The Role of Nutrition in Recovery

The 3 R’s of nutrition - Refuel, Repair and Rehydrate. Discover the power of nutrition in recovery for football players improve performance

With the upcoming Euro’s and the sheer volume of football that has been played throughout this season, this article will take a dive into the science related to nutrition and recovery, and what the various national teams that have qualified for the Euro’s will be looking to implement from a nutritional perspective to maximize their chances of getting themselves to the final on the 14th of July at the Olympia Stadion.

When addressing nutrition’s role in recovery, there are 3 R’s that need discussion: Refuel; Repair; Rehydrate. In terms of refuel, we are discussing the refueling of muscle glycogen, which will highlight the importance of carbohydrates in football performance. What is muscle glycogen?

Muscle glycogen is an important fuel source during exercise. Inadequate glycogen availability results in reduced endurance exercise capacity and an inability to continue exercise because of impaired excitation–contraction coupling once glycogen stores are depleted.

The importance of muscle glycogen was highlighted by a group of Danish researchers who found that “Sprint performance is reduced both temporarily during a game and at the end of a soccer game.”, with the latter finding being explained by low glycogen levels in individual muscle fibers.”

a bowl of pasta

To replenish muscle glycogen stores, carbohydrates (CHO) need to be consumed. It was found that consumption of an optimized diet immediately after a game and for up to 72-hours after a game resulted in improved muscle glycogen resynthesis. This highlights how important nutrition is in restoring muscle glycogen to re-competition levels.

To expand on this, we will focus on the timing and types of CHO that should be consumed. In terms of timing, Ivy and colleagues (1988) found that “delaying the ingestion of a carbohydrate supplement post-exercise will result in a reduced rate of muscle glycogen storage”, specifically that the first 2-hours post exercise of utmost importance. Regarding the types of CHO, Burke et al. (1993) found that “the most rapid increase in muscle glycogen content during the first 24- hours of recovery is achieved by consuming foods with a high GI.”


Moving from “Refuel” to “Repair”, we will focus on the importance of protein in recovery. The various actions associated with football performance, namely, high-speed running and sprinting, accelerations, and decelerations, and change of direction all result in muscle damage.

This affects muscle function and muscle soreness for up to 3-days, and ultimately the ability of players to perform maximally over that 72-hour period. This alone becomes incredibly significant when the team has to play 2 games over a 4-day period, one example being the semi-finalists who play on the 10th of July and would then have to play in the final on the 14th of July. 

The question needs to be asked, “What can we do to mitigate this reduction in muscle function?” As we did with CHO, we now will look at the timing and type of protein that will assist in the repair process. Players generally require +/-25g of protein every 3-4 hours to facilitate and maximize muscle growth and require.

This becomes particularly important pre-bed following match-play, as this is when muscle damage is at its highest, and even though sleep is an important factor in recovery, the role of protein cannot be diminished in maximizing muscle repair. In order to off-set this, it is important to supply players with a pre-bed snack of minimum of 25g protein.

A football match

It was found by Abbott and colleagues (2019) that pre-sleep ingestion of protein accelerates functional recovery in professional soccer players and can therefore be considered a practical means of attenuating muscle performance deficits in players following match-play.

In terms of type, animal sources of protein are superior to plant-based proteins, as plant-based proteins have less of an anabolic (muscle building) effect than animal proteins, this is because of their lower amino acid content (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) – with amino acids being the building blocks of muscle.

Finally, we will move onto the final “R” of Recovery, “Rehydrate”. Hydration status is individualized and affected by several variables,namely:

  • Pre-match/training hydration status.
  • Volume of fluids consumed.
  • Co-ingestion of other nutrients.
  • Duration and intensity of training/match-play.
  • Individual factors (age and sweat rate).
  • Environmental factors (temperature and humidity).
  • Clothing.

Due to the various factors that can alter hydration status, it is important to adopt an individualized rehydration strategy for the team as opposed to a “blanket” strategy.

One of the simplest ways to do this is measure player mass pre- and post-match/training to estimate fluid loss; with the American College of Sports Medicine position stand on exercise and fluid replacement noting that for every 1kg of fluid lost 1.5l of fluid and electrolytes should be ingested. It should also be noted that not all fluids are equal when considering the optimal rehydration of players, with rehydration salts, milk and skimmed milk being found to be superior.

To conclude, we will outline the practical applications of the scientific knowledge compiled below –

The first 60-minutes post-match are incredibly important, and we should look to refuel, repair, and rehydrate to increase muscle glycogen resynthesis, mitigate muscle function decrements, and muscle soreness, and replenish lost electrolytes. In this window, players should have some form of CHO, ideally a chocolate milk, and then high-GI items to accelerate the muscle glycogen resynthesis and muscle repair, i.e., pizza, potato wedges, fruit platter, chicken skewers and coca cola.

The next 2-3 hours it is important that the players have a substantial meal, with a large source of CHO and protein. Dessert can be considered, such as a yoghurt fruit-pot; with bottled water and rehydration salts being suggested as well. Moving into the next 2-3 days, the team should look to ensure that muscle function is maximized, and muscle soreness is minimized.

One such way of doing this would be to provide a CHO-based breakfast to the players before training (pancakes or oats and fruit); a CHO-rich lunch with animal-based protein (e.g., pasta and mince) and fruit juice (high sugar content boosts muscle glycogen resynthesis); and encouraging players to have a CHO and protein-based snack before bed.


The margin between victory and defeat is small. Nutrition is one of key elements of soccer player preparation where attention to detail can make the vital difference.

This comprehensive course provides you with science-backed nutritional training used at the elite-level of the game, so that you can educate and prepare your players to achieve peak performance and fast recovery.

Through 8 focused online modules some of the most respected nutrition and performance experts in the game will teach you how to transform your players and your wins, one meal at a time.

This course is suitable for:

  • Individuals tasked with the responsibility for the training & coaching individual players and teams at all levels.
  •  Individuals with an interest in developing their knowledge and skills in the nutritional preparation, training & development of soccer players and teams at all levels of the game.

The aim of this Soccer Nutrition course is to expose you to the fundamentals of nutrition for soccer players so that you can:

  • Understand the key energy sources required to perform repeated high intensity and explosive movements within the intermittent nature of soccer.
  • Understand the fuelling that is is required to perform and recover from both training, competitive games across a range of levels with the game.
  • Understand how to reduce the risk for non-contact muscle injuries, through a better understanding of key nutrients.

Outline of the Foundation Certificate in Soccer Nutrition

Module 1: Energy Balance & Body Composition
Lecturer:  Sam McHaffie

Module 2: Understanding Macro & Micro Nutrients

Lecturer: Dr Eirini Manthou

Module 3: Soccer Health & Wellness (Vitamins & Minerals)
Lecturer: Matthew Jones

Module 4: Fluid Balance & Hydration

Lecturer: Virginia Santesteban

Module 5: Training, Match & Recovery Fuelling

Lecturer: Dr. Adam Owen

Module 6: Maximising nutrition through injury
Lecturer:  Faisal Alshawa

Module 7: Nutrition for the female soccer player
Lecturer: Yasemin Batmaca

Module 8: Nutritional supplementation and ergogenic aids

Lecturer: Matthew Jones


Who is this course designed for?

This course has been designed for beginner to elite level coaches who want to understand soccer specific nutrition and the impact of player diet on performance.

What is sports nutrition?

Sports nutrition is the study and application of how to use nutrition to support all areas of athletic performance.

How long is the course?

This is a 16-hour course providing a deep understanding and best practices that can be applied to your own team environment to maximise performance and recovery in soccer.

Is my progress logged through the course?

After each lecture there is a short multiple-choice test designed to cement your learning. You can access your test results at anytime through your course progress area.

Can I stop/pause a presentation part way through?

Yes, the course is completely flexible. You can go back to a module at anytime and continue from where you left off.

Can I take the modules in any order?

No. The course follows a set structure that must be studied in numerical order. You can only access the next module once you have completed the previous module test.

Is there a time limit on the course?

Yes. This course has a 6-month access limit. You can access the course 24/7 within this period.

Will I get a certificate to show that I have passed the course?

Yes, you will receive a pass certificate provided you have attained the minimum pass grade of 75%.

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