel to last the full match or from a physiological standpoint. Good sources for during a match are sports drinks, sugary sweets or fruit gums. It’s important to remember, that players can only digest approximately 1g of glucose per minute. This means that knocking back a sports drink that contains more than 30g of glucose in the 15-minute period at half time may cause stomach problems. Consuming an energy gel (16g of glucose) or half a bottle of sports drinks (15g of glucose) at half time and where possible consuming small amount throughout the game is probably a better option. If they experience stomach issues after consuming carbohydrates during a game, mouth rinsing a sports drink before spitting it out may help with performance4. It is speculated that rinsing the mouth with a sweetened beverage for 5-10 seconds at intervals throughout the game activates reward sensors in the brain which in turn motivate the player to play more intensely5.
To optimise game day nutrition the main goal is to maximise glycogen stores prior to the game. This can be achieved by consuming 10g/kg/bw-1 of carbohydrate the day before, a meal that is low in fat and fibre in the 1-4 hours prior followed by a small snack 60-90 minutes before the game. As with all nutritional strategies, it’s important to implement them in a numerous training session or practice games prior to game day to ensure they work for each player. Once game time comes and if you chose to consume carbohydrates during, it’s best to have small amounts of carbohydrates throughout and up to 15g at half time to minimise GI issues. For more recipes and tips on fuelling for rugby, click here.
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- Balsom, P.D et al., 1999. Carbohydrate intake and multiple sprint sports: with special reference to football (soccer). International Journal of Sports Medicine, 20(01), pp.48-52
- Bussau, V.A. et al,. 200 Carbohydrate loading in human muscle: an improved 1 day protocol. European journal of applied physiology, 87(3), pp.290
- Colombani, P.C., Mannhart, C. and Mettler, S., 201 Carbohydrates and exercise performance in non-fasted athletes: a systematic review of studies mimicking real-life.
- Chambers, E.S., Bridge, M.W. and Jones, D.A., 2009. Carbohydrate sensing in the human mouth: effects on exercise performance and brain activity. The Journal of physiology, 587(8), pp.1779-1794
- Williams, C. and Rollo, I., 201 Carbohydrate nutrition and team sport performance. Sports Medicine, 45(1), pp.13-22