By Adrian Hampshire
Question - I coach a U14 and U16 team. Can you give me ideas on what types of foods and when the players should be eating during a tournament when playing a game a day for 3 to 5 days?
10 key tips to help the young footballers get their nutrition right during a tournament.
Tournaments are action packed with a great deal of games in a very short period of time. The energy demands on the young footballer are extensive and to ensure they perform at their best, especially towards the latter championship stages.
1. Start the hard work the day before. Consuming high carbohydrate foods such as wraps, breads, noodles, pasta, potatoes, oats and rice will help load the muscles with energy ready for the tournament. A meal such as spaghetti bolognese with a slice of garlic bread could be a tasty way to achieve this.
2. Start each day with a high energy breakfast. This should be considerable in size as it will help top up the muscles with energy for the day especially as their will be limited times to eat at the tournament. Around half of their plate should come from foods such as beans, toast, bread, potatoes and fruit with a quarter coming from meats, fish or eggs and the other quarter coming from vegetables. Alternatively consume a large bowl of cereal, granola or muesli with yoghurt and fruit.
3. Ensure adequate hydration. This will start at breakfast where they can consume fluids such as water, fruit juice, milk or cordial. Around 500ml at breakfast would be a good start. Throughout the day carry a water bottle around a look to sip small amounts often. In larger breaks it would be a good idea to consume larger volumes such as 400-500ml bottles especially on warmer days. Adding a little bit of salt to foods could help replenish electrolytes lost in sweat whilst snacks such as pretzels, milk or milkshakes will also aid with this.
4. Eat regularly - preparation is key. Packing foods and drinks into their kit bag will help young players eat regularly between games. It also helps ensure quality rather than relying on what may be or may not be on offer at unfamiliar venues. Players should be encouraged to eat in between each game in order to top back up energy levels.
5. Prepare high energy snacks - Snacks should contain foods that are high in carbohydrates. Sandwiches or wraps, pretzel’s flapjacks, fruits such as banana’s, apples or pears, cereal bars, fruit juice, smoothies, muller rice or rice pudding pots could be simple but quick and effective items. Lunchboxes consisting of chicken and pasta in a tomato sauce could also be an alternative option. Packing in picnic ice blocks will help keep foods and drinks cool.
6. Look after the stomach - Players should avoid foods that are high in fats such as steaks, sausages, burgers or cheese between games. These foods are slow to digest and may make players feel sluggish or get a nasty ‘stich’ feeling. Eating too much close to a game may also cause the food to sit in the stomach whilst blood rushes from the digestive system to the muscles that are working which again could cause stomach pains. Players should not consume foods that maybe cause stomach irritation as no player wants to make an unwanted trip to the toilets. Preparation is key, identity on the schedule where larger breaks may be and eat the largest meal in that time whilst snacking small and often throughout the rest of the day until the evening where a lager recovery meal can be consumed.
7. Follow the 4 x R’s of recovery - Eating a larger recovery meal that helps repair muscles (meats, fish, milk and eggs), refuel (grains, potatoes, cereals, fruits and vegetables) and provides fluids to rehydrate (water, cordial, milk fruit juice, milkshakes) will help players recover from match play and ready for any further games the next day. Players should also take the opportunity to relax both their bodies and their minds in the form of activities such as reading, relaxing in a pool (if available!), watching tv or going for a light walk.
8. Fruits and vegetables are your friend - fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins and minerals which are needed for everyday health. The energy demands in tournaments many challenge the defence of immune system, so it is important for the player to consume all of these in order to remain healthy. Some fruits and vegetables such as berries and cherries contain antioxidant vitamins which may be beneficial for helping muscle recovery after intense exercise. Finally fruits and vegetables also contain water which will also contribute to hydration levels.
9. Avoid the junk food stands - Although these foods may be tempting, they often are high in fats and may sit heavy on the stomach which may make players feel sluggish. They also are unlikely to contain a great deal of vitamins and minerals. Players should be encouraged to make nutritional choices throughout the tournament and maybe save these types of foods for a post tournament treat.
10. Sleep like a baby - Young players should aim for 8-10 hours of quality undisturbed sleep per night. This should include the night before the tournament and any further nights if the tournament is a multi-day event. Ensuring the sleeping environment is very dark, cool and that they do not drink too much fluid before bed (stop at least 30 minutes before) causing them to have to get up to urinate. Warm showers just before bed may also encourage the player to fall to sleep more quickly.
By Adrian Hampshire
Is a sports nutritionist (MSc Sports & Exercise Nutritionist) and Teacher of Physical Education located in Yorkshire, UK. I provide nutritional support to athletes from a variety of sports in particularly youth, adolescent and scholarship athletes. @adyhamshire