You made it through the match, powered through the game and extra time, pushing yourself, putting your body to the test and now you’re done. You feel done; you have nothing left in the tank and your muscles are tight and in need of repair. Before you put your feet up (literally elevating your feet, using ice or heat so that your leg muscles can recover) you still have a task at hand that is as vital to strength and improvement as your training and playing itself: refuelling.
Nutrition is essential following a match and training. To begin, you’ll need to replenish the fluids you’ve spent through the high-intensity work you’ve put in – not least the fluids you’ve lost through sweating. For every kg of weight lost in a match, you should drink between 1.2-1.5 litres of water to replace it. Not sure how much? When you feel comfortable and your urine runs clear, you’re hydrated again.
But what are the best foods following a match?
You’ve put your body through the equivalent of a high-intensity workout over a prolonged period with only minimal rest between bursts of movement that have worked every muscle. Your body now needs vitamins, protein, carbohydrates and fats.
You need to refuel within an hour of exercising, but water and protein, in particular, are important as you leave the pitch.
Think protein. This helps your weary muscles rebuild and grow stronger and, following a match, you’ll have used up your reserves.
Excellent sources of animal protein include eggs, cheese, meat, fish and chicken are a great starting point, which would also cover you if you want to avoid over-processed food or are going organic.
For vegetarians, cereal, nuts, rice and seed are top choices if you’re avoiding meat.
Protein shakes and bars come in various forms – some of which will be suited to vegans. Here it’s a question of which whey protein is best for you. Because your aim is recovery, you should consider a whey that is quickly absorbed, such as an isolate or hydrolysate but remember that your body also needs its carbs for recovery – which you’ll find in a blend or whey concentrate shake. A portion of casein is also a good idea the morning and night of a match so that your body can metabolise over long periods keeping you from playing on empty.
Your glycogen stores will be depleted during the game and can be replaced by carbohydrates. Sugary carbs like fruit will see that your resources are replenished quickly. Get sugars into your body as quickly as possible when you come off the pitch. Remember the oranges your Sunday league coach gave out at half and full-time? They knew what they were doing. Sports drinks are a good way of ensuring you replace your energy as well as electrolytes.
When preparing your meal after the match, meat and two veg is your answer to a good recovery. Or, more accurately (and for vegetarians) you need a solid source of protein and carbs. Green vegetables are high in carbohydrates and protein. Fish is high in protein as well as omega 3 fats, which will assist your recovery. After all that exercise a big meal may well put you under, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as you need to rest your recovering muscles, but a better idea is to eat in smaller doses over the rest of the day. For example, a medium serving fish and green veg within two hours of the match, then chicken, potatoes and veg, later on, to keep your body metabolising the protein and carbs.
What should you avoid?
Well, though your work may feel finished for the day, you’ve still got a shift of sorts to put in by making sure your body receives the correct nourishment. Caffeine and alcohol may seem a good idea but are best avoided.
Last but not least, you’ve remembered to take your vitamins, right? Whereas a balanced diet is a good source of the vitamins you need, you’ll be using your reserves with every match and training session so you’re best taking your vitamin tablets on top of it – particularly vitamin D in the autumn and winter months.