Competitive sports require serious nutrition to provide the extra energy your body needs. Strength, speed, stamina and recovery all depend on proper nutrition, says Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Football players need to be conscious of carbohydrate and caloric intake, along with hydration.
Sports Nutrition Requirements
Calorie requirements increase no matter what position you play. The American Dietetic Association estimates that, especially during preseason training, football players need 5,000 to 9,000 calories a day. Of these, Bonci recommends that 55 percent to 60 percent come from carbohydrates, 15 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat. To help you get the right proportions, Bonci suggests dividing your plate in thirds and filling one-third with protein foods, such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, dried beans, nuts or soy products. Add starchy carbohydrates such as rice, pasta or potatoes in another third, and fill the final third of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Hydration does not mean pouring cold water over your head. Depending on the air temperature and intensity of your practice session or game, the ADA says you can lose 10 liters of body fluids per day. In addition, one practice in hot weather can result in a loss of 12 pounds through sweating. Bonci recommends a hydration plan that includes water and sports drinks, as these help replace electrolytes you lose through sweating. To ensure adequate hydration, drink one 16-ounce sports drink an hour before practice and 20 to 40 oz. of either water or a sports drink for each hour of practice. Weigh yourself immediately following each practice or game and for each pound of weight loss, drink 24 oz. of either water or a sports drink.
Be careful when incorporating nutritional supplements into your diet. Check with your coach or review the governing body rule book as many ban supplements, even if they list all natural ingredients. One nutritional supplement the ADA lists as common for players over age 18 is creatine, according to Lehigh University Athletics. Creatine may help increase muscle energy without side effects, but high school players under age 18 should not use creatine supplements. The ADA says there is not enough evidence to ensure the supplements are safe for young players. If you incorporate creatine into your sports nutrition plan, do not exceed 3 to 5 g per day.
Another important aspect of sports nutrition for football players is a regular schedule of meals and snacks. Bonci advises that you create and stick to a plan that includes three meals a day with snacks in between. Before each game, you should consume a low-fat, lean-protein and carbohydrate-rich meal, and include a postgame snack, such as peanut butter crackers, trail mix, yogurt with cereal, a bagel with cream cheese or a sports bar within 30 minutes of finishing practice or a game.