|The pocket guide to an ideal young player's diet|
By Grant MacLeod
I’m sure at one time or another in your football career, you have experienced having little or no energy on the park. That feeling, where all you can think about is your stomach, and how you haven’t eaten enough before the game. From a young age we are told not to eat before taking part in exercise which, to a certain degree, is good advice. But where does your energy to perform any kind of physical activity come from? What you eat, and when you eat it!
I have always compared correct sport nutrition, to running a car. Using the example of a car, let’s look at how it is run, maintained, and performs.
A car is made up of lots of different parts designed to perform particular functions, to enable optimal performance....just like the human body. However, what is the key ingredient to making any car run? An ingredient which even people who don’t know the difference between a radiator and the steering wheel have control over? The Fuel!
If you take a car out for a drive, and there is not enough fuel in the tank, you know you are not going to get very far. By the same token, if you put the WRONG kind of fuel in the car, the car will not function correctly. If you use the car regularly, and do not top up on the oil and fluids, sooner or later, things start to go wrong.
By ensuring YOUR tank is adequately filled i.e., your body consuming correct energy through food, and also ensuring your body provides suitable maintenance after games, you will provide yourself with increased energy on the field, and increased ability to recover. It is not only about what you eat however, but also WHEN!
Preparation starts days before a game. Glucose, the main energy source to the body is stored in the body as glycogen, which comes from carbohydrate food sources. With the body naturally storing only a minimal amount of glycogen, it must be digested into the body to maximise performance.
The day of the game is what causes most confusion among players. You need energy for the game, but you cant eat too close to the game as this can cause discomfort. Timing of food consumption depends on the time of the game. 4 hours before a game, consume a good meal, consisting of good quality carbohydrates, this can include: wholemeal pastas with sauces added for flavour, baked potatoes, bagels and cereals. These are slow releasing foods which give you a steady source of energy. As the game approaches, top up your energy with healthy snacks such as: Wholemeal bagel and peanut butter, fresh fruit, and yoghurt.
During the game
Going back to the car analogy, sometimes while driving, it is important to refuel before the end of your trip. Typically intense exercise that lasts over an hour depletes energy sources, therefore decreasing performance, hence why a change in performance level is noted in the final third of games, its no coincidence. You may notice during tennis matches that players often take a bite of a banana between games, this is to maintain their glycogen levels. During the game, topping with small portions of: fresh fruit, sports drinks, dried fruit, can give that extra edge. Those half time oranges actually serve a purpose!
After running around the pitch for 90minutes, eating probably isn't the first thing on your mind. You'll be needing water (see below), a shower, then planning what you are doing after the game. Food gets forgotten about after games. However, going back to pre-game preparation, that preparation starts as soon as your game is over. During a game, your body undergoes physical punishment, and it is vital you re-fuel it to get it back to its full working capacity (again, just like a car using up its fuel and filling up again).
Protein is the key player in muscle re-development. When muscles are damaged, protein builds them back up to strength, and can help increase muscle size. Bearing this in mind, as well as the need to restore energy sources (glycogen), a meal should consist of a balance between carbohydrates (glycogen), protein (to rebuild muscle) and fat, which is an often overlooked aspect of a diet. Fat is vital for the make up of the most basic unit of the human body: the cell.
Examples of what should be eaten include: fresh fruit, milk, dried fruit, bagel and cottage cheese, sushi, smoothies. There is any number of good quality carbohydrate and protein food types, and different combinations can be tried out.
The timing of consumption is every bit as important. Immediately post exercise, your muscles and cells are at their most absorbent, therefore most benefit from food. After two hours of not eating after exercise, the ability to absorb energy depletes by 50%. Players should aim to consume some good quality food within 30 minutes of a match.
As important as the correct diet is to your development as a player, adequate hydration is vital to your immediate health and performance. Dehydration, particularly in the summer months, and in hot countries is common, and can have devastating consequences.
Again, hydration starts the night before a game, making sure your body has time to absorb the water, and put it to use. While playing a game, regular small servings of water allow hydration levels to be maintained. Consumption of large amounts can lead to discomfort and bloated feeling during a game.
The world of nutrition is a large, and evolving one, and individuals respond to different foods in different ways. By ensuring you are eating good quality food, both before and after games however, you can ensure optimal energy and physical development.