In-Game Nutrition for Soccer Athletes

You've got to be ready to go the full 90 minutes on the pitch. Stay performance ready throughout the match by topping up your glycogen levels at halftime.

Halftime at a soccer game

"Work it, make it, do it. Make us harder, better, faster, stronger." Is this a supplement ad for athletes or a Kayne West lyric?

Readiness is all on the pitch, but supplements aren't necessary to achieve it. What's vital for performance is making sure your muscles have an adequate store of glycogen.

Muscle glycogen is a vital substrate for energy production. Studies suggest that the fatigue athletes suffer towards the end of a match is related to depletion of glycogen from their muscle fibers [1]. As the match drags on, your glycogen levels continually decrease. If you play at a high level of intensity (90% to 130%), you can completely deplete your supply of glycogen within only 15 to 30 minutes of a 90-minute game. [2]. (For more information, see Justin Robinson on glycogen.)

To ensure sufficient energy reserves for the latter phases of a match, you have to take advantage of halftime to top off your tank. Since most halftimes are only 15 minutes long, soccer players need efficient choices. As a guideline, you need some form of simple carbohydrate that can be readily metabolized. Products with a high glycemic index (a common characteristic of simple carbohydrates) will help raise your blood glucose and restore glycogen levels. (See The Key to Halftime Refueling.)

Carbohydrate gels are popular, but there are better choices for halftime replenishment. In my experience, the best results are achieved with fruits (mainly bananas), or candies like pixie sticks that contain dextrose or maltodextrin. Nevertheless, you should not  experiment too much during a game. Previously untried nutritional choices could have negative impacts on performance—e.g., you may develop gastrointestinal discomfort.

If possible, use the off-season or the pre-season to learn what your body likes best. Every player should have some type of recovery snack or drink at halftime to maximize his or her performance.


[1] Bassett, D. R., & Howley, E. T. (2000). Limiting factors for maximum oxygen uptake and determinants of endurance performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise32(1), 70-84.

[2] Burke, E. (2003). Optimal muscle performance and recovery. Avery Publishing Group.

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