Body composition is a very important factor for all football players. This means that you should have a low percentage of body fat and good levels of muscle mass. To achieve this, it is important to focus on basic human nutrition rather than sports nutrition (supplementation).
Being lean is important because body fat needs to be oxygenated, so having high body fat means that you have a lower percentage of oxygen going to your heart, brain and muscles, potentially diminishing your VO2max. Secondly, the more fat you have the lower your strength-to-weight ratio is, meaning that you’ll have less functional strength and speed on the pitch. Lastly, fat can cause more problems than simply the negative look of having love handles and moobs. Fat releases a number of chemicals that can fool with your appetite; it can also contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance. Fat cells can release chemicals that contribute to blood clotting, hypertension and narrowing of arteries!
Cristiano Ronaldo – one of the greatest footballers in history – ridiculously low body fat, good levels of muscle mass, good looking, second best paid player on the planet, hot girlfriend…….bastard – I wish I was Ronaldo!!
Eating breakfast is fundamental for football players. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 demonstrated that of over 4,000 UK secondary school children, 32% did not eat breakfast and were more likely to be overweight and obese. The content of a healthy breakfast is very debatable because of the government, media and many sporting bodies regularly promote junk foods as healthy “sports nutrition”. The Nutrition for Football Conference held at FIFA House in Zurich in September 2005 included common breakfast foods such as cereal with milk, flavoured yoghurt and fruit smoothies in its list of nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods. The Australian Institute of Sport also recommends foods such as crumpets with jam or honey, flavoured milk, baked beans on toast and breakfast cereals as healthy pre-training breakfasts and snacks. These foods are indeed carbohydrate rich; however, what seems to be completely missed is that these foods are high in processed sugar, contain gluten, dairy and other foods that people may be intolerant to. They are also generally poor providers of essential fats, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Better examples of healthy breakfasts include porridge with fruit and seeds, scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast, an omelette or some meat or fish with vegetables.
Various researchers have estimated the calorie intake of footballers to be between 2,600 and 3,952 calories a day. Considering that The Department of Health recommends a calorie intake of 1,940 calories per day for women and 2,550 for men, it seems that some football players don’t necessarily need to consume a great deal more than the average person. Conventional nutrition advice for footballers is for a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein and low-fat diet; however this dietary advice leaves a lot to be questioned. The over-reliance on carbohydrates, particularly starchy and processed carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta and rice, can leave players with high levels of body fat, elevated cholesterol and problems with insulin sensitivity. They may also experience nutrient deficiencies due to the huge demand on the body for zinc, magnesium and B-vitamins to convert food to energy and for other nutrients that act as antioxidants that won’t be provided by nutrient-deficient processed carbohydrates. A priority for evening meals is to avoid foods that affect sleep and to eat foods that promote good quality sleep. Consider these guidelines:
- Don’t drink caffeine in the evening.
- Don’t over-hydrate in the evening. Your sleep will more than likely be disturbed for a midnight piss.
- Eat some starchy carbohydrates as this helps to raise serotonin and melatonin that aid sleep. Good choices include swede, carrots, sweet potato and whole grain rice.
- Eat magnesium-containing foods because magnesium aids sleep. These include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish.
- Don’t eat high-sugar foods before bed.
- Eat good quality protein at dinner.
Snacking is a great way to control energy levels and to get additional calories and nutrition into the diet. However, snacking may not be needed by everyone because some people can do really well on just main meals and “sports nutrition” to meet their daily nutrition and energy requirements. Football players need to focus on nutritious snacks such as fruit, nuts and seeds.
One of the biggest myths that we need to overcome in football is the concept of carbohydrate loading. Carbohydrate loads is perfect for marathons, triathlons and other long-distance events; however it is not needed for football especially when you get your nutrient timing right. On that note, some of the carb-loading advice given to athletes, including the consumption of toast and jam, jelly beans and sugary soft drinks seems laughable. Clearly we know that these foods are full of carbohydrate, but they are devoid of other essential nutrients needed for elite performance and may even lead to the accumulation of excess body fat, which in itself can hamper performance.
Nutrient timing is the consumption of specific fluids and nutrients pre and post games to enhance performance and recovery. Some research suggests that this is best done with protein and carbohydrate drinks, but food is important as well. Before a game, east a sensible breakfast or lunch as previously discussed and hydrate well. During a game, staying hydrated with water and consuming carbohydrate drinks (such as Lucozade) is essential.
Dehydration can have a serious negative effect on performance. As little as 2% dehydration can cause:
- 8% loss of speed
- 10% loss of strength
- 20% loss of cognitive function
Sheringham helping Gazza to be well hydrated during Euro ‘96
Drinking water is usually the first line strategy to replace fluids lost through sweat. Adding electrolytes to your drinks is also a great way to replace the salt and water lost in sweat. These include sports drinks such as Lucozade.
So there you go, plenty of nutritional information for you budding footballers – don’t stress too much about sport supplements, as long as you nail your day to day eating, they can be just that – a supplement, not a replacement for a good healthy diet.
Over and out,