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Nutrition for Football Players

Overview

Football is a physically demanding sport that requires a combination of speed, agility, and endurance. If your child is a football player, they need proper nutrition on a daily basis to stay energized and strong. Whether they are an 8-year-old rookie in the peewee league or a seasoned college quarterback, good nutrition should be a priority.

Carbohydrates

Your child needs an abundance of energy to fuel the stop and start action of football. Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for their body. According to the Mayo Clinic, carbs should account for about 45 to 65 percent of their daily caloric intake.

Some sources of carbohydrates are healthier than others. For example, whole-grain products usually contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined alternatives. Look for whole-grain breads, pastas, crackers, and cereals that are relatively low in fat and added sugar. Other healthy sources of carbohydrates include unsweetened fruits and vegetables, including beans and other legumes.

Fried potatoes, pastries, cakes, and other junk foods are often high in calories but low in vitamins and minerals. These unhealthy sources of carbohydrates can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Football players who are overweight may tire more easily and have less endurance on the field. High-fat foods also take the longest to digest and may reduce your child’s stamina during practice and games. Encourage your child to limit junk food in their diet, while eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Protein

Protein is another essential nutrient in your child’s diet. It helps them build and repair muscle, which is especially important for athletes. About 10 to 15 percent of an athlete’s caloric intake should come from protein, advises the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Encourage your child to choose lean sources of protein, such as poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and nuts. Combining protein and carbohydrates in a meal or snack can help them get the balance of nutrients they need. For example, encourage them to reach for a turkey sandwich on whole- grain bread, a smoothie made with low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit, or a banana with peanut butter.

Pregame nutrition

The timing of your child’s meals and snacks plays a role in how well prepared they are for grueling football practices and games. For good pregame nutrition, encourage your child to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal hours beforehand. For example, if they have an afternoon game scheduled, prepare a whole-grain pasta dinner the night before. If they’re playing in the evening, remind them to eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, such as eggs with whole grain toast, pancakes, or waffles.

Fluids and snacks are important too. Encourage your child to drink plenty of water, juice, or other beverages before they play. Offer them a small snack, such as fruit or a protein bar, about an hour before their practice or game.

Keep fatty foods to a minimum. Your child’s body won’t digest them as quickly as carbohydrates. Eating too much fat before playing football may leave them with less energy than they need. It can also cause digestive unrest, such as gas or an upset stomach. If your child did not nourish themselves well with carbohydrates before practice or a game, quick carbs while playing (like sports drinks) may help boost their stamina until they can refuel with a more hearty snack or meal afterward.

Post-play recovery

The most important rule for post-play recovery is to rehydrate. Even in the coldest climates, football players sweat significantly during a game or practice session. Along with fluids, they lose essential minerals in their sweat, such as potassium and sodium. Juice, sports drinks, and other beverages can help replenish the fluids and electrolytes that your child loses during a heavy workout.

Your child may also be ravenous after a football game or practice. Encourage them to replace the energy they’ve expended by eating carbohydrate-rich snacks right after they play, such as granola bars, whole-grain crackers, or whole-grain pretzels. Follow it up with a protein-rich meal to help them retain muscle mass, repair injuries, and satisfy their hunger.

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