Carbohydrate intake has long been associated with endurance sports. However, its relevance to soccer, a game that involves more than just running, has been a topic of debate. In this article, we explore the potential benefits of carbohydrate intake for soccer performance.
Endurance in Soccer
Endurance is undoubtedly an important aspect of soccer. But unlike endurance sports, running is just one of many factors that can determine the outcome of a game. Other important aspects include speed, agility, technical skills, and cognitive processes. Despite this, evidence of the effect of carbohydrates on endurance capacity has led to an increased focus on carbohydrate intake in soccer.
Carbohydrates and Technical Skills
Recent studies suggest that carbohydrate intake can also impact technical skills in soccer. Ingestion of a 6-7.5% carbohydrate solution at a rate of 30-61g/hour has been associated with improvements in shooting, dribbling, and passing in five of the seven studies conducted. These findings suggest that carbohydrates can impact soccer performance beyond just endurance.
The Benefits of Carbohydrate Intake in Soccer
Carbohydrate ingestion during exercise delays fatigue. This delay can allow players to maintain their technical skills and physical performance for longer, increasing their chances of success in the game. Additionally, carbohydrates may impact cognitive processes in the brain, further improving skills performance.
The Challenge of Consuming Enough Carbohydrates in Soccer
Although the optimal carbohydrate intake for soccer players is estimated to be higher than what is typically seen in soccer matches, it can be challenging for players to consume enough carbohydrates during a game. Optimizing carbohydrate intake during training and pre-game meals can help ensure that players have adequate energy stores to support optimal performance.
The study we took into account
In a study conducted at The University of Birmingham by Dr. Kevin Currell, it was found that there was a significant improvement in dribbling and kicking accuracy with an intake of 55 g carbohydrate/h versus a placebo. However, it was also found that jumping to head a ball, which involves only a small cognitive component, was not influenced by carbohydrate feeding.
Positive to no effects in studies
Despite the potential benefits of carbohydrate intake on soccer performance, measuring skill performance is notoriously difficult. These measurements are easily influenced by external variables, making it more difficult to detect the effect of carbohydrate feeding. As a result, studies have shown variable results, with some showing positive effects and others showing no effects.
Carbohydrate Intake as an Important Strategy in Soccer
Despite the challenges, carbohydrate intake should be explored more in soccer, especially at the highest level where small improvements in each of the 11 players could make a big difference to overall team performance. Ingesting carbohydrates just before the start of a game and at half-time are the two optimal times. A target intake of 90 grams for a full game is a good start, but there aren't enough studies to give clear guidance on the optimal amount of carbohydrate.
Recently, several reviews have been published that discuss the effects of carbohydrate intake and other nutritional interventions on skill performance in soccer and other team sports in more detail. With the potential for significant improvements in skill performance, further research is needed to better understand the impact of carbohydrate intake on soccer players.
Sources to deep dive
- Currell, K., Conway, S., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2009). Carbohydrate ingestion improves performance of a new reliable test of soccer performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19(1), 34–46. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.19.1.34
- Ali, A., & Williams, C. (2009). Carbohydrate ingestion and soccer skill performance during prolonged intermittent exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(14), 1499–1508. doi:10.1080/02640410903334772
- Phillips, S. M., Sproule, J., & Turner, A. P. (2011). Carbohydrate ingestion during team games exercise: current knowledge and areas for future investigation. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 41(7), 559–585. doi:10.2165/11589150-000000000-00000
- Baker, L. B., Nuccio, R. P., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). Acute effects of dietary constituents on motor skill and cognitive performance in athletes. Nutrition Reviews, 72(12), 790–802. doi:10.1111/nure.12157