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How to recover after a game

The 30-minute window
Recovery after training and games is one of the most important nutritional challenges that we face. Taking advantage of the 30-minute recovery window post-exercise may help the body to recover more effectively than delaying nutrition intake. This period after a training session, gym workout or game is when our muscles are primed to recover our energy stores and support the building of muscle mass.

One of the key goals of recovery nutrition is to replace the energy that we have just used and ensure we are ready to perform to our best in the next training session. To do this, consuming adequate carbohydrate post-exercise is key. Football match-play and strength training also cause muscle breakdown. As a result, consuming high-quality protein post-exercise is important to help our muscles to adapt to training.

What happens to our muscles during a match?
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for football. Even if you load your muscles with carbs the day before your match by consuming a high carbohydrate diet, by the end of a game almost 50% of your muscle fibres will be completely empty. The physical stress of a game can also cause damage to your muscle fibres meaning that you need to repair and rebuild them in the days after the match. Quality nutrition is vital in the hours and days after the game to replenish your energy stores and repair your damaged muscle fibres. If you do things right, your muscles will recover and reload with fuel so that you can train or play again in a matter of days.

When should I start my recovery process?
Recovery should begin as soon as you enter the changing room.  In the first two hours after match play, our muscles are highly sensitive to storing nutrients and so we should take advantage of this window of opportunity by eating carbohydrate rich foods for several hours after match play. Failure to do so can significantly reduce your recovery which could then impair your ability to train or play another match in the coming days.

How many carbohydrates do I need?
The golden rule is to consume carbohydrates at a rate of 1.2 g/kg body mass at hourly intervals for 3-4 hours after a game. A 75 kg player should consume 90 g of carbohydrate per hour from a mixture of foods and drinks. Studies from professional players from the English Premier League indicate that players are good at following these guidelines when it is an afternoon kick-off, but in the hours after an evening kick-off, they often do not consume enough carbohydrates. This is likely due to the practical schedule of late night kick-offs and so players are advised to really plan ahead by having pre-packed food available in their kit bags.

Choosing low fibre foods will also help to consume carbohydrate without feeling bloated and will also promote muscle glycogen storage when compared with high fibre foods. On the day after your game, you should also consume 8 g/kg body mass to further replenish energy stores.

How much protein do I need?
You should also consume a high quality protein source immediately after the match. A rapid delivery of amino acids will help to promote the building of muscle mass and stimulate the recovery process. Aim for at least 30 g of protein. For convenience and ease of digestion, liquid based whey protein is highly advantageous.  It’s also a good idea to consume protein prior to sleep to further stimulate the recovery process. Supplying our muscles with amino acids before bed-time can actually mean that we are accelerating recovery even while we’re sleeping!

Written By

Professor James Morton

A professor of Exercise Metabolism at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and a Registered Sports and Exercise Nutrition Practitioner with the British Dietetic Association’s UK Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr), James is responsible for research and innovation at Science in Sport, overseeing the Performance Solutions Team.