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  • Ritchie Semple

Energy Demands of Match Play

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Most serious football players play in one or more competitive games per week for a large part of the year and will train most days of the week, sometimes twice a day, especially on pre-season tours or during tournaments. The energy demands of training must be met to maintain performance capacity and prevent the development of chronic fatigue.

Soccer is a game of intermittent work. Players generally perform low intensity activities for more than 70% of the game, but heart rate and body temperature measurements suggest that the total energy demand is high. The high energy demand may be partly explained by the repeated high intensity efforts that players are called upon to perform. A top class soccer player performs about 150-250 brief intense actions during a game. These efforts place high demands on the anaerobic energy systems, so the rates of creatine phosphate (CP) utilization and glycolysis are high during the course of a game.

Carbohydrate, which is stored in the muscles and in the liver as glycogen, is probably the most important substrate for energy production, and fatigue towards the end of a game may be related to depletion of glycogen in some of the individual muscle fibres. If even a few of these are unable to contract, then sprinting ability is reduced, and skill may also be impaired. Free fatty acid (FFA) levels in blood increase progressively during a game, partially compensating for the progressive lowering of muscle glycogen.

There are major individual differences in the physical demands on a player during a game related to physical capacity and tactical role in the team. Fatigue also occurs temporarily during a game, but it is still unclear what causes the reduced ability to perform maximally. These differences should be taken into account in the training and nutritional strategies for a top class player.

The total distance run by a player during a game depends on many different factors, including the level of competition, the player’s position, and the playing style and fitness level of the individual. At the elite level, male outfield players typically cover about 10-13 km, making football an endurance sport. The demands are increased, however, by the fact that more than 600 m are covered at sprinting speed and about 2.4 km at high intensity. Over the whole duration of the game, heart rate is about 85% of the maximum rate and the oxygen demand is about 70% of the maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max). These values suggest that the total energy cost of a game for a typical player weighing about 75 kg would be about 1600 kcal (about 6.5 MJ). The value for players at lower levels of the game is somewhat less than this; because the VO2max is also lower, the total energy expended will be less. Of course, energy needs will vary greatly between individuals.


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