Sunday, October 6, 2013

How Nutritional Diets Prolong Footballer's Careers

Written by Lisa Grimes

With the huge stresses and strains facing the modern-day footballer, it is more important now than ever before to maintain physical fitness. TV schedules and soaring business involved in football has meant more and more games are being played each season. The effect of which is that elite players are becoming more susceptible to injuries, both short-term and long-term. In turn training and preparing the body for the exertions of a 90-minute match have improved, with many clubs employing fitness specialists to track players’ conditions. However, this is not enough. In order for elite players to extend their playing careers into their mid-30s, a whole change of lifestyle is needed, beginning with nutrition.

The early years
The football culture in the 1980s and early 1990s was considerably different to that of today. Whether it was the lack of knowledge on the subject of nutrition, the less media attention given to the sport, the less money involved or a combination of several factors, footballers were simply not as health conscious as they are today. Back then it was considered the norm for players to drink regularly, eat badly and generally neglect their bodies. The issue of nutrition was not considered in those days with footballers such as Tony Adams, Paul McGrath, Paul Merson et al, all known for their late night antics and weekend binges. It wasn’t really until the mid-1990s when football really stood up and took notice of the fact that bodies need to be nurtured not destroyed, in order to perform at a high level. One of the main instigators for this change was Arsène Wenger, who famously and successfully brought about change in the Arsenal team when he joined as manager in 1996. “It's silly to work hard the whole week and then spoil it by not preparing properly before the game….Food is like kerosene. If you put the wrong one in your car, it’s not as quick as it should be.” Wenger was quoted as saying. And it turns out, he was right. He introduced special diets into the Arsenal ranks which bore fruit as many of his players went on to prolong their careers into their mid-30s, including recovered-alcoholic and then-Gunners captain Tony Adams. In fact it is known that Wenger was instrumental in convincing Adams to attend rehab and rid himself of of the addiction. Such problems have affected many footballers with more information on detox and rehabilitation available at Project Know. 

The modern day
Fast forward to today and the picture has completely changed. The money and prestige which is at stake means players and clubs are desperate to tip the odds in their favour by producing ultra-fit players, who can perform at a high level for longer. Nowadays nutrition levels are measured daily and food intake is planned for individual player’s needs, to maximise their performance. For a player looking to lengthen his career, a strong focus on nutrition has proved to be an invaluable necessity. The Football Association has previously released information about what types of food a footballer should eat. These include a balanced diet of simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, saturated and unsaturated fats, protein, vitamins and minerals, fibre and water. The FA believes that, although regular people should consume 55-60% carbohydrates, a footballer should aim at 70%.

The evergreen Ryan Giggs
There are a few shining examples of footballer’s who have extended their playing careers thanks to healthy living and a nutritious diet - none more so than Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs. The former Welsh international is the longest serving footballer in the Premier League and is still going strong at the tender age of 39. Thanks to a combination of strict eating (in which he denies himself luxuries such as chocolate and beer) yoga and certain medical treatments Giggs has proven what can be achieved with dedication and knowledge of the body. Having completed his coaching badges it is expected that Giggs will retire from playing at the end of this season, at which time his achievements will be all the more evident.

What the future holds
History has shown that a nutritious diet and longevity in a footballer’s career go hand in hand. Like any athlete eating well optimises performance, reduces the risk of injury and reduces recovery time. Certainly at the top it is now an obligation rather than a choice for players to focus on nutrition. Doubtless it will continue in this fashion in the future, meaning that those neglecting their diet will be left behind, while those of the ‘Ryan Giggs’ mould will flourish.

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