A lot of thought – and column inches – goes into advising athletes on their dietary requirements leading up to events, competitions and games. Not so much emphasis is placed on recovery.
While complete rest and a good night’s sleep are key to letting the body recover after the exertions of exercise, consuming the right food is also vital to speeding up the process and ensuring your muscles get the nutrients they need for repair.
You’ve put in a shift, and felt the burn – here’s what you should be eating to get yourself back to peak condition:
- Water – it goes without saying that rehydration is absolutely vital in the lead-up to competing, during your performance and also, afterwards too. Drinking water helps with muscle soreness and replaces lost fluids. Soups are a great way to hydrate while cramming in nutrient-packed vegetables with some lean meat (or fish) to get your protein quota.
- Research suggests that you should be squeezing some sour cherries into your post-workout diet. These superfoods, sometimes called ‘tart cherries’ have anti-inflammatory properties that help with muscle fatigue; even better, sour cherries boost melatonin, the sleep hormone, meaning you’ll sleep better too.
- Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and cod contain OMEGA-3, which is also another food that helps with muscle strain and fatigue, and is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Eggs with everything – an essential source of protein, eggs also have amino acids that help muscle repair and building.
- Almonds are another good fat source, containing OMEGA-6 fats, and eaten as part of your dietary plan not only help to relieve muscle repair but also if regularly eaten help to stave off more chronic muscle soreness. Walnuts and Brazil nuts are also rich in magnesium and zinc, which need to be replaced in your post-performance in-take.
- Ginger and Turmeric – both are considered to be superfoods in that they are excellent for the blood and help counter muscle soreness, with their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Sweet potatoes – containing heaps of beta-carotene, which helps the body make vitamin A, sweet potatoes are versatile, tasty and go a long way to help keep your body’s immune system strong.
- Pineapple has anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing qualities – considered to be an essential food for those suffering from bruising, swelling and soreness.
- Bananas – high in potassium and with all the right kind of sugars to give you an energy boost after your performance, bananas are a must-have on your post-performance menu.
- Sunflower, Pumpkin and Chia seeds are all packed with magnesium, zinc and fibre to keep your blood healthy, fight muscle cramping and help your gut functioning. If you’re not incorporating these into your diet, now is the time to start.
Making the sacrifices to get in shape, hit the gym and hone your sporting prowess is tough enough but what separates elite athletes from their amateur counterparts is how they look after themselves in the kitchen.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to eating for performance: the only general rule is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and cut out processed food, such as white bread, white rice and refined sugars.
The needs of footballers, rugby players, cyclists or bodybuilders are completely different. Having said that, rugby players and bodybuilders will be looking to maximize bulk and body mass; while footballers and cyclists need to compliment their protein intake with a build-up of carbs nearer to competitions and match days.
Regardless of which sport you play, there are some nutrients that are essential for improving performance – namely, iron, to boost the blood’s oxygen supply: spinach and broccoli, as well as seafood and beans all have high iron content. In order for your body to absorb all of that iron goodness, you’ll also need to have a decent vitamin C intake – so eat your greens, but don’t forget to eat citruses, capsicum peppers and strawberries.
Carboyhdrates are essential of course – but the intake for carbs needs to be carefully managed and should be built-into the dietary plan and increase in the days leading up to competing; on the day of competition or match, large should be avoided and replaced with high energy snacks. For example, steel-cut oats, bananas and almonds all offer slow-release carbs that will help your body release energy while you perform.
Proteins and saturated fats are also vital for muscle repair and growth – chicken, fish, eggs and milk. Legumes, such as chickpeas and kidney beans are also rich sources of protein and can add further nutrition to salads. Fats also play a role in helping the body access stored carboyhdrates – known as glycogen – and ensuring your diet has enough healthy fats, from avocados, nuts, seeds and lean meat for high-intensity workouts.
Vitamins B6 and B12 are used by the body to convert proteins and sugars into energy, and any competitor taking part in high intensity exercise should seek out these in lentils, peanuts, tuna and beans.
Calcium is essential for strong bones and skeletal structure – but diary and particularly milk, while high in calcium is also full of electrolytes, which is particularly good for helping the body to recover after intense exercise by rehydrating the body. Calcium intake also helps to ward off cramp – so a must for those who run, cycle or play football. Making the sacrifices to get
in shape, hit the gym and hone your sporting prowess is tough enough but what separates elite athletes from their amateur counterparts is how they look after themselves in the kitchen.
Keeping fit for the beautiful game takes more than just regular practice: it’s also about great nutrition. And that doesn’t just mean the right foods, it means the right foods at the right time; your post-match snack is going to be different to the food that you eat while training, and both of these are different to the food that you eat for stamina just before a big game.
Today, it’s that third category that we’re going to be looking at, with a rundown of the key foods that should make their way into every footballer’s pre-match diet.
It might not get your taste buds tingling, but beetroot juice is a good choice thanks to the impressive burst of energy it provides. This is thanks to the nitrates, which help your muscles in three ways: improving blood flow, helping waste removal, and speeding up fuel delivery.
Bananas, apples and citrus fruits are all powerful stamina boosters – so a fruit salad before the match is never a terrible idea. By combining all three, you get the benefit of apple’s antioxidants, banana’s carbs, fibre and fructose, and the vitamin C that’s found in citrus.
Complex carbohydrates give a slow release of energy, which makes them ideal when you need stamina that will last throughout the full length of a football match. This includes food such as nuts, seeds, oatmeal and sweet potato and brown rice. As your body digests these particularly slowly, you’ll have enough energy for practice and the game itself.
Almonds and Walnuts
Omega-3 fatty acids are a really important nutrient to get into your diet if you take part in any sport, and football is certainly no exception. While fish is one popular (and effective) choice, you can also use walnuts and almonds to get your fill.
With all of the fibre and vitamin C that they contain, any leafy green veggies are a good choice for stamina and improved performance on the pitch. However, thanks to its additional helping of vitamin K (which helps strengthen your bones), kale is definitely the champion.
Remember, building your stamina isn’t just about choosing the right foods, but also about maintaining a suitable diet. Ideally, you want as much as 70% of your diet to come in the form of carbohydrates – with at least 2400 calories coming from carbs before a game.
With a well-balanced regular diet, and a carb-heavy pre-match meal, you should see your energy and stamina levels not just build, but stay at an optimal height.
In the fitness world, food is fuel. Getting the balance right of what food to each at which time of day is the key to optimising your workout performance. Correct nutrition can give your body a shorter recovery, more stamina and an overall better performance, but poor nutrition can have the adverse effect. Why is this? Well quite simply because eating before a workout forces your body to choose between processing the food or converting energy into performance, and the body will always process the food above anything else; you can’t stop digestion.
Not all foods are bad for you before a workout. In fact, some high energy foods can be useful to give you the energy to burn off; exactly what you need before a cardio session. But other foods can interfere with achieving your workout potential. So which foods should you try and avoid pre-workout?
The issue with eating yoghurt or dairy products before a workout is that the protein content means it takes longer to digest than easily absorbed foods or rapidly processed foods, so if you do want to eat dairy then be sure to eat it 2 hours before a workout so that your body is not still trying to process it. Dairy products can also give you cramps, abdominal discomfort and even diarrhoea, even if you eat dairy without a problem normally.
Avocados do have a lot of health benefits, but adding avocado to a meal before a workout is a mistake because of the high fat content, which means they are very hard to digest. The same is also true for olive oil and other fatty foods such as cheeseburgers – this type of food should almost certainly be avoided before a workout.
It’s probably quite obvious that scoffing a Mars bar before a workout is going to affect your stamina and performance. All the sugars in chocolate bars may give you an initial energy boost, but this is very short lived and the peak and trough in sugar levels will cause you to crash and play havoc with your stamina.
A great food for a healthy diet and weight loss, but not a great food for your pre-workout snack. The problem lies in the fact that they are packed full of fibre, and before a workout a heavy intake of fibre will lead to bloating and flatulence, so you need to avoid consuming these or any other high-fibre foods 2 hours before and after a workout.
Nuts are a great snack and are included in most nutrition programmes to get a good amount of healthy fats into your diet. However, before a workout nuts are not a great idea due to the salt content. This sodium content can effect the fluid balance that you need for an optimum workout and cause you to become dehydrated and increase the recovery period for your muscles afterwards.
While the foods above are ok to eat generally, to achieve a great workout performance and a healthy muscle recovery afterwards it is recommended that you don’t consume them within 2 hours either side of a workout. An idea pre-workout snack would be a small protein based snack with a good carbohydrate level that is eaten a few hours before. Don’t be tempted to take a protein shake with you either, as these are best consumed post-workout to assist in muscle recovery and repair.