Proper nutrition education is key to improving performance on the playing field.
In football, nothing can be left to chance, let alone food. The intensity and physical exertion that matches and training require involve high energy expenditure that an athlete must know how to support. Proper nutrition education is key to improving performance on the playing field. Learning to choose appropriate foods and knowing when to consume them should be a priority for any footballer who is looking to excel, regardless of where they find themselves in their career.
“Caring for food is like training,” says Bet Sugranyes, a nutritionist at Marcet’s High-Performance Academy. “What our footballers do at the dinner table is as important as what they do on the grass. It’s not about becoming dietary police, imposing rules and punishing. My job is to inform, help our athletes understand what and why they’re eating what they’re eating, so they can subsequently choose what to eat and when to eat it by themselves.”
Sugranyes meets personally with each player of the Academy, asks about eating habits and preferences and then gives guidelines to improve their diets to achieve goals such as gaining muscle mass, losing fat mass or simply just eating better. “Every child has different needs, but everyone has to understand that there is an optimal time and schedule for meals. It’s not the same to eat before or after a workout since the macronutrients are not going to be metabolized in the same way.”
“It’s not the same to eat before or after a workout, since the macronutrients are not going to be metabolized in the same way”
Sugranyes refers to the anabolic window that opens in our body after having made an intense effort. It is right after a match or a workout when the body of the athlete is in the best conditions to absorb carbohydrates and proteins, essential macronutrients that replenish the reserves of energy burned with physical activity and repair muscle tissue, favouring growth. “Some players finish training and, instead of eating the sandwich we prepare for them, prefer to go to the supermarket and buy pastries, sweets, chips or soft drinks. “This is the most common mistake made by teenage football players. Lots of fats and sugars are not ideal, because they don’t help their bodies recover.”.
In general, the ideal diet of a footballer is not far from what should be followed by anyone who wants to take care of themselves. It’s about seeking the correct nutritional balance based on how much energy is demanded, prioritizing carbohydrates and proteins of high biological value in the recovery phase. It is also important to rule out less healthy fats, calculate a correct intake of fluid to avoid dehydration and take into account the indispensable supply of vitamins, minerals and fibre. In the balance of these elements is where we find the key to the perfect diet. That’s why it is important that footballers begin recognizing the nutritional characteristics of all the foods they consume as early as possible.
“Children’s passion for football should be made the most of to educate them in terms of how the eat,” says Alberto Dolci, the person responsible for Nutrition at MilanLab, the scientific research centre at AC Milan. “Young and aspiring football players should be looking at how their idols eat. It might not be the part of a footballer’s life that the media gives the most attention, but the truth is that almost all football professionals are very aware of their diets. Positive habits once the boots are off and tucked away, that’s why their exemplary nutritional awareness should be something the new generations of footballers should be looking up to.”
“OUR PLAYERS are athletes at the stage of physical development. We don’t want THEM to become obsessed with their weight”
It goes without saying that it is also important not to go to the other extreme and become excessively restrictive. “A meal has to have a bit of everything,” says Sugranyes, who calculates the nutritional values of every dish served at the Marcet Academy. “We do not want our players to become obsessed with their weight, because they are athletes and they are also at the stage of growth and physical development. Having something that’s been fried twice a week isn’t the end of the world because they burn a lot of calories and indulge themselves. It’s just important that they understand that it is thing of exceptions, of occasional consumption that they can’t afford to make a daily habit.”
The most important thing here is that they understand all of this for themselves. When it comes to food, impositions and constraint do not work. They would be counterproductive. The role of a nutritionist must be to inform and educate without forcing anything. Sugranyes explains, “my job is to teach our footballers to correctly interpret their nutritional needs so that they have the freedom to decide how to feed themselves. When they are professional soccer players they will not have a person who says’ eat this’ or ‘avoid the other… The choice will always be in their hands, which is why it is important to provide them with the guidelines they will need for the rest of their careers.”