What to eat and what not to eat in football? The age old query remains relevant everywhere and youth football is no different. Parents want to know how to fuel the training of their young ones but also do not want to compromise on their growth and well being. And with so much conflicting information on the Internet, making a clear diet plan can be a hassle.
So let us make things simpler for you so that you can do what is best for your kid and help him succeed on and off the pitch.
Some Basic Information
Before anything else, let us get started with some basic information. There are three types of basic macronutrients which are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Besides these, other micronutrients include minerals like iron and calcium among others as well as vitamins.
A balanced diet should have all of these in a sufficient quantity. But the confusion arises when you have to tweak these according to the requirements of your child. So let us look at the basic functions of each macronutrient, and what to eat in football.
Carbohydrates as Fuel
The best way to think about carbohydrates is as fuel for the body.
But not all carbs are the same. A good way to classify them is according to their glycaemic index. What that means is how much insulin they raise which transfers these glucose molecules to the muscles.
So a food with a high glycaemic index (GI) would significantly raise insulin levels and ensure an adequate supply of glucose to the muscles. But the effect would be short-lived and if muscle stores are already full or the person is not using glucose, the glucose would get converted to fat. In summary, high GI foods give a quicker source of energy while this source of energy does not last too long. Examples of high GI foods include fruit juices, white bread, white rice as well as sugary drinks.
On the contrary, foods with a low glycaemic index do not raise insulin levels as rapidly. This is because they are released slowly from the gut due to the increased fibre content they have. This makes them good sources of continuous energy throughout the day but they are not as efficient as high GI foods for instant energy. Examples of low GI foods include brown bread, oats, lentils, and many fruits when taken raw (and not as a juice).
Protein for Muscle Recovery and Growth
The primary role of protein is to help maintain the muscles and other bodily organs and participate in growth.
The reason why gym enthusiasts use so much protein is that it helps their bodies recover from the damage they do to their muscles in the gym. For a young athlete, protein can help decrease the soreness of muscles after training and can help recover any damage especially due to strains and injuries.
Protein is also quite fulfilling and keeps cravings away if you want discipline in your child’s diet.
Fats to Boost Metabolism
Most of the hormones in the body are derivatives of fat. So adequate fat intake is vital for the growth of your kid.
Healthy fats also boost metabolism and are crucial to brain health. Most sources of healthy fats are also great sources of vitamins and minerals so it is always worthwhile for your kid to eat, in football. They are also the most caloric dense nutrients out there so using them accordingly is recommended.
This means increasing them slightly when your kid has to gain weight and decreasing them when he has to keep his weight in check.
Never Forget Water
Let’s get this straight. You can not have a balanced diet without sufficient water intake. And for a young kid trying to succeed in football, having adequate hydration is an absolute must.
Water is often ignored as thirst often does not arise in cooler climates. After all, thirst alone is not a reliable metric of dehydration. So making it a habit to keep a water bottle with your child and ensuring that he or she drinks regularly from it is imperative to their health.
There is no need to describe the benefits of hydration and the need for it during physical activity. So make it a habit that your child drinks water before and after the game, and at intervals of 15-20 min during training.
Now there are many energy drinks on the market as well but they are better for players going through strenuous activity without many breaks in between. They replace minerals and electrolytes in the body that are lost through the act of sweating. But the fact is that nothing is better than regular water, especially on normal training days.
And since many of these drinks contain caffeine, keeping usage to a minimal amount may be a wise decision. So try to use caffeine-free energy drinks and use them in a judicious way. As for replenishing electrolytes and minerals, something like a banana after a game or lemon water can be quite effective too.
Vitamins & Minerals
There are so many vitamins and minerals to remember and each one has a pivotal task in the human body.
But a balanced diet with the usual macronutrients in a correct balance usually satisfies the need of these vitamins and minerals. Two minerals however that need to be mentioned are iron and calcium.
Calcium is exceptional in building bone strength. It is a key component in maintaining bone health which does not need to be emphasized more for a kid. Fish, beans, poultry, pure milk, and nuts are great sources of calcium and indeed other macronutrients. They are essential foods that you have to eat in football. Similarly, iron ensures adequate oxygen supply to the muscles and can delay the onset of fatigue and ensure that your child goes the extra mile during training and match days.
Leafy green vegetables, meat, whole grains and tuna and lean white meat are good sources of iron that deserve a place in your kid’s diet – making them key foods to eat in football, and any other sport.
Diet before Football Training
On training days, ensuring sufficient nutrition should be the priority. There should be enough protein and fats in the diet alongside the carbs. Of course, carbs are the fuel of the whole operation and should be added accordingly.
On training days, the emphasis should be on low GI foods that remain in the bloodstream for longer and give a more steady source of energy. So having something like brown rice with salmon or oatmeal with some berries and yogurt are good options. Since training is not as strenuous as the match days so having a controlled amount of high GI simple sugars is recommended. These foods find their place just an hour before training just to fuel training and not feel heavy. They will be easily digested, and instantly put to use by your kid.
Adding healthy fats on training days is good as they can be heavy on the stomach. Hence, it can be tough to include on match days.
Diet on Matchdays
Match days can be extremely hectic and you need high GI simple sugars for these games. As simple as that.
These work as fuel for the body and ensure proper stamina and energy. When you combine these simple sugars like fruit juices, rice cakes and a toast with jam with adequate hydration, you set up your kid perfectly to succeed. Basically, proteins and healthy fats should be minimized around the game and instead spread out through the day especially in breakfast and dinner.
After the game, giving sufficient electrolytes and protein to recover is vital. A post-game caffeine-free energy drink could be a good choice as it replenishes electrolytes while also giving fluids. Similarly, including protein in the night time like chicken breast or salmon with a few leafy green vegetables would be a wise decision. This allows sufficient muscle repair and decreases soreness the following morning. Lean meat and leafy greens also include calcium and iron which helps keep bones strong and the body well oxygenated.
The advantage of decreasing soreness is that it keeps kids interested. No kid wants to be in pain the next morning so protein should be added so that they do not suffer from muscle soreness.
Keeping a healthy diet for your kid is vital for growth and development in football. For this purpose, using carbohydrates as the basic fuel is always recommended. Using high glycaemic index foods just before training and low GI foods a few hours before training keeps your child energized through the day.
The importance of protein in repairing any slight injuries and to grow the muscle mass of the child should not be ignored. Similarly, healthy fats should be consumed in sufficient quantities to keep the metabolism in check. To top it off, ensuring sufficient hydration and a balanced diet with vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium should make for a perfect diet.
Having said all that, much of nutrition is trial and error. Keeping the basic stuff in mind, experimenting and seeing what works for your child, and what he/she should eat in football, is a good way to go.