For any athlete to be in their prime there are a number of boxes that need to be ticked. Nutrition is just one of them but is so often overlooked and so easy to get wrong.
We’re all individuals with different dietary requirements and quirks, so a one size fits all meal plan is unfeasible – there are, however, some general rules that will improve most players’ energy levels and recovery times. A team’s approach to nutrition will have a direct effect on the predicted performance and Premier League odds; get it right and you’re giving the team every chance of success, get it wrong, however, and results could start to slide.
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Arguably one of the greatest footballing talents to have ever lived, Cristiano Ronaldo regularly shares exercise and dietary advice on his social media platforms. In regard to alcohol, he is tee-total in part due to personal reasons but also to maintain professionalism towards his sport.
The Madeiran told Goal.com that he puts away around 3000 calories a day to fuel the multiple training sessions he undertakes; consisting of a high protein diet with lots of whole grain carbs, fruits, and vegetables. He has worked closely with a dietician since his Real Madrid days and splits his food intake over six smaller meals throughout the day.
Having grown up on a small island in the Atlantic, he’s particularly fond of fish, notably swordfish, sea bream, and sea bass, and will only ever eat fresh foodstuffs, never frozen. A typical Ronaldo breakfast will consist of low-fat yogurt, cheeses, ham, avocado toast, and fruit.
Macros are short for macronutrients and refer to the three main food groups: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Depending on our age, sex, height, weight, and the average amount of weekly exercise, we have different nutritional requirements.
You can find several macro calculators on the web to assist in calculating what your daily macro needs are to achieve your goals: maintaining weight, gaining weight/muscle, or cutting weight. It’s important to realize that these are only guides and the type of sport being performed along with genetics plays a huge role in how our bodies process different foods, not to mention intolerances, so always check with a nutritionist before making drastic changes to your diet.
For example, a powerlifter will have significantly more protein demands than a professional footballer who will have further differences still to a long-distance runner. Once an athlete’s macros have been calculated they can then plan their diet to ensure they’re hitting the right amounts of each food group.
A further variable is that not all fat calories or carbohydrate calories are equal. Complex carbohydrates have significantly higher nutritional value than simple carbohydrates like glucose or fructose.
One thing we can learn from this diet of Ronaldo is that if you’re undertaking several training sessions a day, recovery is paramount. It is recommended to eat a high carbohydrate meal immediately after a training session to replenish glycogen stores expended during exercise. And protein is a crucial part of the diet to aid in muscle growth and repair. Another cornerstone of good recovery is a good night’s sleep, something that is also championed by Ronaldo.
For football players, lean proteins are best like chicken and fish. Some topflight players also swear by a vegan diet for performance as well as ethical reasons.
Lionel Messi and Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero have both utilized a vegan diet during the season. Vegan proteins include beans, peas, pulses, and nuts.
Ketogenic diets are once again in a phase of localized popularity, advocates of which claim to get their energy predominantly from fats and proteins, but the truth is the most efficient form of energy – which high-level athletes rely on – comes from carbohydrates.
A 90-minute football game is as much about endurance and stamina as it is about skill. Used as a supplement, glucose gels can be taken on the field to maintain energy levels for the later parts of a game, but the majority of carbohydrate intake should come from other natural sources.
Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oatmeal are a great basis of the carbohydrate macro along with fruits and vegetables, starchy veg like sweet potatoes and squashes, beans, and dairy like Greek yogurt.
Fats can sometimes get a bad rap, but the truth is they are crucial, in moderation, to the normal function of the body. Opt for avocado, olive oils, and oily fish, and aim to limit fatty cuts of meat and butter.
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Dietary requirements also vary by player position. A strong center-back will likely run fewer kilometers over ninety minutes than a midfielder, so should focus more on strength and protein. Attacking players need endurance, as well as a good turn of pace, and the goalie’s primary objective is explosive power.
There’s more dietary information available than ever before to assist in maximizing performance gains. In fact, the biggest challenge can be sifting through it and making sense of it all. What is clear, however, is to be at the top of your game, nutrition cannot be overlooked.