Cricket is an international bat and ball game played competitively by both genders from primary school age at a variety of levels including amateur and professional. Games are played between two teams on a natural grass cricket field, which has a rectangular pitch with wickets (a set of 3 wooden stumps) at each end. It is played over the summer months – often in very hot conditions.
A team comprises of 11 players with batters, bowers (fast and spin) and a wicket keeper. All team members get to bat and field, while only the specialist bowlers and all-rounders are required to bowl. A ’12th man’ is an emergency player for injuries, however also delivers drinks and towels on field at designated breaks in play.
Cricket has three forms of the game. Matches are measured in overs (6 balls bowled per over) and an ‘innings’ a descriptor for the number of times the teams contest each other. Competition formats include:
- Twenty20 (T20), which involve one innings (max. 20 overs per side). A typical game lasts ~3 hours (each innings) ~75-90min + a 10-20min interval.
- Limited over (one-day/OD) games involve one innings (max. 50 overs per side). A typical game spans 6 hours with a slightly longer tea break.
- 4-5 day games (Test matches) involve 2 innings per side with designated Lunch (longer) and Tea (shorter) breaks in addition to incidental drink breaks at the fall of a wicket or at an umpire’s discretion in extreme temperatures.
Players are only informed if the team is batting or fielding approximately 30-40mins prior to the start of the match. T20 and OD matches conclude when the overs have been bowled or if one team passes the previous innings run score. Tests have an unlimited number of overs. Once 10 players are out, the game ceases despite the number of overs or innings remaining.
Workloads differ with T20 matches the most explosive and intense. Test matches require endurance and long bouts of concentration. Fast bowlers have the highest workload and physical demand with distances of up to 15km a day being covered in modern elite Test matches.
Elite cricketers can have a busy training schedule with multiple sessions throughout the day. The intensity of sessions can range from low to very high. Cricketers therefore need to establish a daily base of nutrient-dense (minimally processed) foods, which can then be adjusted to meet the fuel and recovery needs of each session. Nutrition strategies should be individualised based on position in the team, intensity of session, goals of the session, body size, body composition goals and the period of time before the next training session or game.
Wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, lean proteins and vegetarian alternatives are all important foods for cricketers. Nutritious carbohydrate foods are adjusted to match training demands. For example, on heavier training days, athletes can include extra snacks like fruit, yoghurt or wholegrain muesli bars around training. On lower workload days, higher protein (lower carbohydrate) snacks like tuna and crackers or boiled eggs and vegetable sticks with hummus are suitable and filling.
Cricket can involve long hours of low intensity activity and players can often find themselves gaining unwanted weight, particularly since processed high fat foods and alcohol are common items in traditional breaks and after games! Cricketers wanting to lose body fat would benefit from working closely with an Accredited Sports Dietitian.
Fluid needs depend on position, playing style and weather conditions. Monitoring individual fluid losses is important as even relatively small fluid losses (~2% body weight) can negatively impact bowling accuracy, sprint speed, concentration and the body’s ability to cool itself.
Warm-up, drinks and meal breaks provide the main opportunities to top up fluid intake during a match. Other opportunities to drink include during over changes, the fall of wickets and when waiting in the stands not playing.
Training is the best time to establish good hydration habits and monitor changes in day-to-day fluid losses under different conditions. The Fluids in Sport Factsheet has a number of useful tips to help optimise hydration.
What should I eat before competition?
A challenge for cricketers is that they do not know whether they will be batting or bowling on the first day of a match until 30-45 minutes prior to start time. As a result, they need to prepare for a match assuming they will be performing on the first day.
When fuelling for a match, eat enough food to feel comfortable (but not overfull) – experiment with a variety of foods in training. A larger meal 2-4 hours prior to playing will to allow time for digestion. Top up fuel stores 1-2 hours before the start with a carb rich snack (e.g. simple sandwich, muesli bar, fruit). Snacks should be low in fat as fat slows digestion and can lead to tummy upsets on the field. Carb rich fluids such as smoothies or liquid meals can be good if you are prone to stomach upset from eating solid food before a game.
Pre-game hydration is important to ensure cricketers begin the match in a hydrated state. Pale yellow urine in the lead up to the game is a good sign of hydration.
What should I eat and drink during competition?
As cricket matches are often played in hot conditions, replacing fluid losses and keeping cool at breaks in play must be a priority. In addition, carbohydrate can enhance performance during matches by stimulating the brain to maintain motivation and delay the onset of central fatigue.
Practical hydration and cooling strategies include:
- Use individual bottles to keep track fluid intake
- Choose higher electrolyte fluids as the sodium content drives thirst and promotes fluid absorption.
- Add ice to bottles and store in eskies to keep cool
- Eat crushed ice or fruit juice based icy poles
- Use cool towels around the neck and face
- Cold shower at innings break
- Sit in an air-conditioned room or in front of fans.
Sports drinks can provide a convenient and compact source of fuel (carbohydrate) and fluid during intense matches or if eating is uncomfortable for the player.
Include small easily digested snacks every 1-3 hours while waiting to bat. If not batting for a while a more substantial snack can be eaten. Carb rich snacks will keep blood glucose levels topped up. Snacks should be low in fat to help easy to digestion. Avoid high fat pastries, tarts, slices and cakes that are common at breaks as these can cause gut upset. Some suitable snack choices include:
- Dairy based smoothies or Flavoured milk
- Fruit fresh or tinned fruit in natural juice
- Sandwiches with lean meat or spread
- Fruit muffins or crumpets with jam/honey
- Sushi rolls
- Grainy crackers + vegemite and cheese
Post game meals focus on carbohydrate (fuel), protein (for muscle repair), fluids and electrolytes (to replace sweat losses) and coloured vegetables (antioxidants). A recovery meal or snack should be consumed soon after a game, especially if matches are played over multiple days. Suitable options include:
- Wholegrain lean meat and salad sandwich/wrap
- Greek yoghurt with blueberries and muesli
- Homemade lean meat burgers with salad
- Jacket potato with lean mince topping
- Chicken and vegetable stir-fry on rice or noodles.
As with many team sports, there is a culture of alcohol immediately after matches to celebrate or commiserate. Alcohol directly can negatively impact recovery as it affects rehydration, refueling, muscle repair and can increase inflammation to any tissue damaged in play. Recovery choices are critical when playing multiple games in a day or backing up for another game/ training the next day.
Other Nutrition Tips
- Be aware There is a lot of sitting and waiting in cricket which predisposes players to excess weight and body fat levels, if they are prone to boredom eating or consuming large quantities of soft drink.
- Plan ahead Be prepared on match days to ensure nutritious and appropriate foods and fluids are available for snacks and meals throughout the day.