As we know, football is an intense intermittent sport comprised of periods of intense activity and low-moderate exercise such as jogging and walking. The consequence of training sessions and game play can lead to the depletion of muscle glycogen stores, microtears in the active muscles and loss of fluid. Recovery is a term used loosely by individuals but should be thought of as a period where the athlete recuperates from exercise to become bigger, stronger and improve performance capacities. Effective recovery is an extremely important element of a training regimen and should be considered as important as the exercise itself.
So, what makes an effective recovery period?
As stated above, there are 3 crucial elements of recovery that must be taken care of, glycogen restoration, fluid uptake and protein consumption.
Glycogen restoration can be achieved through the appropriate intakes of carbohydrate in the post-exercise period. To begin promptly, the athlete is advised to begin consuming carbohydrate snacks shortly after training and matches end. The outcome of carbohydrate snacking is that muscle glycogen stores are adequately topped up prior to the next training session. Kitbag carbohydrate essentials include bananas, dried fruit, cereal bars, sports drinks and flavoured milk. The athlete should aim for a carbohydrate intake of 1g/kg of bodyweight for 4-5 hours after exercise, a simple way to meet such guidelines would be the use of smoothies and milk sources alongside meals and carbohydrate snacks. To sufficiently top up muscle glycogen stores, the athlete is advised to follow high carbohydrate intake levels in the days following an intense game to support both recovery and performance.
The intense nature of the game will mean a player can lose a sufficient amount of fluid through sweat, with rates varying between person to person, playing position and climate etc. The goal of recovery is to replace fluid and electrolyte losses during exercise. In order to make sure a player is adequately rehydrating after exercise; the best way to do so is by weighing prior to and after the session to account for water weight loss. Once the player has calculated the amount of weight lost, they should consume 1.5l for each kilogram of body weight lost, in the hours following exercise. The speed of hydration however is very much dependant on the time period before the next session, the sooner the session the more aggressive the rehydration protocol will be. The addition of sodium to drinks and meals will help the body retain the fluid better, thus leading to hydration. However, generally, drinking and normal consumption of flood/snacks will rehydrate the athlete and replace electrolyte losses, if time allows before the next training session.
Football can induce a lot of damage/stress on the players muscles and lead to muscle protein breakdown. Contractions of the muscles, accelerations/declarations and contact with opposition players means an intake of protein in the post-exercise period is key to accelerate recovery and repair. To optimise recovery, players are recommended to consume 20-25g of protein every 3-4 hours to inhibit the breakdown of muscle and increase exercise adaptations. Useful high-protein foods include meat products, dairy foods and plant-based sources such as soy or tofu. For convenience, players should opt for post-exercise snacks that include carbohydrate, protein and provide fluid such as milk, flavoured milk drinks, smoothies and yoghurts.
To summarise, the recovery process is a very important element of a football players routine. The main nutritional concerns of recovery include muscle glycogen restoration through carbohydrate intake, protein ingestion and rehydrating. A training regimen that will include these components to optimise recovery, will help a player increase playing capacities and lead to an enhanced athlete.