Do you remember when Michael Phelps was competing and there was an article that came out about him eating 12,000 calories per day?
There were some that said there’s no way this could be and was all made up. And others were saying they heard he liked to eat McDonald’s and therefore it was very reasonable that he could eat this much.
And then a metabolic specialist did the math and looked at Phelps’s size (he’s 6’4″), his training volume (swimmers can do up to 100 km a week in the pool), his age (he was 30 years at the time) and did the math to see if this amount of calories was reasonable. In the end they did deem this to be a possible (although not regular) caloric intake due to the fact that being immersed in and surrounded by water causes the body to expend more calories to maintain a normal temperature.
And whether it’s Phelps or any of our sports heroes it’s always interesting to learn what they do. While we not be able to match the God-given talents many of them possess, we can certainly mimic the positive habits that allow them to be great.
A recent paper looked at what a professional soccer player eats on game day. Here’s what they found.
1 – They eat 6-8 grams of carbohydrate per kg body mass
Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo tips the scales at 83 kilograms which means on game day he will consume 498-664 grams of carbohydrate on game day. If he eats three meals on this day this works out to 166-221 grams per meal or 100-132 grams per meal if he eats five times per day.
The take home message is that carbs are crucial to fuel top level soccer performance. Low-carb and keto won’t get it done.
2 – Carb intake is often lower than this
While 6-8 grams per kg of bodyweight is the goal, some player fall short. When this is the case, fat should be reduced, and possibly protein as well. Eating a little less fat and protein may help some to eat the amount of carbohydrates required.
3 – A pre-game meal 3-4 hours before should include 1-3 grams/kg BW
Again, using the example of Ronaldo, he should consume 83-249 grams of carbohydrate in the pre-game meal. Doing so helps replenish and top up liver glycogen stores to be drawn on during the match to come.
4 – Drink 5-7 ml per kg body mass 2-4 hours before game time
To go along with his pre-game meal, Ronaldo should drink 415-581 ml before game time. If he drinks two cups of water, he would be meeting this hydration requirement. It would be best to determine this during training leading up to match day by weighing himself before and after training and hydrating to account for sweat losses i.e. a player that sweats a lot my have greater hydration needs than one that doesn’t sweat as much.
5 – After the warm-up and during half-time, 30-60 grams of carbs are consumed
The pre-game meal will have been 3-4 hours prior. And the effort of the warm-up will tap in to muscle and liver glycogen stores so it is important to replenish these. A large banana or half a bagel will do the trick. Failing to do will result in lower glycogen levels and a potential impairment on power production.
6 – The recovery starts immediately after the end of the match with 1 gram of carbs per kg BW and 20-25 grams of protein
By now you’ve recognized the importance of carbohydrates for the pre and intra-match nutrition. After the last whistle though it’s time to add protein to the mix. In Ronaldo’s case he would consume 83 grams of carbohydrates with 20-25 grams of protein. This routine can be repeated at 3-4 hour intervals.
7 – Avoid antioxidant supplements
Nuts, berries and dark chocolate are all excellent in conferring anti-oxidant benefits. However after training and competition we want the body to adapt to the stress of the sport and become stronger and healthier as a result. Eating foods that are high in anti-oxidants can cause us to limit, and potentially miss out, on these benefits. Save these foods for other times rather than the post-workout or post-match meal.
8 – Modify based on individual needs
Ronaldo runs faster than I do. He covers more ground on the pitch that I would. He plays the game at a higher level and intensity that I could ever imagine. And at 36 years old he’s younger than I am.
For all these reasons I wouldn’t match exactly what he is doing. I could probably get away with eating fewer carbs. And my total calories wouldn’t have to be as great either. Make sure to adjust the recommendations above based on the sex, age, level of play, goals and health of the player in question.
- Collins, J., Maughan, R. J., Gleeson, M., Bilsborough, J., Jeukendrup, A., Morton, J. P., & McCall, A. (2020). Infographic. UEFA expert group 2020 statement on nutrition in elite football.
- UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite football. Current evidence to inform practical recommendations on match day nutrition – YLMSportScience