Health and fitness has become somewhat of a trend of late, with eating clean, and getting into shape going hand in hand. In order to eat right, it is helpful to understand the science behind your meal planning.
Usually a football game lasts 90 minutes, take into account the warm up, the possibility of extra time and the fact that an average player can travel up to 12km per game at various speeds; 800-1200m of this is thoughts to be sprints alone! The correct nutrition can act as an important factor to give a player an extra edge. It’s no surprise that a high amount of energy is needed to compete at your highest level throughout the duration of a football match, as more energy in, means more energy out. This is important as only a 6-second 100% sprint can lower muscle glycogen (muscle energy stores) levels by up to 15%, where the average intensity of a football match for a player is at 85% of their maximal heart rate. Nutrition does not only have a positive effect on a player physically, but also mentally, where incorrect nutrition can negatively affect concentration, lethargy, vision, as well as result in muscle cramps and dizziness. Extreme cases can also cause a loss of consciousness.
As most people know you can break down food into different food groups; carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals as well as fluids.
Carbohydrates are fundamental to a footballer, where they have an optimal level of intake of 2400-3000 carbohydrate calories a day, providing high muscle glycogen levels for competition. There are two types of carbohydrate, complex and simple. Complex carbs provide between 40-50% of the body’s energy requirements, so should take priority in the diet, as during digestion they are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen. Whilst exercising, muscle glycogen is turned back into glucose and is utilised for energy. These carbohydrates are made up of foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice, unsweetened cereal, baked beans, lentils, peas and other grain products, whereas simple carbohydrates are made up of milk, honey, fruits and sugar.
Fats can also be used to provide footballers with energy, where trained athletes use fats for energy quicker than untrained athletes; they can contribute to up to 75% of energy. However it’s important to stay away from fatty foods; especially before exercise, as they take a while to digest. A footballer should ideally stay away from fried foods, as they will have no positive affect on performance!
Protein has become a fashionable supplement in order to help with muscle growth and replenishment. Excessive amounts of protein aren’t essential though, where only 10-12% worth of the body’s total daily calories should be made up of it. This amount should be accessible through a balanced, varied diet. Foods which provide high amounts of protein are lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, dairy, peanut butter and soy. Too much protein, however, will be stored as fat, as it is training that creates muscle, not protein.
Vitamins and minerals are known to have an important role in the body in terms of health, and as long as the athletes’ meals are balanced, they shouldn’t need many added supplements. However, female footballers may find that they need extra iron and calcium. Calcium is needed to strengthen bones and therefore prevent against stress fractures, where high levels can be found in milk, cheese and yoghurts. Iron can instead be found in lean red meats, leafy green vegetables, and grains which are fortified with iron.
Fluid intake is especially important for athletes and footballers, as dehydration can occur through sweating, through the lungs whilst breathing and whilst thermoregulating the body. Water is the best beverage, at least 3-4 glasses should be drunk daily; where fizzy, high sugar content, and caffeinated drinks should be avoided.
In terms of what a footballer should and shouldn’t eat, there are certain types of food that they should avoid, especially just prior to competition. High sugar foods can cause the rise and fall in blood sugar, therefore resulting in less energy. They can also cause fluid in the gastrointestinal tract, dehydration, cramps and nausea. Nutrient poor carbs such as jelly, white sugar and jam should also be avoided before a match, as they lead to premature release of muscle glycogen when competing in any endurance event, so they therefore would not be useful in a regular 11-a-side football match.
On game day a player should eat 2-3 hours before a match or training. This is as when digesting food your body sends blood to the stomach to help. However when exercising muscles are in need of blood to supply Oxygen and nutrients, diverting it away from the stomach and stopping the digestive process, which can lead to cramping and gas in the stomach.
Using foods mentioned in this post should guide a footballer to creating healthy meals, allowing them to optimise their football performance, it is important that their meals are balanced, and they should be varied. Check out our blog in future to see football specific recipes and meal plans.
Owen Anderson, (2011), Nutrition for Soccer Players, Peak Performance.