Players have got heavier in recent decades; at higher levels of play it is common for linemen to weigh 136 Kilogram. As players get stronger and larger, the physical demands of football increase, and players burn more calories and deplete more glycogen. Eating the right foods, in the right proportions, at the right times, can go a long way to prepare football players for these demands and ensure optimal performance levels in games.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for football players. However, according to Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh and consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers, "for many players, carbohydrate intake is suboptimal." According to sports nutrition authorities, diets consisting of 55 to 60 per cent carbohydrates are ideal for football players; 7 to 19 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed per kilogram of weight. Complex carbohydrates such as bagels, whole wheat breads and pastas and potatoes will provide athletes with energy and nutrients without added fats or preservatives.
Football players average between 2 and 5 litres of fluid loss per game. Dehydration can increase an athlete's heart rate and body temperature, and this can result in rapid fatigue and suboptimal performance on the field. Drink water and sports drinks with carbohydrates before, during and after a game.
On average, 473ml of sports drink should be consumed one hour before a game, as it takes an hour for one litre of fluid to leave the gut, according to Bonci. Twenty to 1,182ml of water/sports drink should be consumed per hour of a game or practice. Rehydrate after a game to replenish the body and enhance recovery time. An easy way to determine the correct amount of water to drink after a game is to weigh yourself before and after you play; the different in your weight is the amount of water you should be drinking after a game.
According to Bonci, many football players consume more protein than they need to. Protein is important to building and maintaining muscle mass, but it is not needed in large quantities; 15 per cent of daily caloric intake or 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight is ideal. High-protein foods such as red meat, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, nuts and soy products can help maximise muscle gains when taken before or after a workout.
Different football players will have different nutrition requirements based on their position, performance expectations and natural physical attributes. Whatever your size or position, your diet must be balanced. The timing of meals on gameday is also an important consideration. Players should eat a good breakfast in the morning, and then a smaller 600-calorie carbohydrate meal two hours before a game; this is the equivalent of three bananas and four slices of bread. A well-balanced meal after the game is also important to replace lost energy and glycogen.
A nutritional challenge some elite football players face is balancing their social life and desires for unhealthy foods with a strict training regiment. Excessive alcohol consumption can slow reaction time, increase the chances of dehydration and delay recovery time. Junk food can increase indigestion and diminish the nutritional gains made by healthy eating. Set realistic goals for yourself, and indulge with moderation.
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