Scoring the winning goal against the Netherlands in 1974’s World Cup final, FC Bayern football player Gerd Muller graduated to legendary status as one of the best strikers the world has ever seen. Said to be the “Mohammed Ali of the penalty box”, the Bundesliga icon recently passed away at the age of 75, reminding us of the fact that even our favourite legends grow old and pass away.
Footballers more than anyone know that the capabilities of the human body are finite. It is the responsibility of the individual to give themselves the best possible chances of improved performance by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We could use a reminder of the value in respecting the body, the importance of nutritional intake and implementing healthy eating habits, all integral for anyone playing football.
Unlike creative endeavours such as writing or mathematics, the demands of sport require constant observation of physical performance. And an abstract, haphazard framework isn’t recommended if you are taking the game seriously. Instead, an evidence-based, scientific approach is key to optimising a player’s chances of success on the field. Nutritional practitioners within sports must always be up to date with the latest scientific data supporting the nutritional needs of a player. Olive oil, whole grains, and fresh fruits are just some of what Lionel Messi eats, for example, while Cristiano Ronaldo avoids sugary foods and snacks while maintaining a diet of wholegrain carbs and fresh vegetables.
An Athlete’s Nutritional Needs
So, what are some of the best ways to guarantee a healthy and nutritional diet for an athlete? The answer to this question is simple – there is no one size fits all. Each individual requires personalised dietary requirements that best optimise the performances required for their particular sport. It will depend on their “weight, height, body fat percentage, and position on the field” according to New York Giants team sports nutritionist Tara Ostrowe.
“Nutrition plans must be individualised for each player,” she shares. Consistency is the only defining factor among all plans, with high-quality foods and year-round eating habits key to success. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy for athletes. Wholegrain bread and pasta, fruits, vegetables, and potatoes are some of the best sources of carbs. Responsible for keeping you going during intermittent workouts, glycogen stores need to be replenished through carb intake for improved performance. For foods high in essential minerals, vitamins, and fibre, oatmeal, brown rice, and wholewheat products are recommended. Fresh fruit, such as apples, pears, raspberries, and bananas also find a place on this list. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, beans, lentils, and legumes are another suggested source of carbohydrates. Refined carbs, think things like candies, cakes, and cookies, should all be avoided by players.
What About Protein
We all have that one bodybuilding cousin who can’t stop raving on about the new high protein shake he swears by. It is a well-known fact that protein helps build muscle. Needed to repair damaged tissue caused by training, muscle protein stimulus is generated through the consumption of protein-rich foods such as skinless chicken, fish, eggs, beans, and natural yoghurt. There is a misconception that the body benefits from added protein in the form of powders and supplements. This is a myth as the body is well able to create sufficient protein through food sources alone. And if you need those valuable branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), you can find them in meat and dairy, so those wary supplements can be avoided.
Drinking water is another major component of player performance and overall well-being. High-intensity training can lead to a vital loss of fluids – especially if one is training in high temperatures. This is why it’s key to stay hydrated. With the addition of a snack or energy drink to create electrolytes, aim to consume 16 to 20oz of water per hour – drinking at 15–20-minute intervals. Dehydration can be serious for unprepared players. Always have a bottle at hand and remember to sip. Mid-afternoon crash approaching? Snacking about 2-3 times a day can help a player fight off hunger between meals. Stay away from processed snacks that promise to re-energise you – nothing will replace real food. Fruits, seeds, and nuts are good options. Fats are also needed in moderation. Stick to the unsaturated kind and you’ll have no problem. Avocados, macadamia nuts, almonds, cashews, and anything high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Think fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and trout. Stay away from full-fat foods and anything with hydrogenated oil like mayonnaise, ketchup, and fried foods.
Hard Work and Discipline
We all want to hear a roaring crowd cheering our name as we navigate the pitch, evading incoming opposition tackles before scoring that winning goal to the praise of our peers and adulation of the crowd. This is a fantasy many of us have daydreamed about at some point. So, remembering the hard work and discipline needed behind the scenes and the effort required to improve your soccer skills will surely add to your success. The nutritional guidelines of a football player can be broken down into several categories. Perhaps dietary intake could be alternated between matches and training days. Or maybe an increase in carbohydrates and sugar before the start of a match. Overall body composition can also be a factor, with the player having to maintain specific body weight over an extended period. It is also wise to consider travel and environmental stresses that could impede player nutrition. Not only should dietary intake be considered, but that too of external effects on health. The body reacts to change and stress as much as it does to food. Life for a football player may not always be ideal. It could be financial or personal stress contributing to bad nutrition, or perhaps a constantly changing environment destabilising meal routines. Considering all of these factors when monitoring player nutrition is vital to having a well-rounded sense of direction.
Being fortunate enough to have access to a range of nutritional options is invaluable. Even outside the realm of football, good quality of life is best achieved through the pursuit of rich food sources and healthy living. It doesn’t always have to be a chore changing your eating habits. A lot of people believe nutrition equals a boring salad every day for lunch, but by investing time in discovering what should and shouldn’t go in your body, you find the options can be a lot of fun. Combine different foods for healthy, tasty results.
Replace That Candy
Replacing sugary candy for dried strawberries and peaches; switching from dairy milk to almond or oat milk instead. These small changes will do as much for you as the intense sessions at the gym. Often overlooked is the delicate balance we must strike when optimising our dietary routine. Maybe your body isn’t receiving enough electrolytes while you’re at the gym? A sizeable percentage of people focus solely on how much cardio they are doing but not what they are eating before and after. No matter how good we look, if we eat cheeseburgers for lunch every day, would you bet on a successful stint on the field?
Much like England’s Premier League, France’s Ligue 1, or the Italian Serie A betting odds operating as an arena for optimism for those possessing a gambling streak, we know that good old luck is far from the only component in winning big. We factor in player history, technical ability and a whole bunch of other logistics. All of which reaffirm the point that a structured nutritional regime is your best chance of enjoying the sport to its fullest. Gambling is an optimistic pastime, but if you are the one that they are betting on, we would suggest taking a more predictable route to success that involves, as its mainstay, good nutrition.