EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FOR GRASSROOTS SOCCER COACHES

Cook yourself a soccer diet

If you ask a budding footballer these days what they focus the most on, to reach the top of their game, you will hear most talk about hard work, training and exercise, but it is very rare to find a young player mention the numero uno focus, without which they will not have the energy to execute their programmes.

Cristiano RonaldoMany people were amazed to know about Cristiano Ronaldo’s body fat is just 7% (average body fat for an athlete aged 20-35 is 8-20%), but what makes the 33-year old fitter than many 20-year old healthy youngsters? He combines his highly disciplined training and rest routine with a very well designed diet plan.

Four small meals a day

Carbohydrates fuel the energy which enables your body to function. Some carb-rich food options are pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. When you consume carbohydrates, they get converted into glycogen, an energy storage mechanism in the body. The glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles, until it gets carried in the blood to the muscle cells when you partake in a physical activity. The food, as calories, burned during your exercise depends on the fitness and metabolism levels of the performer as well as the intensity and time duration of the exercise. A tip to ensure that you have the adequate carbs available for your glycogen storage is to eat regular meals. Three days before a match all the way until the night before the match day, it is advisable to eat four small meals a day. This is called carbo loading.

Proteins are essential to build muscles and to grow and maintain your health and fitness. Don’t focus on loading the body with proteins immediately before or after a match because it does not supply immediate energy, the way carbohydrates do. It is important to have proteins in your meals though, because that is what will help your body grow. Avoid protein containing too much fats like red meat and dairy products, and instead replace it with white poultry meat, fish and for non-meat eaters like myself, soya beans.

Fats are okay

There is a very big misconception wherein people are under the impression that fats are “bad” and should be avoided. Fats have twice the amount of calories than that of proteins and carbohydrates, however, it does not give you more energy because the body uses it very slowly. The problem comes with consuming surplus amounts of fats because the body stores that in various parts of the body. Hence, fats are essential, but only the right amounts. Meat, dairy products and even fruits like avocado provide the body with the right sources of fat.

Fruit and veg

Vitamins and minerals are a vital part of a footballer’s diet and you do not need to worry about it too much if you are consuming a good quantity of fruits and vegetables. The most important vitamins are Vitamin A (found in spinach, carrots and sweet corn), Vitamin C (found in fruits and fruit juices) and Vitamin E (found in nuts, seeds and whole grains). If you still feel that your body is lacking in vitamins and minerals you may wish to consume vitamin and mineral tablets, but that should be the last resort and is not something recommended for youngsters.

It is important for a player to consume the right things and the right time, which will only be achievable through a strict diet plan. It is not a sin to have those one-off cheat days, as long as those are not too many. Top football clubs employ dieticians to ensure that their players get the best fuel to perform at their peak in matches.

Drink water

Cristiano RonaldoAnother fuel that many footballers do not pay attention to is water. The power of fluids is second to none. According to ThoughtCo, the average adult human body is 50-65% water, averaging around 57-60%. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery at 31%. A lot of this fluid is lost whenever you go through a physical activity, again, depending on your body and the intensity and duration of the exercise. Footballers should drink at least half a litre of water before their warm up and another half a litre after their warm up, to ensure that their body has adequate amounts for optimal performance. Tea, coffee, alcohol and caffeine-filled rinks should be avoided because they drain your body of fluids.

Post match refuelling

Research suggests that a player’s glycogen levels can drop as much as 75% after a game and hence post match refuelling is vital because those levels have to be restored to normal as soon as possible. The body has two to five hours to restore the glycogen and it is advisable to have as much carbohydrates as possible after a game

It is a good idea to consume isotonic drinks before a match because they easily get absorbed into the blood stream and are quicker than water in providing rehydration. Supermarkets sell a lot of fancy, well marketed products but the most simple way to make an isotonic drink and save unnecessarily expenditure is to mix equal quantities of fruit juice and water.

Top tips for a soccer diet plan

> Follow a diet that strikes a balance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats
> Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates three days leading up to a match through pasta, rice etc.
> Water intake should be 500ml before warm up and 500ml after warm up
> Consume fruits and vegetables to ensure the body receives its vitamins and minerals
> Drink isotonic drinks before a match because it rehydrates the body the quickest

The advantages of following a good nutrition plan are that it lets you get the best results of your training, it boosts recovery between training sessions and matches, it lets you maintain your physique and weight, reduces the risk of illnesses and injury and gives a better chance of performing well on match days.

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