Match Day Nutrition Guidelines to Fuel Performance
The aim of matchday nutrition is to optimize dietary intake and hydration strategies with the aim of maximizing many aspects of performance such as repeatedly sprinting, improving reaction to situations, and maintaining concentration levels. The term carbohydrate loading is still best practice on match day -1 and encompasses a focus on increasing muscle glycogen in order to maximize energy output on match day itself (Francis et al., 2011; Kerksick et al., 2018). The pre-match meal is important but match day nutrition guidelines’ focus should always be on the 24-36hrs preceding that to optimize performance.
Energy expended on match day
Any player or person expends energy in 3 different ways, resting metabolic rate, exercise activity (including Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis), and dietary thermogenesis. This is no different for an intercounty 80kg GAA player that plays 70 minutes or a 100kg rugby union player that plays 80 minutes. A Gaelic Football player expending approximately 1,400kcal on match day and a rugby union player possibly expending 1,800kcal. For an 80kg Gaelic Football player they could expend 1,900kcal from their resting metabolic rate, 1,400kcal in the match, and another 10% expended from the amount of food eaten that day, their typical intake should be anywhere from 3,700-4,300kcal on match day.
Work-rate analysis shows that inter-county Gaelic footballers experience longer durations of high-intensity (HI) activity (5-7s) and shorter rest durations than soccer players. Recent data suggests that half-forward/backs perform a greater amount of HI work during matches than players in other positions (Beasley, 2015).
Gaelic football match-play is characterized by high-intensity bursts separated by periods of moderate and low-intensity activity. On average players cover 116m/min, with reports of a total distance covered of 8,160 ± 1,482m at intercounty level (Ó Catháin et al., 2020).
Of this total distance, 66% is covered by walking or jogging, 12% by striding, and 4% by sprinting, with the average high-intensity burst lasting for 4-7 seconds. This intermittent nature of play results in a large variation in calorie expenditure due to positional differences (midfielders at the high end of the range, full forwards and full backs at the low end, and half backs and half forwards in between). Therefore, with an average body mass of 84 kg (±7) observed in elite Gaelic football, the typical caloric expenditure per match is approximately 1,164–1,405 kcal (Ó Catháin et al., 2020).
|POSITION||DISTANCE COVERED (M)||HIGH-INTENSITY (> 17KM/HR) DISTANCE (M)|
|Average||8,815 +/- 1,287|
|Fullback and Full-Forward||7,427 +/- 689 *#||7,427 +/- 689 *#|
|Halfback and Half-Forward||9,419 +/- 1,204||1,934 +/- 551|
|Midfield||9,159 +/- 321||1,589 +/- 186|
* p < .01 Significant difference between Fullbacks/forwards and Halfbacks/forwards
# p < .01 Significant difference between Fullbacks/forwards and Midfield
What are the match day nutrition guidelines for Gaelic Football players?
The repeated short periods of intermittent high-speed running involved in field sports lowers muscle glycogen stores. Lowered muscle glycogen stores reduces performance during subsequent variable speed running. A high carbohydrate diet during recovery from prolonged periods of variable speed running restores muscle glycogen and subsequent performance. This means that carbohydrate and nutrient-rich options such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, oats, soda bread, fruit, pasta, and juices are necessary in large portions in advance of any match.
Regardless of the intensity of any given day, an athlete’s protein intake should be consistent in terms of the 3T’s of the total, timing, and type to maintain their muscle mass and optimize muscle protein synthesis around resistance training. This means the total is approximately 1.8-2.2g/kg of body mass of protein (144-176g for 80kg player), the timing of eating a 30-40g source of protein every 3-4 hours. The type should be complete protein sources in lean meats, oily fish, eggs & dairy.
While generally hitting between 20-30% of total calorie intake in fat or 1g/kg of body mass of fat from again oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils, is recommended (Francis et al., 2011).
The primary macronutrient that changes in team sports and individual sports is carbohydrates and based on energy expenditure data, it makes sense for athletes to periodize their carbohydrate intake to optimize their energy levels, concentration, and body composition.
Do Gaelic Football players meet the recommended level of carbohydrate intake?
The typical carbohydrate intake of a Gaelic Football player is between 3-4g/kg of body mass. These values are similar to those previously reported during pre-season and before competitive match-play in Gaelic football, as well as other team sports such as soccer and rugby. All fall short of the sports nutrition guidelines of 5-10g/kg of body mass for training days, and 7-10g/kg of body mass on the day prior to a match or competition (Ó Catháin et al., 2020; O’ Brien et al., 2021). Dr. Fionn McSwiney discusses the impact a low carbohydrate diet can have on the performance of field athletes here.
Match day nutrition guidelines dictate that players should consume 1-4g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate in the 1-4 hours prior to match-play. In agreement with previous literature, players generally have no problem meeting these match day nutrition guidelines with an average intake of 2g/kg of body mass, and as previously suggested may point to a misguided perception among teams that increased carbohydrate intake on match day alone is sufficient to maximize performance. The focus is and should always be on match day -1 with the intake of 6g/kg of body mass, plus meeting the recommendations and adequately topping up glycogen stores.
|TRAINING TYPE||CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE RECOMMENDATIONS|
|Moderate Exercise (1 hour/day)||5-7g/kg/day|
|1-3 hours of Moderate to High-Intensity Exercise||6-10g/kg/day|
|Speedy Refueling (less than 8 hours between two demanding workouts)||1-1.2g/kg immediately after the first workout, repeated each hour until the normal meal schedule is resumed|
|Pre-Match Fueling||1-4g/kg eaten 1-4 hours before the match|
|During Match||30-60g/hour including mouth rinsing|
Match day nutrition guidelines
Similar acute fuelling practices can be applied to pitch training as to match day, but the difference is carbohydrate loading on match day -1 (24-36hrs before the match), due to the increased match day intensity, as alluded to previously. This top-up of muscle glycogen should slow the onset of fatigue during the match, hopefully improving performance. Aiming for 1-4g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate (80-320g for 80kg players) 3-4 hours in advance of the match is about correct (Francis et al., 2011; Beasley, 2015). For example, aim for chicken with pasta and light tomato sauce, lean beef mince bolognese with spaghetti or some sweet potatoes, or grilled chicken with low-fat light tomato sauce. This, along with 50ml of fluid for 1kg of your body mass on match day -1.
Pre-match fluid intake recommendations
50ml of fluid/kg body mass (4L of fluid for an 80kg player) that can come from water, milk, juice, teas, and coffees. Caffeine can offer a stimulatory effect in advance of a match with 1-2 coffees 1-2 hours before a match offering a practical option.
During half-time, some grapes, bananas, Jaffa cakes, or jelly beans can help top the fuel requirements along with 300-500ml of electrolyte & carbohydrate-rich fluid.
Post-match it is important to remember the 3Rs. Restore, Repair, and Rehydrate. Restore the carbohydrate or energy used, repair the muscle breakdown with a protein source or rehydrate as soon as possible. This can be categorized as:
- Phase 1 / within 30 minutes a liquid or snack containing carbs & protein.
- Phase 2 / within 60-90 minutes a meal containing a higher amount of both.
Similar practices can be applied to post-training, but the same quantity of carbohydrates might not be required (Ó Catháin, et al., 2020).
As demonstrated there is a multitude of factors to consider on match day. Due to the energy expended and the requirements of matchplay, the focus remains on carbohydrates on match day -1 to optimize performance outcomes on match day itself. The recommended food options being fruit, fruit juices, pasta, potatoes, rice, oats, and bread to allow the required increase in muscle glycogen. Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal every 3-4 hours on match day -1 topped up with carbohydrate & nutrient-rich snacks is best practice along with counting back every 3.5 hours from the beginning of the match to top up with meals on match day. Combining the aforementioned evidence-based strategies to form your match day nutrition guidelines will give each athlete every opportunity, from a nutrition perspective, to perform on match day.
- Ó Catháin, C., Fleming, J., Renard, M., & Kelly, D. (2020). Dietary Intake of Gaelic Football Players during Game Preparation and Recovery. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 8(5), 62. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports8050062
- O’Brien, L., Collins, K., & Amirabdollhian, F. (2021). Exploring Sports Nutrition Knowledge in Elite Gaelic Footballers. Nutrients, 13(4), 1081. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13041081
- Kerksick, C. M., Wilborn, C. D., Roberts, M. D., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S. M., Jäger, R., Collins, R., Cooke, M., Davis, J. N., Galvan, E., Greenwood, M., Lowery, L. M., Wildman, R., Antonio, J., & Kreider, R. B. (2018). ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 38. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y
- Beasley K. J. (2015). Nutrition and Gaelic football: review, recommendations, and future considerations. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 25(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0214
- Holway, F. E., & Spriet, L. L. (2011). Sport-specific nutrition: practical strategies for team sports. Journal of sports sciences, 29 Suppl 1, S115–S125. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.605459
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