We tend to talk about the gym a lot, but we’re going to change directions today. After all, we’re called Australian Sports Nutrition, not Australian Gym Nutrition. Most people go to the gym to target specific physique goals or maintain their fitness while working a sedentary job (basically our entire ASN marketing team). Still, there is another key demographic that dominates the gym. Athletes. And we’re not talking about bodybuilders and marathon runners; we’re talking about athletes who compete in team sports. Whether you’re playing football, rugby, or cricket, how you take care of yourself off the pitch is crucial in how you will perform on match day.
introduction to team sports
Team sports are responsible for some of our greatest childhood memories and some of our best personal achievements, and if you’re still playing in adulthood, they can enrich our lives and highlight our weeks. Whether you’re a full-time athlete (congratulations) or you’re playing Midweek Metros after a long day at work, team sports are invaluable.
Engaging in team sports goes beyond physical exercise; it imparts essential life lessons on teamwork, leadership, respect, and communication. Through participation in team sports, individuals not only improve their physical health but also boost their mental well-being. The sense of accomplishment, humility in victory and defeat, and discipline learned through team sports are unparalleled.
In contrast to conventional fitness methods, team sports involve longer durations of exercise with dynamic intensity variations. These sports require diverse skills such as passing, jumping, sprinting, heading, coordination, cognitive function, and shooting, all of which contribute to overall personal development over an extended period.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular team sports in Australia.
Or soccer, if you insist on calling it that. Anyway, while Australia is not often considered a ‘footballing nation’, the world's most popular sport has become the most popular sport in Australia, particularly at a grassroots level where an estimated 48.7% of kids involved in sport (between 6-13 years old) are playing football. This is the most inviting and easy-to-play sport because all you need is something round, and you have yourself a game (ASC. 2023).
An estimated 1.2 million people play football in Australia, with the sport continuing to grow in popularity, particularly after the performances of our Socceroos and Matildas national teams in the most recent FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup (Kuch, M. 2023).
Cricket is a significant sport in Australian culture and has always been among the most popular sports across generations of Australians. If you haven’t played backyard cricket on Christmas Day, are you even Australian? Only joking. An estimated 1.4 million Australians participate in cricket, with the Big Bash League and the Sheffield League among the most popular competitions in the country.
Australia is among the most successful nations in cricket, having won multiple Ashes titles and World Cup titles to cement its standing in the sport. One of the greatest batsmen of all time, Sir Donald Bradman, is an icon in Australian sport and cricket history (Kuch, M. 2023).
With almost one million active players, rugby has always been at the forefront of sports in Australia. The NRL is among the most popular competitions to watch in Australia, and our national team, The Wallabies, have been incredibly successful, winning two Rugby World Cups (Kuch, M. 2023).
Much like football, basketball has continued to grow in Australia, with an estimated one million people participating in the sport. While most know about the NBA, the NBL is Australia’s top level of competition, with our nation's presence continuing to grow as more and more people get behind this exciting sport (Kuch, M. 2023).
Fuel Systems Used in Team Sports
Aerobic Energy System
This is the most frequently utilised energy system, providing energy for lower-intensity activities that range from a few minutes to a few hours. This system requires oxygen and takes much longer to overload, making it common in sports that require continuous sustained effort. This is less present in high-intensity team sports and more common in long-distance running, swimming, and rowing (Nambiar, B. 2021).
Anaerobic Lactic Energy System
The anaerobic lactic system provides energy for moderate to high-intensity bursts of activity that last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Sports like football, cricket, and sprinting require this to help you meet high-intensity demands without relying on oxygen for fuel. This system is also known as fast glycosis and can work at capacity for up to two minutes (Nambiar, B. 2021).
Anaerobic A-Lactic Energy System
The anaerobic A-lactic system, also known as the ATP-CP system, is most utilised in sports that require high amounts of short-duration acceleration. Think of sports that require short-distance sprinting, like football, referee linemen, sprinters, and even weight lifters (Nambiar, B. 2021).
Nutrition for Team Sports
Matchday preparation and preparation for all forms of training is essential in helping you maximise your results. Many factors come into play, from sleep, recovery, and hydration. Perhaps the most important of them all, however, is your nutrition. Like a car won’t run on bad petrol, you won’t perform on an insufficient diet. Whether you’re conditioning yourself at the gym or lacing up your boots for a must-win match, your nutrition will be key to how you play.
Let’s take a look at the two most important macronutrients for energy production in team sports.
Carbohydrates are the most important fuel source for athletes and play a crucial role in team sports, especially during high-intensity activities. By consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal prior to a match, you can experience a rapid increase in glucose levels, providing an immediate source of energy. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, offer a sustained and steady release of energy while maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
In order to fuel yourself effectively, opt for carbohydrate-rich meals that include starchy foods such as rice, quinoa, oats, potatoes, and whole-wheat pasta. For a pre-game snack, easily digestible carbohydrates can be found in fruits, energy bars, or whole-grain crackers. Understanding the importance of carbohydrates as a fuel source in team sports is key to optimising your performance on the field.
Consuming carbohydrates during training or matches lasting over 60 minutes can improve performance and delay the onset of fatigue. Depending on your training routine and sport, athletes should consume anywhere between 3-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight throughout the day. This can be adjusted depending on training frequency and duration. It is important to consume carbohydrates before and after exercise to restore glycogen levels. You should consume an easily digestible carbohydrate meal 3-4 hours before an event and easily digestible snacks one hour before to fuel your performance (USADA).
Fats play a vital role as a fuel source in team sports. While glycogen reserves may fall short, fats serve as a consistent and dependable source of energy. Fats aren’t going to be as effective as carbs when it comes to providing quick bursts of energy, but during light to moderate-intensity exercise, fats take centre stage as the primary fuel, empowering muscles with essential metabolic power. The two most important fats for athletes are polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, and it is recommended that athletes get 20-35% of their total energy from dietary fat (NSWIS News. 2020).
Through the breakdown of fats into fatty acids, these compounds are transported to the blood, ultimately contributing to the energy demands required for optimal performance in team sports. Including nuts, MCT oil, seeds, avocados, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, full-fat Greek yogurt, and fatty fish in the diet offers some of the finest sources of fats, supporting athletes' energy needs on the field.
Check out our Team Sports Nutrition page to learn more about how to fuel yourself for your specific sport and which supplements can help you improve your performance on the field.
How To Fuel Yourself On Gameday
When it comes to match-day and training-day nutrition, it is important to ensure that you fuel yourself correctly on the day. That starts with a good night's sleep, optimal hydration, and, of course, nutrition. Here’s what you need to know.
The Night Before
Consume a high-carbohydrate meal, plenty of fluids, and aim for more than 7 hours of sleep.
4 Hours Pre-Match
Consume a meal high in whole-grain carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Aim to consume 1-2 glasses of water or fluids.
1 Hour Pre-Match
Consume a snack high in carbohydrates, and avoid heavy foods containing protein or fats. Drink another 1-2 cups of water.
Aim to consume fluids every 15-20 minutes and a bottle of water or electrolytes every hour to support electrolyte balance.
Refuel with a snack 15-60 minutes after a match, and consume a well-balanced meal 1-2 hours following a match.
Ultimately, when it comes to optimising your performance, it is important to master the basics by following the three R’s (Nationwide Children's Hospital):
Refuel, Rehydrate, and Replenish.
The Guide To Supplements In Team Sports
Firstly, when it comes to nutrition in sports, the best approach is nutrition first. What you fuel yourself with before and after a match will be pivotal in how you perform and how you recover. A nutrition-first approach is important in helping you maintain your energy demand across training, match days, and gym. While this may vary depending on the demands of your particular sport, following a diet that balances whole-grain carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats is ideal for supporting optimal results.
That being said, it isn’t always easy to incorporate these macronutrients into your diet, particularly when you’re constantly on the move with work, training, matchdays, and errands. Let’s run through some of the best supplements that can help you improve your nutrition.
Protein is mostly associated with recovery when it comes to sports performance, and it is a core part of an athlete's diet due to its role in building and maintaining muscles. When you’re training and competing on a day-to-day basis, protein is essential for helping you rebuild and repair tissue and muscle after performing. It is important to consume protein with each meal to support your muscles while making sure you replenish yourself with protein after exercise. In general, athletes should aim to consume 1.2g - 1.4g of protein per kilogram of body weight to condition yourself for endurance-based sports (which, let’s face it, applies to all of them. If you’re looking to gain muscle mass for sports like rugby, you should aim to consume between 1.6g - 2.0g of protein per kilogram of body weight (USADA).
When it comes to team sports performance, ensuring adequate amino acid intake is crucial. Whether you're a rugby player ramping up your training regime or a football player looking to increase your strength and agility on the field, amino acids may be key to achieving optimal results. These small molecules are the building blocks for the proteins that make up our muscles, making them essential in maintaining and repairing muscle tissue after intense physical activity. Additionally, amino acids help to keep energy levels high, aiding in endurance and overall athletic performance. Supplementing with essential amino acids and BCAAs can help to improve strength and oxygen-carrying capacity while supporting recovery, reducing damage, and lowering fatigue (Masaru, O et al. 2006).
Creatine is one of the most highly-researched compounds on the market and plays a massive role in your performance and recovery. Creatine is found naturally in the skeletal muscle and is important in energy production, endurance, and power output. This compound supports ATP production, helps reduce fatigue, and improves performance during short, high-intensity exercise. Creatine supports short-burst sprint performance and is ideal for team sports that require intermittent patterns of play. This includes football, rugby, and AFL. Creatine can be taken in a loading phase or consistently by supplementing with 3g - 5g of creatine per day. This compound can support endurance, energy, and power output while helping to lower fatigue and support muscle recovery (Fuel Your Life. 2019).
Electrolytes play a vital role in maintaining the balance of fluids in our bodies. When we engage in team sports, our bodies undergo a lot of physical stress, such as sweating. That's where electrolytes come in. They help to replenish the fluids that we lose through sweating and keep our bodies hydrated. Proper electrolyte levels can improve the communication between cells and muscles, leading to better coordination, endurance, and overall performance. By ensuring that our bodies have enough electrolytes, we can replenish lost fluids, avoid dehydration, and maintain a consistent energy level throughout the game. The importance of electrolytes in team sports cannot be overstated, and ensuring that we maintain proper levels is crucial for optimal performance (Rizzo, N).
The Bottom Line
First things first, if you’re trying to take your team sports performance to the next level, it is important to follow a nutrition-first approach. Your energy demands may vary depending on the sport you play and your role in that sport, but it is important to remember that carbohydrates are the most important fuel source for high-intensity team sports. If you want to perform at your strongest, make sure you are well-prepared.
To learn more about how to take these supplements to optimise your results, check out our Team Sports Nutrition page for more information. Simply head in-store or reach out online, and our knowledgeable team will help you find the best team sports supplements to help you improve your game.
If you need help finding the best supplements to help you optimise your performance and meet your targets, our team at ASN can steer you in the right direction.
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Kuch, M. 2023, ‘11 Most Popular Sports in Australia’, Sports Foundation, accessed December 2023, https://sportsfoundation.org/most-popular-sports-in-australia/
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USADA. ‘Carbohydrates The Master Fuel’, USADA, accessed December 2023, https://www.usada.org/athletes/substances/nutrition/carbohydrates-the-master-fuel/
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