What to eat before, during and after a field hockey match

When you play amateur field hockey, it’s almost guaranteed that the bananas come out before the match and the sweets at half time. I’ve even taken to tucking a jelly baby in the top of my sock to fuel me when I’m feeling fatigued during a match.

However, I’m a journalist and I’ve just been commissioned to write a feature about sugar and exercise/sport for Health and Fitness magazine. As I will be interviewing lots of sports nutritionists I thought it would be a good opportunity to tuck in a couple of questions about how to fuel yourself up for a hockey match.


I’ve just interviewed Jo Scott-Dalgleish, a nutritional therapist who specialises in sport.


She started by telling me that you definitely don’t need any sugar during exercise unless you are working out for more than an hour – or even an hour and a half if you are doing low intensity exercise.

‘So does that mean we shouldn’t be passing round the jelly babies at half time when I play hockey,’ I said.

She replied that actually it doesn’t. The intensity of hockey means that taking on some carb in the form of sugar at half time is probably a good idea – but not too much or you’ll just take in too many calories and put on weight. However, it takes about 15 minutes for sweets like jelly babies to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Drinks are quicker, so she suggested something like a High 5 sports drink would be better as it’s absorbed quicker.

“You never know when you are going to need to sprint during a hockey match, so you don’t want to run out of glycogen, which fuels your muscles, and not be able to perform,” she explained.

Bananas before the match are also a good idea – they are gentle on your stomach, easily absorbed and can help fuel exercise. You can eat them anytime before a match as they won’t cause you too much trouble, but ideally leave half an hour before play starts to digest the banana.

So what about in the hours before a match? Ideally, eat a carb/protein snack or meal about 90 minutes to 2 hours before play starts so you have time to digest it. Oatcakes and peanut butter or a dried fruit energy bar are good options. Or a meal with protein and carbs.

Afterwards, refuel within 40 minutes of the match and ideally earlier. A great after-exercise fuel is chocolate milk – apparently it contains the right amount of sugar and protein in the perfect mix. With the proviso that the research has been done by the food industry so there are probably some other options that are just as good – a chicken sandwich, maybe. Or even one of those cheap looking ham sandwiches the opposition have served up for hockey teas!

Update: This is the challenge with writing a feature. I’ve just spoken to sports nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker. She says that no you don’t need jelly babies or gels at half time in a match – only for endurance running or exercise that lasts longer than 90 minutes. Hmmm. If there’s no consensus on this, I’m going to carry on eating jelly babies at half time. But I think I will definitely eat that one tucked in my sock during the match if sugar takes 15 minutes to be digested.

As for bananas, Dr Schenker is happy for sports people to eat those. She says they are also a good source of potassium which you lose when you sweat. Plus, they have fibre and vitamins. You can’t compare the sugars in there with refined sugar, apparently, so keep munching the bananas.

She also agrees with refuelling with dairy productsafter exercise  because they contain lactose – a great sugar for rebuilding muscle. She suggests a high protein yoghurt. Not sure I can stomach that after a match frankly – think I’ll go for the chocolate milk option. Or maybe all I’ll be able to get is a luke-warm cup of tea in a plastic cup and that ham sandwich.

Update: Yet another interview this morning – this time with the prestigious sports nutritionist and state registered dietitian Renee McGregor. She works at Team Bath, the team and performance centre at the University of Bath.


I asked her specifically about fuelling up for hockey. She said that if you’ve eaten well the day before and the day of the match, technically you should have enough carb to fuel your muscles as it’s only 35 minutes each way. Indeed, technically you have enough carb in your body if you’ve eaten well for 90 minutes of exercise.

“However, hockey is stop-start, so although you technically don’t need something mid way I think you could still do well by eating the old-fashion half time oranges,” she says.

“There’s studies that show that taking in sugar solution that you spit out rather than swallow can trick the brain to keep going. Oranges are sweet and have a little bit of sugar, so they could have this effect.”

“Oranges are also refreshing and have some fluid. I think, since you can sweat a lot in a stop start hockey match, that losing fluid is more important. So you need to replace fluid at half time. So it wouldn’t do any harm to have a sports drink at half time, one you’ve bought or made – I make my own.”

“I make up a 750ml sports bottle up with normal high-juice squash diluted with water, not the low-sugar, low-calorie version. Then I add in a quarter of a tsp of salt. This would be a great drink at half time.”

Apparently, the risk with taking on sweeties at half time is that you can just eat far too many of them – and go into calorie overload. Renee McGregor says 10 jelly babies are the equivalent calorie wise of a jacket potato – but it’s just so much easier to eat the sweets.

With the homemade sports drink, you are not doing to calorie overdose and stuff your face – if you’ve drunk the whole thing by the end of the match that’s fine. It will also help you rehydrate.

As for bananas, she had something interesting to say too. Apparently, how ripe the banana is affects how quickly you digest it. If you eat a green banana it may take a couple of hours to digest. Whereas a ripe banana will only take 20 minutes – so you’re quite safe to eat it in the half hour before the match.

Renee McGregor is an accomplished marathon and ultra runner. She told me that about two to three hours before a competition she eats a bowl of porridge, with a chopped up banana and honey.

Monday morning update: Tried out a totally different nutrition and hydration regime for last Saturday’s match.

Usually… (this isn’t going to look good). I have a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and wholemeal toast for a 2pm match. Then a sandwich at about noon and a banana just before the match. I also take ginseng and guarana, plus a sports drink with caffeine in as well as drinking lots of strong coffee before. I stuff jelly babies, and sometimes sports gels, before and during the half time break – plus I might even eat a jelly baby tucked in my sock during the match.

Last Saturday. It was a tough day as I was playing two matches – one of them at least in midfield (groan). I planned my food with military precision. The first third team match was at 12.15 then a long drive to play second team at 4pm.

I wanted to eat breakfast about 10 am but couldn’t wait so had two slices of wholemeal toast and marmalade at 8.30am. Then at 10am I forced myself to eat a bowl of porridge and drink a pint of water. Yuk. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t really want it, but forced it down.

I took no herbal supplements or caffeine. Nothing at all before the match except a couple of cups of weak tea. Played the match (I felt ok, but it wasn’t a good one as we lost to a team who had brought in a load of ringers. Not a good atmosphere and we all felt demoralised)

During the match and after I drank the homemade sports drink recommended by Renee McGregor (see above).

Immediately after the match I drank a small flask of hot chocolate I had brought with me and ate a just-add-hot-water ready mix of porridge and a banana (probably more green than it should have been). Again forcing it down. A lot of the team headed off for a McDonalds – I don’t like them so to be honest it wasn’t a sacrifice to miss out.

Drove over to the match. The sun had come out and we had a good team. The opposition wasn’t up to much either so from push back we felt strong. Unfortunately, despite many attempts and most of the play we just couldn’t net the ball. Think we’re a bit out of practise this season as so much of the play has been defensive.

I would usually be beyond fatigue – probably begging to come off on my usual eating regime. But this week I felt amazing. Full of energy – obviously a bit tired by the end of the second match. I was in left midfield. I usually play left wing, but I wasn’t captain so was put where I was told to play, which was actually a relief after doing so much of the organising of the third team this season.

I felt great. Still able to tear up and down the pitch – and often not able to help myself heading too high into the D. In left wing I love deflection play. I know this isn’t really my job when playing left mid but I can help heading high. It was a great game and I felt great – but unfortunately it was a nil nil draw.

I drank another bottle of homemade sports drink during the match and after.

Afterwards, I had some french bread with cheese and chive spread on it. I didn’t seem to want the cakes for some reason and it wasn’t a sacrifice to miss out on them, which is unusual for me.

That evening I felt a bit of muscle soreness but not the usual utter exhaustion and physical crash I usually get when the overdose of caffeine and sugar wear off.

Can highly recommend this and will be doing this again next time. Supercharged my energy and stamina.


Liz Hollis


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