American Football Series: Part 3 – Preseason, In-season, Postseason Nutrition
Football is a physically demanding, high-intensity team sport, which requires players to devote time to training and dedicate efforts to nutrition. If the nutrition piece falls short, then so can performance. Therefore, it’s essential athletes prioritize nutrition throughout the season to help support their performance. However, nutrition is not a one size fits all. Nutritional needs can vary by person, position, level of activity and more. Below are general nutrition guidelines to help level up your game during preseason, in-season and postseason.
Athletes shed blood, sweat and tears for their sport even before the games begin. Preseason is the time to prep the body before gameday. One key thing athletes need to focus their attention on is calories. Players train hard throughout the week – some with multiple practices each day. They use tons of power, agility, endurance and strength. Consequently, players can burn tremendous amounts of energy. Depending on the position played, athletes can burn anywhere from 2,500 to 6,500 calories. Therefore, it is essential athletes provide their bodies with adequate fuel throughout the day and around training. Consume an adequate diet with a balance of all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Some athletes may need to put on mass and muscle. Therefore, it’s important to adjust calories above baseline needs. Athletes can modify their dietary intake to help compensate for additional calories with whole foods such as nuts, nut butters, whole dairy products, fatty fish and more. If interested in gaining mass and muscle, then consider increasing protein intake. If interested in overall weight gain, then look at increasing a balanced intake of macronutrients. Recommend athletes consume a well-balanced breakfast and eat at least every three to four hours, or consider eating smaller, more frequent meals and snacks. If dietary needs are unmet through food alone, then may consider adding a gainer to help meet dietary needs. Note that gainers are intended to supplement the diet, not replace it.
When gameday kicks off, then the focus changes from prep to maintenance. During this time it’s essential that athletes have already developed a good nutritional routine and work to manage their nutrition during season. Gamedays can be grueling and physically exhausting. Games can last up to three hours although technically an hour on the clock. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure they are adequately fueled before and during the game. When it comes to energy, carbohydrates are going to be a player’s best ally. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for working muscles. They play an important role in energy, metabolism, and performance. Carbohydrates are a critical dietary component needed to help fuel working muscles, refuel muscle, supply energy for muscle development, and play a role in brain function. If carbohydrates intake is inadequate, then the body may potentially decrease intensity and performance may suffer. Recommend athletes consume carbohydrates before games to help top off energy. Then, consume carbohydrates, as needed, during activity to help extend energy and after to help replenish glycogen stores.
A player’s mind and body can take a toll leading up to postseason. Therefore, this is the time to really prioritize recovery. During the year, athletes train hard and work hard in the gym and on the field. During activity, their bodies can experience micro-damage or micro tears in the muscle fibers. This is a normal response to very intense or prolonged training. Increased physical activity can increase muscle protein breakdown. In turn, muscles need to recovery and rebuild. Which is what brings us to protein. Protein helps to support muscle recovery and rebuild, when taken over time with regular resistance training. Athletes tend to think muscle recovery only happens after an activity, however muscle recovery is a 24-hour process that can take up to several days. The amount of time needed for muscle to recover depends on the athlete, type of physical activity, duration, intensity, and the muscle group targeted. To help support muscle recovery – consume 20-40 grams of high-quality complete proteins throughout the day and around activity.
Each season may have a different focus where preseason is a time to prepare the body, in-season is a time to manage and maintain and postseason is a time to focus on recovery. In all, it is essential to maintain healthy eating patterns throughout the entirety of the season. Although key nutrients were highlighted in select seasons – it is important to remember that each macronutrient plays a role throughout each time of the season. This means that carbohydrates, protein and fat are essential preseason, in-season and postseason. To better understand your personal needs, then you should consult with a sports nutrition registered dietitian. Check out part four next on ‘gameday nutrition.’