• “[This] suggests the need to improve nutritional practices to sustain the physical demands of soccer during the pre-season,” the study reads. (iStockphoto/Getty Images)
The pre-season diet of a typical full-time Brazilian football player is deficient in various macro and micronutrients, research shows. #worldcup
By
Yasmin Noone

7 Mar 2018 - 2:19 PM  UPDATED 7 Mar 2018 - 2:45 PM

No matter which team you follow, there’s one thing that football fans can’t argue with: to play professional soccer, you’ve got to be fit and eat well to maximise your playing performance.

But according to a study, published in the SAGE Journal Nutrition and Health late last year, Brazil’s full-time soccer players should be eating a lot better in the pre-season.

The research, involving 19 full-time soccer players, was conducted over three days as players prepared to compete in the Mato Grosso Governor Cup, an annual championship that qualifies for the Brazil Cup.

The results showed that although the players' dietary intake provided enough energy, it didn't include enough macro and micronutrients to cope with the physical pre-season demands of training.

“[This] suggests the need to improve nutritional practices to sustain the physical demands of soccer during the pre-season,” the study reads.

“One-third of athletes had insufficient amounts of vitamin C and E, which are important dietary antioxidants for preventing cellular oxidative damage and, consequently, fatigue process.”

The research, from Brazil's University of San Paolo and Federal University of Mato Grosso, also found that the players weren’t eating enough carbs. Their diet was too high in fat and salt, and too low in vitamin A and D, folate, calcium and magnesium.

“One-third of athletes had insufficient amounts of vitamin C and E, which are important dietary antioxidants for preventing cellular oxidative damage and, consequently, fatigue process.”

“Low carbohydrate intake was found in all playing positions in contrast to high protein and high fat consumption, as well as excessive cholesterol and sodium intake.”

The study concluded that the nutritional imbalance could “impact health by disturbing metabolism and immunity, and contribute to the development of obesity and associated metabolic disorder”.

“Low carbohydrate intake was found in all playing positions in contrast to high protein and high fat consumption, as well as excessive cholesterol and sodium intake,” the study states.

“Side players had carbohydrate intake below the minimum recommended and an excessive amount of energy from saturated fatty acids. Midfielders, goalkeepers and full-backs had the lowest prevalence of adequacy of intake for polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“Low macronutrient intake results in negative caloric balance and may compromise sports performance. Long-term low energy availability is related to nutrient deficiencies, chronic fatigue and increased risk of infections and illnesses, which may compromise optimal health and performance.”

You can get good carbs even if you don’t eat grains
Fruit, veg, beans, peas, lentils, seeds and nuts can all provide healthy carbs.

Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Simone Austin, says that sufficient carbohydrates and protein are important to both pro-soccer and amateur players to maximise their performance.

“Carbohydrates [are important], due to the duration of the game and the continual training and games over a season for energy needs,” says Austin, who is also president at Sports Dietitians Australia.

“Protein is essential for muscle repair, hormone production, tissue repair and immune function…”

However, she states, an individual player’s needs should always be considered when creating the best diet. Within the one sport there will be players with lots of different dietary needs – “some needing to gain muscle mass, others lose body fat, some still young and growing, injured players”.

“It’s also important to keep in mind the variation between physiological demands in different soccer positions (goal keeper v forward v midfielder) and how this may impact on nutrition (for example, more active players may need increase carbohydrate for fuel).”

“Carbohydrates [are important], due to the duration of the game and the continual training and games over a season for energy needs.”

Dietary improvements needed

The study’s authors recommended a few dietary changes for the players observed. Firstly, their daily meals served at the training centre should not be self-serve ‘buffet’ style. Instead, a plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner should be a la carte and not self-managed, and created in consultation with a dietitian.

“Thus, a planned scientific nutritional strategy, rather than a self-chosen nutrition strategy, is suggested to improve athletes’ performance,” the study reads.

Austin also urges players to eat for stamina and health, and stay well hydrated when exercising.

“It’s important to also consider general healthy eating guidelines as well as their health is also important short and long-term,” says Austin.

“Focus around lean protein for muscle repair, carbohydrate for energy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains for vitamins and minerals, along with the inclusion of healthy fats like olive oil, oily fish, nuts and avocado.”

The study’s authors also advise that nutritional education programs for soccer players be implemented in order to help players to improve their performance and health.

 

100 99 days to go until the 2018 FIFA World Cup on SBS! Stay up to date with all the action via The World Game.

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