When Arsene Wenger took over as Arsenal manager, the former Arsenal forward Paul Merson said the biggest change he made at the club was to introduce a healthy diet.
Today, nutrition is considered an important factor for professional footballers, but it can also help the amateur player. So we spoke to the nutritional experts at Optimum Nutrition and asked them How to Eat Like a Pro Footballer.
It goes without saying that a footballer should eat a well balanced diet made up of all the food groups. Cutting out, or at least limiting junk food is a given.
A balanced diet means a mix of vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are a crucial aspect of the diet, they provide the energy you need to fuel your training and matches and should be present in all meals. However, the choice of carbohydrate is important.
Good Carb Examples = Pasta, Rice, Potato and Cereal
Protein is also key, particularly after you exercise and can be combined with carbs.
Good Protein Examples = Chicken, Fish, Low Fat Dairy, Eggs and Beans
Timing Your Meals
It is the timing of your training and matches that influence the food you should consume and when you should consume it.
A rough guide is that you should have a light meal approximately 2 hours before a game, to provide the fuel for the energy you will need.
If you’re training during the week and playing a match at the weekend it is important to ensure sufficient energy is consumed in your diet ready for the activity.
If you’re training in the evening a meal should be consumed a few hours before, ideally based around low glycaemic index carbohydrates like wholemeal rice and pasta, or oats.
Also of importance is the period immediately after training. Ideally, consuming 20-25g of protein with 70-100g of carbohydrate. This will help support a fast recovery process and also help facilitate improvements in fitness. Whether the protein and carbohydrate is consumed as a nutritional supplement (a recovery powder) or food is up to you.
On match day it is much easier to plan and organise your nutrition on the basis that all matches have a defined kick-off time.
You should have a well-rehearsed routine based on a high carb breakfast, pre-match meal and supporting snacks as appropriate.
Example Match Day Routine
9:00 am breakfast of a bowl of porridge
12:00 pm light meal of chicken pasta
2:30pm kick off
Whether training or preparing for a match, staying well hydrated is important to both the mental and physical aspects of your performance. Drinking little and often is the recommendation, whilst the colour of your urine (pee) can be used to monitor hydration during the day.
Urine should be a pale, clear colour; if it is yellow/dark then it is likely you are dehydrated and this can adversely affect your performance.
You should carry a water bottle around with you during the day and sip little and often.
Creatine is regularly used by players with the aim to support repeated sprint ability. It is not a prerequisite for football, but certainly it is something to consider for the serious player. The supplementation of creatine is most common through a loading protocol; this consists of up to 20 g/day for 5 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5g/day.
Caffeine used on match day has been used with great success to help increase focus, alertness and reduce fatigue. The ingestion of 1-3 mg/kg body mass of caffeine 60 minutes before a football match is advised for those who have practiced in training first. Caffeine sensitive individuals should start on a lower dose.
Most athletes who are eating a well-balanced diet will consume sufficient vitamins and minerals to meet their nutritional requirements without the need for additional supplements. However, a good multivitamin can provide a useful insurance policy, particularly during the winter months.
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