Written by Jack Boardman
Footballers: The Importance of Recovery
From a kickabout to an all-out slog, a game of football can be the equivalent of high-intensity interval training, for which you need to maintain mental focus as much as stamina and strength. So, for all the advice there is out there on how to train harder and work harder, what part does rest play in your game?
Let’s strip your sporting performance back away from the pitch and kicking a ball and look at what football involves in terms of training and what your body goes through.
From constant jogging, interspersed with sharp sprints and fancy footwork, the average football match can be the equivalent of high-intensity interval training. Because of this, your body heart rate soars between bursts of sprints and then simmer throughout the low-intensity exercise in between. Over 90 minutes, of course, the pattern of intensity will be stretched out, with more and longer low-intensity stretches – for example, when man-marking with the ball at the end of the field. On a 90 minute match of 11-a-side on a full-sized pitch, the lower intensity exercise will, again, be longer, with sudden high-intensity work, in which your heart rate will increase and body will be worked hard when on the ball, for example.
Looking at five-a-side, the ratio of high to low intensity with a chance for rest will alter quite dramatically, with constant short sprints on a smaller pitch, meaning you will rarely be inactive.
But the average football match can be more than high-intensity interval training (HIIT), as it can also combine elements of circuit training. HIIT tends to focus on a few exercises, with the focus being on varying the intensity and duration of each. Circuits, however, involves more diversity in the range of motions, lifts and exercises, which could arguably relate to football. The movements and muscle groups worked in overdrive throughout the average football match is varied. True, there is little in the way of weight lifting, but each muscle group is worked as intensely as a circuit, with particular focus on the legs and torso, which are never at rest during a game.
Following one of these workouts in a gym, the muscle group would be considered fatigued and you would avoid working that muscle group the following day. The same applies to football. But how can you make the most of your recovery to continue to improve your performance?
You need to refuel and make sure you are eating and taking in the nutrients that your body needs.
Nutrition is essential following a match and training. To begin, you’ll need to replenish the fluids you’ve spent through the high-intensity work you’ve put in – not least the fluids you’ve lost through sweating. For every kg of weight lost in a match, you should drink between 1.2-1.5 litres of water to replace it. Not sure how much? When you feel comfortable and your urine runs clear, you’re hydrated again.
Your growth hormones are highest when you sleep. For footballers, this means it’s when you’re off the pitch that your gains will come through. Without rest, your body will go into breakdown mode, which in turn will affect your football performance and mental health, potentially resulting in injury.
Protein is essentially the building blocks that your muscles depend on in order to develop and grow following a training session. To maintain a positive nitrogen balance, you ought to ingest one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
When planning your recovery within your training week, it is a good idea to place a full rest day after the peak of your week. In other words, if you’re working towards match day, rest the day after. This rest day can be complete immobility if required – i.e. your muscles are fatigued or you’ve suffered an injury. However, if you’re reluctant to rest on your laurels, some low-intensity training, including stretching and gentle jogging that doesn’t sky-rocket the heart rate is a safe bet.