How to optimize your diet for football

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An essential element of the famous invisible work of the footballer, food will be particularly crucial to optimize recovery, prevent injuries but also provide the necessary energy reserves before a match. Here is its user manual.

Each effort on the ground requires a significant energy production. In reality, there are three distinct energy pathways: alactic anaerobic (for very short and intense efforts of 3.4 seconds maximum such as a sprint for example), lactic anaerobic (for intense efforts ranging from 4 seconds to 2 seconds). / 3 minutes) and aerobic (for long-term efforts such as playing a 90-minute match).

Each energy sector uses “raw materials” to renew energy and these raw materials are provided, in large part, by food. In addition to oxygen, the aerobic system uses glycogen (carbohydrates), fats and proteins to constantly produce energy.

Before even starting your training or your match, your diet will therefore be a determining element that will condition your performance. In addition to traditional recommendations, football players will need special support to meet their needs.

Carbohydrates

Food responds more precisely to two needs: 1) to provide a sufficient quantity of energy to attenuate performance losses and avoid injuries, 2) to provide substances essential for the maintenance, renewal and development of cellular structures.

You should already know that during a football match, you almost completely empty your glycogen (carbohydrate) reserves at the end of the match, and almost 2/3 at half-time. Imagine that these reserves are not optimal (therefore not 100%) at the start of a meeting. You can easily imagine the consequence behind on the ground with fatigue that will be felt early. To overcome this problem, a diet rich in carbohydrates is recommended.


Carbohydrates are roughly sugars, but they are not necessarily sweet tasting foods. For a long time, sugars have been distinguished according to their speed of absorption with, on the one hand, slow sugars, which allow the body to store reserves which will be useful as the game progresses, and fast sugars, which themselves go be able to be used quickly by the body. But it is wiser to distinguish the sugars according to their glycemic index since certain studies like that of R. Spaethe et al., In 1972, of Crapo et al., In 1976 and of Jentkins, in 1981, indicated that the difference of absorption rate between the different sugars was not obvious or even almost identical.

To make it easier to understand, we generally recommend starchy foods (pasta, rice, potatoes) before and after a match and fruit or energy bars just before a match and at half-time. The ideal is to be able to consume carbohydrates very quickly after exercise because this is the moment when the restocking of energy reserves is optimized. This is called the metabolic window. It is important not to consume too many carbohydrates at once to avoid overloading the gut, which causes an upset stomach. Ideally, we recommend a contribution of 60 to 80g of carbohydrates in the first 30 minutes after exercise, with more precisely 30g of sugars with a high glycemic index and 30g of sugars with a low glycemic index.

The proteins

A football match causes a lot of muscle damage. To resynthesize muscles, the body needs a significant protein intake after exercise. You should know that not all proteins are created equal. For example, proteins of animal origin have a better content of essential amino acids, which are very important proteins that are only provided through food.

You should also know that some food sources are better endowed with protein compared to others, especially milk with the famous whey protein. To give you an idea, 1L of milk contains 30g of protein while 100g of meat contains 20 to 25g of protein and 100g of fish contains 15 to 20g of protein. Conversely, 100g of legumes contain only 8 to 10g of protein. Which requires substantial rations for vegetarians. In general, we recommend a minimum of 1.6g of protein per kg / day, i.e. 112g of protein per day for a player weighing 70kg.


What is generally recommended is a balanced protein intake throughout the day rather than overloading dinner or lunch combined with not having breakfast. The most effective strategy is to have intakes every 3/4 hours (i.e. 4x28g of protein). Like carbohydrates, there is a strong interest in having a high protein snack right after a game.

On the other hand, there is no point in consuming protein just before a match, even in small doses, because this risks causing an accumulation of ammonia in the blood, which is toxic for the Central Nervous System. and which will affect cognitive functions. Proteins are to be consumed mainly during the recovery phases.

Lipids

We may tend to think that fat should be banned from the diet of footballers, but in reality this idea is wrong. Football players need fats, but especially quality fats. Lipids include essential fatty acids, which are not naturally produced by the body, and other non-essential fatty acids that must be limited if they are not completely banished.

The right balance between essential fatty acids like omega 3, which is found in rapeseed oil and fish, and omega 6, which is mainly found in nuts, seeds and sunflower or corn oil remains essential for preventing injuries and promoting muscle and energy resynthesis.


In general, the consumption of omega 6 is largely in excess of that of omega 3, but an imbalance between them can be harmful to health. This is why care must be taken to balance the ratio (at least 4/1) and also limit its consumption of bad fats contained in pastries or fast food. Nothing should be forbidden but remain reasonable.

Micronutrients and UEFA recommendations

If carbohydrates, proteins and fats constitute the priority trio to meet the needs of football players, the importance of micronutrients such as vitamins, which are found in fruits, or minerals like magnesium or calcium. In addition to its benefits for consolidating bones, calcium, which is found in dairy products in particular, is very interesting for muscles because it regulates muscle contraction.

In October 2020, UEFA published the recommendations from nutrition experts concerning the practice of football at a high level. These experts recommended more precisely 3 to 8g / kg of carbohydrates per day; 1.6 to 2.2g / kg of protein per day; 20 to 35% good fats per day and at least 700mg of calcium per day.


Since it can be very restrictive to measure your nutritional intake to the nearest gram, we just advise you to favor balanced meals with a contribution of proteins, starches, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, without forgetting to balance fats. Obviously, you can indulge yourself from time to time with fast food but prefer the days after the game because this will have less harmful consequences for your practice.

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