Recovery for the female football player

11 January 2016 Ben Cartwright recovery, female, football, soccer, active

Much of what is written about recovery in football is fairly generic and more often than not aimed at male players. Due to the inherent differences between the genders it would be a mistake to superimpose a male recovery strategy onto female players (as is often the case sadly). The following advice may give you some insight into the elements of female recovery that need to be different from male recovery and those that don’t.

1) Artificial cooling aids:
Female thermoregulatory response to exercise (such as core temperature) has been found to differ from that of males (1). One of the possible reasons for this will be the natural hormonal variations between the genders. With this in mind particular attention must be given to regulation of core temperature when implementing a recovery strategy. One study (2) suggested that females display lower thermolytic capacities than males post exercise. The same study also stated that females could potentially benefit from assistance in lowering their body temperature and therefore the use of cold water immersion or cooling vests would be of greater value to them than their male counterparts.

2) *Active recovery and compression garments:
Females have been observed to experience a greater decrease in arterial blood pressure post exercise than males (3). This will be important as the time taken to return to pre performance levels appears to be dependent on maintaining a good flow of blood back to the heart. This means active recovery could conceivably be more advantageous for females at a circulatory level. The associated circulatory benefits of wearing compression garments would further promote the desired outcome of improving blood flow and decreasing time taken to return to homeostasis.

3) Fat intake post exercise:
Lower fat mobilisation has been observed in females immediately post exercise compared to males (4). Therefore fat consumption should be limited in favour of carbohydrate and protein intake during the immediate post exercise period. It is of vital importance that fat intake returns to adequate levels (30% daily calorie intake) thereafter. This is critical as it has been found that a large percentage of females considerably limit their consumption of fat to 10–15% of their daily calorie intake (5).

4) No major difference in rehydration or electrolyte replacement have been observed between males and females (2). Therefore recommended strategies are applicable for both genders. It has however been reported that female football players drink less during training and competition than their male counterparts (6). This means females may require more encouragement to drink in order to hydrate or rehydrate effectively. Players may be more willing to drink water if it is cool and/or slightly flavoured.

5) No significant differences in glycogen replenishment have been observed in females compared to males post exercise (7). Therefore both genders require immediate intake of Carbohydrate on the completion of playing a match in order to provide a readily available source of substrate for glycogen synthesis. Again consideration of female dietary habits and their limiting of calorie intake will be of importance here if they are to recover effectively. The use of a well planned and personalised nutritional strategy that provides the required energy and macronutrients is advised.

In closing I hope I have illustrated some of the factors that may impact on female recovery and how gender differences must be catered for if a recovery strategy is to be successful. This also holds true in many other aspects of female performance in football. I sincerely hope to explore the topic further in subsequent blogs.

As always any thoughts or views are welcomed

Enjoy your Football!

*active recovery = light aerobic work or swimming pool session, avoiding eccentric actions and dynamic movements


1) Kenney, G. and Jay O., Sex Differences in post exercise esophageal and muscle tissue temperature response. Am J Phy- siol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 2007

2) Hausswirth, C. and Le Meur, Y., Physiological and Nutritional Aspects of Post-Exercise Recovery Specific Recommendations for Female Athletes,
National Institute of Sport, for Expertise and Performance (INSEP), 2011

3) Carter S, et al., Short-term 17beta-estradiol decreases glucose r(a) but not whole body metabolism during endurance exercise, J Appl Physiol, 2001

4) Henderson, G. et al., Lipolysis and fatty acid metabolism in men and women during the postexercise recovery period. J Physiol, 2007

5) Larson-Meyer, D. et al., Influence of endurance running and recovery diet on intra-myocellular lipid content in women: a 1h NMR study, Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 2002

6) Broad, E. et al., Body weight changes and voluntary fluid intakes during training and competition sessions in team sports, Int J Sport Nutr, 1996

7) Tarnopolsky, M. et al., post exercise protein-carbohydrate and carbohydrate supplements increase muscle glycogen in men and women, J Appl Physiol, 1997