Most elite athletes will use or will have used some kind of supplement during their career as they seek that little extra that could give them the edge over their opponent, and their training regimes will reflect this.
Finding a sports nutritionist alongside the more traditional coaching staff is much more common than it used to be, providing a dietary and nutritional angle ahead of a major tournament or match. Preferred supplements include protein powder which builds muscle mass, and creatine, which improves power. And nitric oxide, which gets more oxygen to the muscles, but much depends on the sport and the athlete as needs can and do vary.
This winter sees the FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar, the first time it has been hosted by a country in the Middle East. Although the temperature won’t be as furnace hot as it would be in the summer, the dry humidity will still bring its own problems, and stars like Christian Pulisic of the US Men’s National Team and Chelsea in the English Premier League will be seeking advice as to the best nutritional support to counter the conditions.
LEARN FROM THE BEST
We’ll start by looking at the work Liverpool FC do in this field. The Reds, as they are nicknamed, are owned by the Fenway Sports Group, which also has the Boston Red Sox (NBA) and Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) in its portfolio, and the American owners take nutrition seriously across all its teams. Champions in 2019/20, Liverpool is among the favorites to win the title in the Premier League odds listed on Ladbrokes despite narrowly missing out last season. They will also be strongly represented in Qatar, with seven or eight members of their squad likely to make the trip.
Part of Liverpool’s success comes from its attention to detail. It wasn’t that long ago the dining facilities at their training ground were limited to a few portable buildings and some plastic chairs and tables with little space available to prepare anything. Now though, with the help of the nutrition team, they are much more expansive and able to offer up the kind of meals that do make a difference. But it’s not just during working hours that diet is key; instead of ordering a late-night pizza, a player is more likely to have a protein-based bar or shake. On a match day, supplements come into their own with electrolyte-based drinks and even caffeine possibilities. Such has been the overhaul that soon after Liverpool appointed Mona Nemmer as head of nutrition, the club was showing kids from local inner-city schools how to eat in a more healthy and disciplined way.
A TYPICAL REGIME
Let’s have a look now in more detail at how this improved dietary approach works on the ground. English soccer has prided itself on its physical approach, and that still applies today. A recent survey on Training Ground Guru found the Premier League was more intense than any other top European league. With the average soccer player running an estimated 10 km during a single game in such a competitive environment, they need high levels of cardiovascular fitness allied with speed, power, and strength.
Pre-match will see a high-carb meal such as pasta or boiled rice is eaten several hours ahead of kick-off, while Creatine, caffeine (which helps focus and awareness), and multi-vitamins to protect their immune system are also a popular part of the dressing room ritual. During the short half-time break, isotonic drinks, even just gargling without swallowing, play a role in adding carbs lost on the pitch. After the match, there was always a recognition that players need to intake lots of liquid, and this means whey protein, either as a drink or in snack bars, as it supports muscle growth and soothes the wear and tear from a hard 90 minutes on the pitch. Soccer may not be the biggest game in the States, but in Europe, top players like Pulisic and owners like the Fenway Sports Group are leading the way at some of the biggest clubs in the world with their approach to diet, supplements, and nutrition, and their influence is trickling down to change the habits of kids in deprived neighborhoods.