We may not have the money or the fame, but one advantage amateur footballers have over the pros is that we can have a life away from football.
While we can generally be more relaxed about things, following the strict matchday routines of the pros can be a good thing if you are trying to find an edge for your game.
You might not have a personal team of nutritionists, chefs and physios watching your back, but you can still prepare your body and mind in ways similar to professional footballers. You just need the knowhow – and that’s what we will give you today so that you can prepare for football like a professional.
All Season Long
The biggest thing to take away from this article is that preparation for any match should be a season-long affair. The pros live well throughout the season. By this we don’t mean Ferraris and designer kitbags – we mean giving their bodies the right nutrients through a quality carb-heavy diet full of fresh wholesome foods, plenty of water, and loads of sleep.
You can do the same by putting more of an emphasis on filling your plate with the right foods, drinking enough water, and getting good rest every night. This may take a little more planning, effort and sacrifice throughout the week, but the results will be worth it.
By staying fit and healthy throughout the season, you will already be on the way to great matchday preparation and closer to the pros than 90% of amateur footballers out there.
The Build Up
If you are tackling match preparation like a pro, then fuelling for your match starts in the days before. To ensure you have enough energy for a full match, you should aim to increase your carbohydrate intake between 36 and 48 hours before kick-off. Saturday morning match? Put the emphasis on carbs from Thursday lunchtime.
This may feel a little extreme, but the thinking behind this ‘carb-loading’ strategy is to ensure your muscles are packed full of glycogen come matchday, allowing you to ease up on the eating before your game. Considering that many footballers have pre-match nerves, this allows you to relax and have smaller meals before you start running.
As well as adding more starchy carbohydrate foods to your diet – including potatoes, rice, bread and pasta – be sure to also have enough vegetables, protein and fat for balance.
As for exercise, the day before a match should usually be a rest day, or at most a little dynamic stretching and light cardio, like swimming. Just avoid anything too strenuous that may deplete energy and increase your risk of injury.
Another box to tick a few days before the match is hydration. Of course, staying hydrated throughout your week, season and entire year is optimal but, as you approach matchday, hydration becomes critical. Aim to drink around 2 litres of water every day and add electrolytes during and after exercise – our Hydrate90® effervescent tablets offer key doses of electrolytes and B vitamins, with no sugar.
With adequate rest and muscles full of glycogen, you should be feeling ready to go come matchday.
With the carb-loading out of the way, you can focus on eating smaller meals before your match – ideal if you have an early kick-off. If possible, eat a carbohydrate-based meal such as porridge or pasta around 2 to 3 hours before your match. Around this time, look to drink between 500ml and a litre of water too.
Nutrition aside, you will also need to ensure your body is physically ready for what is ahead. Running onto the pitch cold is a recipe for injury. Warming up is critical, whatever your age and mobility!
We have a full article on how to warm up like the professionals, but the key takeaway here is to gradually build up to match pace. A 30 minute on-field session in the hour before is usually enough.
Follow the pros and use the RAMP protocol (Raise, Activate, Mobilise and Potentiate). This means gradually building the pace and intensity of your warmup, using lighter movements like running and skipping to raise your heart rate and core temperature, then moving onto movements like squats and lunges to activate and mobilise the muscles in your lower body. Finally, this can be followed by sprints and fast-feet moves to prime your body for speed.
The Final Countdown
With everything warm, the pros will usually spend the final 30 minutes before the match in the dressing room, relaxing and taking on extra energy if required.
A quick snack including 30g to 60g of fast-acting carbohydrates will give you the energy boost you need to get through the first half. You can do this in the form of an energy supplement such as our Fuel90® gel, which is used by thousands of professional players and teams including West Ham and Monaco.
Don’t neglect the mental side of the game. Taking some form of caffeine, such as a strong coffee or a Focus90® shot, will enhance your focus ahead of the match. Be sure to also take some time to get into the right mindset, which should be a mix of anticipation and confidence.
Always experiment with any new meals or supplements ahead of training sessions and practice matches to see how you feel before implementing them on matchdays.
So, while you may not be able to eat and train exactly like the pros, you can at least follow similar matchday routines and use the same supplements in your quest to take your game to a new level.