Friday, December 20, 2013

Pre-match Nutrition for the Modern Footballer

By Lisa Grimes
The game of football has changed. Some would say for better, while others would say for worse, but one aspect that has changed possibly more than any other is the importance placed on player nutrition ahead of match days. Long-gone are the days when top-flight players would celebrate mid-week victories with a massive drinking session. Go back even further to the 50s and it was not uncommon for players to enjoy a few pre-match pints with fans in pubs close to the ground, and then run out on the pitch half an hour later. The pace of football does not allow for any complacency, and players need to condition themselves through exercise and nutrition. In recent years, for the first time, the Premier League has had players of 40 years-plus, and this has to relate to current understandings of the importance of nutrition. So what exactly does the modern footballer’s nutrition regime involve to ensure they are in tip-top condition when Saturday comes and what tips can you learn to improve your own match fitness?

One week prior to the game
Hours of time spent practicing set-pieces, and working on stamina on the training field are worthless if players turn up on match day with low energy levels due to a diet that is poor. As much attention needs to be given to nutrition as all other aspects of the game. Loading up on carbs is not just as simple as scoffing a big plate of pasta and tuna the night before the big game. Making sure the body is in optimal condition is a lifestyle, with strict rules that need to be adhered to. Carbohydrate stores should be depleted at the beginning of the week, and then gradually increased as match day becomes nearer. Not consuming so many carbs at the start of the week encourages muscles to increase their receptors that absorb carbs, as the body tries to maximise blood-sugar, which is limited in supply. Footballers can then use this situation to their advantage by consuming more and more carbs at the end of the week, and increasing levels of stored glycogen by up to 50%.

A few days before
Thai-style soups are excellent for hydration, as they contain ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, and chilli which can all make the blood thinner. This thinner blood circulates at a faster rate, guiding a greater amount of oxygen to blood cells. Also, turmeric contains curcumin as a main component, which can alleviate liver scarring and cell damage, meaning if a player does fancy a couple of celebratory drinks, they don’t have to feel so guilty about it. It is worth considering, for players to be at their very best, everything that is consumed has to be monitored, and this can include over the counter and prescription medications. Some medications can have an adverse effect on peoples’ health, and there have been cases over the years of sports people failing doping tests when they have simply taken medication for the common cold. Nutrition experts are able to advise which medications are unacceptable for footballers to take.

One day to go
The most vital meal of the week is the evening one before match day. For some players pre-match nerves mean that eating anything can be difficult, but it is crucial that they try to consume a reasonable amount of cabs, but they don’t have to go overboard. One of the footballer’s favorite pre-match meals is chicken or fish, with jacket or sweet potato, and some green veg on the side. Beef steak is deemed too heavy by nutritionists. Spinach is seen as a super food with its high levels of vitamins and carotenoid antioxidants.

Four hours till show time
Players will be on the way to the game at this point, so something that is convenient and can be eaten on the go is required. Chicken and veg can be prepared the night before, put in a covered container, and then chilled in the fridge. Starchy carbs are the best, with fat intake kept to a minimal level.

90 minutes left
A final dose of nutrition is needed around an hour and a half before match time. Tropical fruits such as pineapples, bananas and mangos are a good bet as they have lower levels of fibre, but don’t induce a strong sugar rush. Blood sugar fluctuations can lead to tiredness, which is the last thing a player needs.

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