What you put in your body is especially important when it comes to training and sport.
When you're burning energy during a match or big event, your diet can ensure your energy levels, cognition and endurance remain at their highest levels for as long as needed and there are some easy basics to follow.
1. Plan your pre-match diet
What you eat and drink in the days before a game or big event can heavily influence your performance.
In the days before a big game, include a wide variety of foods that provide healthy levels of good quality carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole grain bread, oatmeal, beans and baked potato.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for our muscles and provide much-needed energy in the form of glycogen. If your diet is too low in carbs, your glycogen stores won’t be sufficient and you will likely experience a decline in performance in the match itself, feeling tired and lacking in energy.
During periods of moderate training (1 hour per day), aim to consume 5-7g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass per day.
During periods of intense training (1-3 hours per day), aim for 10g per kg of body mass per day.
For example, if you weigh 75kg and you're doing moderate training, you'll need 225-375g of carbohydrates a day, and if you're carrying out intense training you'll need 450-750g per day. These can vary according to gender but are a good guideline.
The higher the intensity of exercise, continuous or intermittent, the more essential carbohydrates become.
Long distance runners, rugby players, swimmers, footballers and cyclists typically use higher amounts of carbs in training so build your diet around the following food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables: 5-9 portions a day
- Grains and potatoes: 4-6 portions a day
- Calcium-rich foods such dairy alternatives fortified with calcium, leafy green veggies, seeds, oranges, beans, cashews, almonds and tofu: 2-4 portions a day
- Protein-rich foods such as quinoa, legumes, seitan (wheat protein), tofu and nuts: 2-4 portions a day
- Healthy Fats such as chia seeds, flax seeds, avocados and walnuts: 1-2 portions a day
2. Get the right fuel on match day
The focus of match-day nutrition is to get the body fuelled and hydrated without causing stomach discomfort. Stick to foods you’re familiar with and avoid experimenting with new foods.
If you have an early morning match, try and eat around 2-3 hours before the game.
Ideal pre-match breakfasts include slow release carbohydrates. Good examples are:
- oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
- wholemeal toast with nut butter
- shredded wheat with banana
- quinoa baked muffins
These slow-release carbs will ensure that your muscle glycogen stores are topped up for the big game.
For a game later in the day, have lunch around 2-4 hours before the start of the match.
As your lunch will be the pre-match meal, the plate should be half-filled with starchy carbs, a quarter protein and a quarter non-starchy vegetables. The combination of carbs and protein can help provide sufficient energy and prevent hunger during the game.
Good pre-game meal ideas include:
- tofu wrap with a side salad of leafy greens and avocados
- baked potato with baked-beans and veggies on the side
- a veggie stir-fry with seitan strips mixed into the noodles
- a quinoa burger with baked sweet potato wedges
If you need a snack 1-2 hours before the game, this should be something light, quick to digest and rich in carbohydrates such as a fruit smoothie, peanut butter on rice cakes, or a fruit bowl with yoghurt and sprinkled walnuts or chia seeds.
Always consume your meals with plenty of fluids to keep well-hydrated - just 2% dehydration can affect your energy and concentration!
3. Half-time replenishment
When half-time strikes, reach for carbs, water and electrolytes.
Even a small amount of carbs (around 25g) can help prevent a decline in blood glucose and delay fatigue during the latter part of a game.
Athletes including Lebron James and Novak Djokovic reach for half time snacks such as orange slices and dates. Dates and oranges are ideal as they move through the stomach quickly and are unlikely to cause abdominal discomfort.
And don't forget to drink water or isotonic sports drinks with electrolytes to help replenish the substantial fluids you lose during any game.
4. Recover the right way
Following intense exercise your liver and muscle glycogen stores will be naturally depleted so replenishing them with carbs becomes the priority. Aim to eat within 30-60 minutes after a game.
As a general guide, a meal with 1-1.5g of carbs per kg of body weight and 0.5-1g of protein per kg of body weight, and a small amount of fat is ideal to help with post-match recovery.
Ideal post-match meals include Katsu curry (tofu if plant-based or chicken if not) or a quinoa Quorn buddha bowl, both of which provide complex carbs to refuel muscles and protein to rebuild them.
Rehydration should begin immediately after a game. Aim to drink 500ml of water or a sports drink straight after a game and replace 150% of your body weight you lose in sweat within 2-3 hours of a game. An easy way to measure this is to weigh yourself before and after the game and calculate the difference in weight.
It’s important to avoid alcohol consumption all together when you're recovering as it dehydrates the body further, depletes your energy and prevents muscle recovery.
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Written by expert Nutritionist Riya Lakhani ANutr.