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Tournament Sports Nutrition: FIFA Guidelines Explained

Discover what FIFA’s tournament nutrition guidelines mean for football athletes at the highest level, with practical insights for participants at all levels.

CONTENTS

WITH EXPERT INSIGHTS FROM
nutrition expert professor graeme close
Prof Graeme Close
Professor of Human Physiology and Sport Nutrition Consultant
1

What are the FIFA tournament nutrition guidelines?

FIFA have created practical guidelines on player nutrition and hydration designed to optimise athletic performance, ensure proper recovery and maintain overall health.

FIFA’s guidelines are based on research from the International Consensus Conference on Nutrition in Sport [1].

Here, we take a look at what these sports nutrition guidelines mean in practice for professional players, in both the mens’ and women’s game, with actionable insights for those participating in tournament sport at all levels.

There is an emphasis on the importance of tailored nutritional plans, hydration strategies and intake timings to meet the demands of training and competition, particularly during high-stakes tournaments like the FIFA European Championships.

We’ll focus on four key areas:

  1. Nutritional guidelines
  2. Hydration guidelines
  3. Special considerations for tournaments
  4. Practical implementation
2

Tournament nutritional guidelines

First, we’ll look at FIFA’s guidelines for carbohydrate, protein, fat and micronutrient intake.

Carbohydrate Intake

carbohydrate foods closeup

Daily Requirements

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for football players, and their intake should be tailored to their activity level on any given day.

Typically, this will range from 5-7 grams per kilogram of body weight on moderate training days, rising to 7-10 grams per kilogram on intense training or match days.

Loading Pre-Match

On the day before a game (MD -1), ideally, players will consume between 6-8 grams per kilogram of body weight to maximise glycogen stores [2].

This helps ensure sufficient energy reserves for optimal performance, as low levels result in the quicker onset of fatigue and a decreased ability to maintain high-intensity activity.

Therefore, the glycogen content of the working muscle is a determinant for the capacity to perform long-term heavy exercise [3].

Or, in other words, players who begin a game with low muscle glycogen stores will cover less distance, at a lesser speed, over the duration of 90 minutes, due to those depleted stores.

Post-Match

To minimise the time it takes to recover after exercise, players should aim to consume 1-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight within the first four hours to optimise the replenishment of glycogen stores [4].

Protein Intake

protein foods closeup

Daily Requirements

Protein is essential for muscle repair and recovery and players should aim for 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on the intensity of their training.

Post-Match

After a game, immediate protein intake should be between 0.3-0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight (within the first two hours) to aid muscle recovery, followed by regular protein consumption every 3-4 hours.

Fat Intake

good fat foods closeup

General Guidelines

While fats are not the primary in-game energy source, they are crucial for overall health and are utilised in lower-intensity activities.

Daily Requirements

Up to a third of a player's daily energy intake (approximately 20-35%) should come from healthy fat sources such as avocados, seeds and nuts, fish (salmon, mackerel, herring…) and beans.

Micronutrients Intake

vitamins nutrients foods closeup

General Guidelines

Adequate intake of vitamins and minerals is essential for maintaining health and performance. Key nutrients include iron, calcium, vitamin D, and antioxidants. 

Regular monitoring and, if necessary, supplementation under professional guidance is recommended to avoid deficiencies.

3

Tournament hydration guidelines

Appropriate hydration is essential for competitive athletes to perform to the best of their ability, maintain in-game endurance and minimise the risk of injury.

Hydration Intake

hydration during competition

Pre-match Hydration

Players should be well-hydrated prior to kick-off. This involves consuming around 5-7 millilitres of fluid per kilogram of body weight, approximately 4 hours before the match.

An additional 3-5 millilitres per kilogram may be needed 2 hours before kick-off if the player has not produced sufficient urine.

In-game Hydration

During matches, players should aim to drink enough fluids to limit body mass loss from sweating to less than 2%. This typically means consuming small amounts of fluid (150-200 millilitres) every 15-20 minutes during activity.

Including electrolytes, especially sodium, in hydration strategies is essential as it is vital to replace any losses through sweat and prevent cramping and hyponatremia. Sports drinks or electrolyte solutions can be beneficial.

nutrition expert professor graeme close
Prof. Graeme Close

“Maintain hydration through taking on water whenever possible,” Professor Graeme L. Close, co-author of Nutrition for Tournament Football [5], told Premier Injuries.

“Electrolytes could be good if hot. Then, aim for 30-60 grams of carbs per hour during the game. This can be drinks, gels, foods or a combination.”

“Electrolytes could be good if hot. Then, aim for 30-60 grams of carbs per hour during the game. This can be drinks, gels, foods or a combination.”

Post-match Hydration

During recovery after the game, players should aim to replace 150% of the fluids lost during the activity within the first 4-6 hours. This helps to restore hydration status quickly and effectively.

nutrition expert professor graeme close
Prof. Graeme Close

“After [the game], think [the] three R’s,” said Professor Close. “Repair: get some protein (about 30 grams). Replace carbs (1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. And Rehydrate (1.5 times water you lose in weight).”

Hyponatremia is when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. Sodium is important because it helps regulate water balance and ensures proper function of nerves and muscles.

When there’s not enough sodium, it can lead to various symptoms like headache, confusion, muscle cramps and, in severe cases, seizures or coma.

Hyponatremia can be caused by severe dehydration, drinking too much water, certain medical conditions (like heart or kidney disease), hormonal imbalances and some medications.

Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions of a muscle that can be very painful and usually occur in the legs, particularly the calves.

They can last from a few seconds to several minutes and are often caused by factors like dehydration, overuse, lack of certain minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), poor circulation, nerve compression, medical conditions, or side effects of medications.

Muscle cramps are commonly treated by gently stretching and massaging the affected muscle. Taking on additional hydration, and applying heat or cold are also used.

Strategies for prevention of muscle cramps including drink plenty of fluids, stretching regularly, eating a balanced diet rich in essential minerals and avoid overexerting the muscles.

FAQ
4

Special nutrition considerations for tournaments

In addition to the nutrition guidelines for competitive play in general, tournaments present some additional challenges that need to be considered.

Environmental Conditions

Heat and Humidity: 

In hot and humid environments, such as those experienced during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, players must be extra vigilant regarding hydration. Strategies include pre-cooling techniques, frequent hydration breaks and acclimatisation to the new environment.

Travel and Time Zone Changes

Adaptation: 

Players travelling across time zones should adjust their hydration and nutrition schedules to the new time zone as quickly as possible. This includes planning meals and snacks to align with the new time zone to aid acclimatisation.

Match Scheduling

Recovery Time: 

With shorter recovery periods between matches, efficient recovery strategies are vital. This includes immediate post-match nutrition focusing on carbohydrates and proteins to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle damage, alongside proper hydration.

5

Tournament nutrition practical implementation

The effectiveness of the nutrition guidelines will be dependent upon how they are implemented in practice for each individual.

Individualised Plans

Tailored Approaches:

Nutrition and hydration plans should be individualised, considering each player's position, role, body composition and personal preferences. Continuous monitoring and adjustments are crucial for optimal performance.

Education and Support

Player Education:

Educating players on the importance of nutrition and hydration and providing practical advice and support ensures they make informed decisions about their intake.

Collaboration

Interdisciplinary Approach:

Effective nutrition and hydration strategies require collaboration between sports nutritionists, team doctors, strength and conditioning coaches, and the players themselves. Regular communication and teamwork are essential to implement these strategies successfully.

6

Conclusion

By following these guidelines – optimising energy intake, promoting recovery and ensuring adequate hydration – teams can enhance player performance, reduce the risk of injury and improve overall health outcomes.

For more information on nutrition in sport, see our ultimate guide to sports nutrition and nutrition for injury prevention and recovery.

To finish off our these insights into nutrition for competitive football tournaments, we’ll leave the final words to our guest expert, Professor Graeme Close, with a practical tip that applies to any competitive sport…

nutrition expert professor graeme close
Prof. Graeme Close

“Too many try and look at the 1% ers, where in reality, there is still lots to be done on the 99%”

Sources

  1. Professor Ron Maughan, UK, Professor Louise Burke, Australia, Dr Donald T. Kirkendall, USA (2005). Nutrition for Football: Based on the conclusions of the FIFA/F-MARC Consensus Conference on Nutrition for Sport, held in Zurich. Revised and updated in January 2010.
    //digitalhub.fifa.com/…
  2. Collins, J., Maughan, R. J., Gleeson, M., Bilsborough, J., Jeukendrup, A., Morton, J. P., Phillips, S. M., Armstrong, L., Burke, L. M., Close, G. L., Duffield, R., Larson-Meyer, E., Louis, J., Medina, D., Meyer, F., Rollo, I., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Wall, B. T., Boullosa, B., Dupont, G., … McCall, A. (2021). UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite football. Current evidence to inform practical recommendations and guide future research. British journal of sports medicine, 55(8), 416.
    //doi.org/…
  3. Jonas Bergström, Lars Hermansen, Eric Hultman, Bengt Saltin (1967).
    Diet, Muscle Glycogen and Physical Performance.
    //onlinelibrary.wiley.com/…
  4. Ivy, J. L., Katz, A. L., Cutler, C. L., Sherman, W. M., & Coyle, E. F. (1988). Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 64(4), 1480–1485.
    //doi.org/…
  5. Marcus P Hannon, Andreas M Kasper, and Graeme L Close (2022).
    Nutrition for Tournament Football. Aspetar Sports Medical Journal.
    //journal.aspetar.com/…