1
CHANGING DIETARY HABITS
 
OUT OF SEASON/INJURY
 

When a soccer player finishes the season or suffers from an injury requiring prolonged rest, they need to pay attention to their daily intake of food. Obviously, through inactivity, they will not burn as much energy as before, thus requiring a either a lesser amount of food or changes in the type of food they consume. Dietary studies on professional players have shown that even at this level, diets are often too high in fat. This coupled with a marked reduction in exercise may lead to them gaining wait and increasing their body fat content. For example, a study of a top English professional team showed a mean % of body fat as high as 19.3 % when returning to pre-season training (an adult male in his mid-twenties often averages about 16%).

There are different and simple methods to reduce the risk of gaining weight during the off-season. The first is general common sense. Keep away from fatty foods, avoid increasing alcohol intake and undertake some light aerobic work. This exercise will help maintain a higher threshold of fitness as well as mentally stimulating players. As the season generally stops in summer time, try to take advantage of the fresh fruit and vegetables available at this time of the year. Monitor your food, weighing your meals is tedious so go for the common sense approach. Ask yourself, did I eat this much or this type of food when playing ? If you are eating similar amounts and find it difficult to cut down, increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Plus, don't forget to drink lots of water at all times to eliminate toxins and to maintain hydration.

 
CHANGING DIET
 

Trying out new foods or changing eating habits should be discouraged. Changing pre-competition meals should be tried out before training and never before matches. Some professional players may be approached to try out new "wonder" foods. Again, if they agree, these foods should be consumed away from matches. Only when a player's diet is found to be insufficient in various nutrients should changes be made. Players wanting to take supplements should be aware that many supplementary aids do not provide any benefit, are expensive and may even cause health problems.

One area which is often neglected when taking into account dietary practices is vegetarianism. Vegetarian athletes may be at risk of low energy, protein, and micronutrient intakes because of high intakes of low energy-dense foods and the elimination of meat and dairy products from the diet. Plant protein is more difficult to digest than meat protein so this should be taken into account. Also, due to a lack of time and perhaps effort, athletes may encounter difficulty in selecting and preparing the ingredients (predominantly from plant sources) for their meals. Players should mention to their coach if they decide to turn vegetarian. Vegetarian athletes may also be at risk of insufficient intakes of vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, iron, calcium, and zinc especially as meat, fish and poultry represent good sources of these nutrients. The low bioavailability of Iron in vegetarian diets may have a negative effect on performance. Female athletes may also suffer from increased iron loss due to the menstrual cycle. Foods rich in Vitamin C can help increase iron intake in vegetarians. For example, a glass of fresh orange juice which is rich in Vitamin C will stimulate an increase in iron absorption from a breakfast meal.

On the other hand, vegetarian diets are often very healthy due to being low in cholesterol, high in unsaturated fatty acids and rich in fruit and vegetable sources of antioxidant vitamins. Some vegetarians may want to consider nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals and this should be discussed with a doctor or coach. There is an increasing number of top level athletes who are vegetarians showing that this practice can be successful.

 
WEIGHT LOSS
 

This section concentrates mainly on weight loss as very rarely do footballers want or need to gain weight. If weight gain is desired, additional energy is required from the diet as well as a strength training program to increase muscle mass.

Players who try to lose weight quickly by reducing their food intake at the beginning of the playing season may encounter various problems. As pre-season training is prolonged and intense in nature, insufficient dietary practices will reduce the player's ability to perform which in turn, may result in non-selection. This may lead many athletes to adopt chronic dieting to maintain lower than healthful body weights. This in turn can lead to disordered eating and in severe cases, clinical eating disorders.

Players with weight problems should above all, concentrate on decreasing their fat content. Fat is present in many foods and by simply reading the label, the percentage of fat can be deduced. Also, by reducing fat content in food intake, players can increase their carbohydrate intake. Generally changing the composition of the diet by selecting appropriate foods to replace high fat foods is the key to losing weight. Combining exercise and diet is a good way of controlling weight especially as exercise enhances the usage of fats and promotes lean muscle mass. Thus, even in off-season, players should undertake some exercise.

A well-balanced diet is a key element in losing weight as it should provide all the essential and recommended daily amounts of nutrients whilst reducing cholesterol and saturated fat intake. It is advisable not to lose more than 1 kg of body weight per week. To achieve this, players can either reduce their daily energy intake from food, increase their energy expenditure (through exercise) or combine both this methods. However, they should make sure that their energy intake is sufficient to cover their energy expenditure as well as consuming adequate amounts of proteins, vitamins and minerals. A doctor or sports dietician can give helpful advise on losing Weight.

 
CONCLUSION
 

Important attention must be made to diet during moments of inactivity, when changing eating habits and attempting to lose weight. Exercise is a good means of reducing body weight as well as keeping players in shape, especially when players are inactive. Vegetarians must ensure that adequate quantities of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals are consumed. Losing weight through cutting fat intake is important although care must be taken to ensure that all daily nutritional requirements are fulfilled. Trying out new practices or foods should be avoided before matches. It is always advisable for players to consult experts such as a doctor or sports nutritionist when changing dietary habits.

Click here to go back to the Nutrition Home Page.

If you have any comments or thoughts on this article please visit our Forum or don't hesitate to e-mail us at contact@soccerperformance.org !