A healthy diet and proper nutrition are important for anybody, but eating and drinking the right things are especially important for people who play sports regularly. The right diet will help you to maintain performance and energy levels throughout the course of the game, as well as helping to speed up your post-match recovery.
The diet that you maintain may depend on the sport that you are playing. This is because different sports put different strains on the body. To find out more about the diet that is recommended for football players, take a look through this handy guide but we would like to make clear that this is just a guide and may not be ideal for your own body make-up. A link to an in-depth nutritional booklet from FIFA can be fund at the foot of this page.
Maintaining the right level of body fat will help to improve your performance. Some body fat is required for basic body functions; however excess body fat levels can increase your body weight. This will slow you down and put additional strain on your heart. To maintain an optimum body fat level, players must consume the right amount of healthy fats.
If you are over your ideal body fat percentage, you should consider speaking to a nutritionalist to discuss the best way to reduce fat levels without compromising your health. Diet pills are not recommended as a way of burning body fat more efficiently. Many of the dietary supplements that are available contain ingredients which can be harmful to the user. Natural ingredients in these supplements can be as dangerous as synthetic chemical ingredients.
Players must consume an adequate level of carbohydrates to allow the body to store enough energy to fuel a regular training programme. Carbohydrates also help the body to recover muscle glycogen stores after a workout.
It is recommended that players consume 1 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour of exercise after any intense period of exercise. On moderate intensity days, players are recommended to consume a daily level of around 6 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. During heavy intensity workout periods (pre-season) or before a match, players should consume up to 10 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per day.
Some carbohydrates should be consumed as soon as possible after the game. Delaying the intake of carbohydrates can delay the recovery process. Great sources of carbohydrates for footballers include breakfast cereals, rice, brown and white bread, potatoes, fruit juices, sports drinks, jam and honey. Combinations of these ingredients can easily be created. For example, thick fruit smoothies with honey can be a great choice for breakfast.
Protein is essential for those who take part in sports. Amino acids from proteins are used by the body to repair damaged tissue and build muscle. Protein is also required for the reactions that regulate the metabolism and other body functions.
Active footballers should consume around 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day. This is around twice the amount of protein that is required by the average person with a sedentary lifestyle. It is worth noting that the majority of people in the United Kingdom consume more protein than they need to over the course of an average week. Players who wish to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet will have to plan protein sources carefully, but meat-eaters should also take care not to over-consume protein.
Players should also be aware that many sources of animal protein have a high fat content. A few examples of foods which provide 10g of animal protein include; 2 eggs, 200g yogurt, 35 – 50g of meat, fish or chicken, 60g nuts or seeds, 120g tofu, 400ml of soy milk and 2 cups of cooked pasta. Sports bars are only recommended for consumption immediately after a hard training session, when a sudden protein boost is likely to promote a quicker recovery.
Vitamins, Minerals and Anti-Oxidants
Micronutrients are very important for football players. Micronutrients such as iron, copper, sodium, zinc, magnesium, and potassium all play unique health roles in the body. Adequate levels of vitamin A, B6, B12, C and E are also required. Inadequate levels of these micronutrients will mean that the body is not able to perform at its peak level of ability.
A healthy diet should provide players with adequate levels of major micronutrients, but it is important for players to monitor their personal intakes. It is especially important to monitor micronutrient levels if you are restricting food intake for any reason. If you are struggling to reach recommended micronutrient goals, multivitamin supplements are available which are specifically designed to be taken by sportspeople.
Particular care must be taken to maintain the correct iron level in the body. Low iron levels can lead to seemingly unexplainable fatigue and a pale complexion. Calcium is also vital for healthy bones. Players who do not consume any dairy products should speak to a nutritionalist about other sources of calcium.
Players must keep hydrated if they want to maintain their peak performance. Sweating and heavy breathing during training or in a match will reduce hydration levels, so it is vital that players replenish by drinking water. During hot weather, players should make sure that they always have a drink available to them at the side of the pitch.
Players can also choose to drink sports beverages during matches, to help them to replenish other vital micronutrients which may be lost during the game. Replenishing these nutrients can help to prevent the player from flagging towards the end of the match.
This handy downloadable booklet from FIFA contains comprehensive nutritional information for footballers.