Top Five Carbohydrates For Football

There are few places better for a footballer to speak their mind on certain subjects than Twitter, and rewinding seven years, Wayne Rooney gave us this hot take on breakfast: ‘Just have to say 12 o’clock kick off is no good for players. Trying to force pasta down at 9 in the morning is not nice’.

While a quick glance at the replies may have been less than savoury, the 32-year-old does give an interesting insight into the nutrition of the very best players, or perhaps more telling, the importance of carbohydrates. Often regarded as a cardinal sin by certain fitness plans, carbohydrates are an important part of not only a healthy diet, but provide fuel for the demands of a high intensity sport like football.

To find out more, we asked Chris Barnes to create this list of go-to foods you should look to incorporate into your diet although our resident sports scientist was keen to differentiate between the two types of carbohydrates.

“Carbohydrates come in simple and complex forms,” explains Barnes. “Simple carbohydrates, basically sugars, should be eaten in moderation as part of an athlete’s diet while complex carbohydrates on the other hand are important for regulating energy levels and recovery from training. Ensure you get the balance right between simple and complex carbohydrates.

“Foods containing simple carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, triggering the release of insulin and then resulting in a drop in blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is a key source of energy for footballers, so consuming sugary foods before training can be counterproductive to performance. An ideal diet for a football player should consist of 55-65% carbohydrates, 12-15% protein and always less than 30% fats. Surveys of football players often show that they do not consume sufficient carbohydrates to support healthy performance.”


Fettuccine, spaghetti, macaroni, ravioli, tagliatelle, cannelloni, rigatoni, linguine, tortellini, penne, fusilli – sounding a bit like the starting XI of an Italian side from yesteryear, the many types of pasta means you’re never short of options when it comes to both simple and complex carbohydrates. You may have heard of players shovelling down as much pasta as possible for lunch ahead of an evening kick-off, but according to Barnes, it’s a meal worth considering post match.

“After a football match consisting of 90 minutes, the energy stored in muscles can drop to virtually zero so it’s important to replenish energy stores at the first possible opportunity,” says Barnes. Consuming a meal rich in carbohydrates such as pasta within two hours of the final whistle is strongly recommended, particularly when the next session is in a few days.


If like Rooney you’ve got an early kick-off and don’t fancy a lasagne first thing in the morning, a bowl of porridge shouldn’t be overlooked and can also double up as a snack that fits inside a boot bag. The simple carbohydrates found are easily digested and provide quick energy as well as being packed full of fibre which facilitates the release into your bloodstream.

“If you know that sourcing an ideal post-match recovery meal will be difficult, you should ensure you have snacks available,” begins Barnes. “Individual porridge or rice pudding portions are both great sources of carbohydrate, and can be easily taken to a match. If your last session was light and you consume a carbohydrate rich meal within three hours such as rice pudding or porridge, energy levels will return within four to six hours, but if you don’t replenish, things can take up to three days to return to normal.”


Chips were famously banned from Carrington during David Moyes’ brief tenure at Manchester United, and while we’re not arguing with the Scotsman’s attempt to improve his players’ diets, potatoes are packed full of carbohydrates. Boiled or steamed are the healthiest options while deep fried is best avoided, but according to Barnes, getting a routine and balance is the most important thing.

“You should try to establish a routine leading into a match where the meals the night before and on the day of the game are rich in carbohydrates such as potatoes to ensure energy stores are full for the game,” says Barnes. “During normal training phases, try to consume eight to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day (55-60% calories) and split the intake between meals.”

Wholemeal bread

Separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to bread, serious players should be making the switch across to wholemeal loafs. Whether it be sandwiches, toast or even just something to have your poached eggs with, wholemeal bread is easy to digest, lowers cholesterol and gives you plenty of energy.

“Wholemeal bread is a firm favourite of professional footballers and is easily applicable to a number of meals, while you should avoid simple carbohydrates like sweets, cakes, cookies and high sugar drinks prior to a match,” says Barnes. “Consumption of foods containing simple carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels which releases insulin, causing a drop in blood sugar and energy levels – not the best preparation for a match! Avoid consuming high sugar foodstuffs four hours before playing and although these are high in energy, they can lead to a rebound effect where the body reacts to the sugar in a way that actually leaves you low in energy. It’s a term called rebound hypoglycaemia.”


Easy to make, full of energy and cheap – there’s not a lot to dislike about rice. Going great with just about any sauce, meat or vegetable, rice is a prominent feature in the kitchens of the world’s best football clubs. Did we also mention it’s delicious?

“Foods high in complex carbohydrates such as rice are relatively easy for the body to digest,” says Barnes. “They also stimulate the storage of energy in the muscles. This is why your pre-activity meal should always contain complex carbohydrates.”

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