The value of a World class nutrition strategy has long been a key driver in preparing England’s elite teams for the rigours of tournament football.
Indeed detailed nutritional strategies are far from considered just a marginal gain for the England Women’s team; they are crucial to performance and significant effort goes into planning the squad’s nutritional needs pre-, during and post-game.
When England Women embarked on their 2019 World Cup campaign, The FA’s nutrition experts set about planning strategies aimed at giving England a competitive edge during the tournament.
The aim was simple: To win the World Cup, England Women needed to be the best fuelled and most nutritionally prepared team in the tournament. The backroom team took a forensic approach to in-game nutrition strategies, namely the introduction of SIS energy gels to ensure performance levels were optimised throughout the 90 minutes.
Recently published research indicates that both male and female football players tend to under fuel leading into match-play. This results in players often not having the right amount of fuel in the muscles to see them through 90 minutes.
Glycogen plays a crucial role in athletic performance, especially the high intensity nature of professional football match-play. It is utilised quickly during match-play and needs to be replenished as soon as possible post-match to support optimal recovery. England’s nutrition experts addressed the Lionesses’ need for a balanced high carbohydrate diet, which included the use of SIS energy gels to continuously replenish glycogen stores pre-match and during match-play
In short, the SIS gels are a fast-acting and ultra-convenient source of energy that can be taken anywhere. They provided the Lionesses with a more immediate and readily digestible carbohydrate supply for training and competition.
SHE BELIEVES CUP – 2018
Nutrition objective: To optimise glycogen stores for better performance.
The She Believes Cup in February and March of 2018 represented a pivotal moment in the team’s development and served as ideal preparation for the World Cup the following summer.
Despite the seemingly low-tech intervention, the England Women’s team were beginning to understand and take advantage of the performance improvements that an extra 20-30g of carbohydrate could make to their game, and precisely when to ingest it for maximum benefit.
But the biggest issue the Lionesses and the backroom team had to overcome was how to physically deliver energy gels to players during a match.
After trying everything from physios bringing them onto the pitch in their bags to strategically placing staff members around the pitch, the team settled on gels dotted around the pitch for players to find during natural intervals in the game especially during the second half of match-play. After much experimentation, the strategy worked.
FIFA WORLD CUP – 2019
In one crunch game during the tournament the Lionesses were up 2-1 in the 81st minute. Thanks to the preparations that were made during the She Believes Cup, rather than requesting gels from the bench or being encouraged to take them during breaks in play, the players had become accustomed to reaching for them pitch-side without prompting. The players could see the impact of in-game gel refuelling and despite the pressure of the game, they were ensuring they were adequately fuelled.
Fast-forward to the start of the World Cup knockout stages and against Cameroon the team hit a roadblock. Officials prevented the Lionesses’ staff from placing the gels around the pitch, curtailing the strategy that had been working up to that point. However it was during that game that VAR became the Lionesses’ best friend as it gave the players the opportunity to run off the pitch to their expectant teammates holding the SIS gel sachets.
The following game was the quarter-final against Norway and the team fully expected that they’d have to get creative again with their fuelling strategy. But thankfully they faced no resistance from officials for the rest of the tournament. England’s quarter-final match was up there with the best performance the squad had ever produced. Everything clicked, it was a glorious game of football, and carefully planned nutrition – including the in-game gel strategy – had definitely played its part.
Although the Lionesses suffered a heart-breaking loss to the eventual world champions in the semi-final, lots of positives could be taken. The team had reached that late stage of the competition and The FA’s nutrition team was understandably proud that the introduction of energy gels to the Lionesses’ match day nutrition program had made an important impact.
SIS and The FA are now working partnership to prepare The Lionesses The UEFA European Championships 2022
IMPLEMENTING THE DELIBERATE GEL STRATEGY
- Educate players on the importance of high carb intake on matchdays
- Achieve universal understanding of how glycogen depletion impacts performance
- Map out a fuel plan – treat each game as a stage, much like a marathon
- Fuel-up one day before match
- Take in 20-30g carbs every 30mins for 120mins (allowing for extra time)
- Determine how to physically deliver gels to players during matches
- Simulate stoppages during training to trial methods
- Consistently execute strategy in live high-pressure environment