Fuelling the football season

Steph Houghton

Matt Lawson discusses how the right diet can guide a squad to a successful campaign

Footballers and how we feed them has become a matter of increasing debate. We are what we eat. That statement is certainly true and it is has been common place for this to be a focus at training grounds up and down the country. How then do we maximise this across a season is the question and can we make energy in the body from different fuel sources to maximise 100% performance on a Saturday afternoon?

Carbohydrate

Carbs are the body’s universal energy source and once consumed are digested in the gut turning into blood glucose for use right away, and glycogen in the liver and muscles for use later. Pre match meals used to be all about carbohydrate loading. These would often be based on wholegrain pasta, rice, potatoes, pulses and bread. The idea being that the body is ‘fully loaded’ pre kick off. Much like a diabetic is aware of blood glucose levels, so should a footballer be. We now know other nutrients can make energy for an athlete and there has been increasing interest in creating adaptions amongst sportspeople, to become better at being able to call upon protein and fat as an energy source.

Protein

Amino acids form the building blocks of protein in our diet, some of which are called ‘essential’ which means they have to be consumed from food. The main function is tissue repair and regeneration but protein can also be used as an energy source. Protein does take much longer to digest in the gut however and so we would not recommend players having steak pre match like they used to do in the 70s and 80s. Protein requirements have become wildly over estimated in the modern commercial culture, we have all heard of ‘protein bars’ and the like. Often a waste of time. It is the quality that is all important here and evidence shows protein is best consumed with carbohydrate. Strong evidence suggests rather than the easy fix ‘protein shakes’ the guys pose with around the club gyms, actually good quality lean protein should be consumed in 20 gram amounts at different trigger points throughout the day.

Fat

The nutrient fat, makes us fat right?  Wrong. There is little relationship between good quality sources of fat and weight stored as fat on the body, nor any link to the obesity problem in the country. Fat is a very beneficial nutrient and again some fats are essential. While trans fat and poor quality processed sources of saturated fat have been linked with cardiovascular disease, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have a positive effect on the body. These are also very good sources of energy. When a footballers has ran out of carbohydrate fuel in the body, perhaps between 70 and 90 minutes, footballers should be able to call on their fat reserves for energy. Training under a high fat diet for this reason, is now commonplace and athletes should create this adaption to become more resourceful on the pitch. Good sources include oily fish, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables and olive oil.

Football Food

It is important that food is well presented, fresh and crucially that the players food and fluid intake is monitored daily. Players should be put through cook and eat sessions with the Dietitian in order that they are capable of cooking their own evening meals from scratch.

Supplements

Daily - Culture - Calcium (bones), Iron (oxygen transport), omega-3 (recovery)

Matchday - Performance - Fruit, Glucose gels in warm up, isotonic drinks, caffeine

Injury Prevention - Squad availability - Vitamin C, Aloe Vera, L-arginine, Milk based protein

Going for the win

Matchday is all about the 3 points. If the preparation has been right, players can maximise their potential and achieve above what is expected. To conclude, the diet consumed, the fuelling approach implemented can assist coaches and managers in delivering positive results in a football environment. Teams should make sure that their dietary approach at the club is not only not forgotten, but put centre stage to preparations just like physiotherapy, psychology, coaching and general performance management of footballers.

Matt Lawson - MSc RD

A Registered Dietitian, Matt received his masters degree from the University of Nottingham, and has worked in the NHS in medicines management. He has spent a decade specialising as a football dietitian holding the UEFA Licence, working with a number of professional clubs including athletes within Team GB. Matt has also worked internationally in the USA and is the founder of the award winning concept, ‘The Diet Coach’.