Fueling like the Pros: 6 Ways Football Players Can Improve Performance

Performance Nutrition for Football Players

Few, if any, post-game interviews have gained more attention than the one with Richard Sherman after the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC Championship (if you missed it, you can watch here).  It was an extreme interview, but Sherman’s explosive energy is what gave his football team the edge – it was the difference between first and second place, but it did not come from training.  That energy came from proper nutrition.

Football is a challenging sport that requires dedication, strength, and energy – both on and off the field.  The importance of nutrition in sports is gaining attention, and top athletes, such as Richard Sherman, understand that their energy level and performance ultimately depend upon what they eat.  Now, all football players want to know: What do top football players eat, and how can I take my game to the next level?  While each football player has slightly different needs, the best players follow these six fueling principles.

They consume carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates, not proteins, are the main fuel source for all football players. They give them the energy needed to quickly move after the ball has been snapped – or, in Sherman’s case, jump to block the pass to help the Seahawks win the NFC Championship.  Football players need to consume the right amounts, and types, of carbs if they want to play their best.

  • Whole grains provide the best, longest lasting fuel on a day-to-day basis.  Some examples include: Whole wheat pasta, bread and bagels, brown rice, and quinoa.  Click here for a full list of whole grains.

They build lean muscle:

Football players are known for being strong, and more muscle means more power.  Proteins are the building blocks for muscle, making quality protein a staple in every football player’s diet.  By increasing lean muscle mass, football players are better able to tackle opponents, run down the field, and hold their place in the line of defense.

  • It is best for football players to choose lean sources of protein.  Some examples include: Lean beef (flank, loin, or ground), grilled or baked chicken and turkey breast, lean pork (pork chops, loin), eggs, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • If you’re unsure of how much protein you need,use this protein calculator from My Sports Dietitian to find out.

They achieve their ideal body composition:

Every football player has to look and play his part on the field.  Depending on the position, a player’s body composition can dictate how well he performs.  For example, a linebacker and a running back aren’t able to switch positions and still perform optimally due to their body types.  Body composition isn’t just about weight either; it’s about the amount of fat mass and lean mass each player has – which is greatly influenced by what they eat.

  • This article reports on how important it is to monitor athletes’ body fat to help them optimize their athletic performance.

They eat right to reduce injury and promote recovery:

Given the nature of the sport, football players’ bodies take a beating.  Proper nutrition helps to keep players on the field longer – or return to the field faster if they get injured.  When Percy Harvin had hip surgery, you bet that his nutrition, which was likely full of antioxidants and protein, helped him get back on the field tohelp his team.

  • For more information on this topic, check out this podcast Nutrition and Injury Recovery by Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist from Charleston, South Carolina.  It provides information about which foods can aid in recovery and if supplements, such as steroids and over-the-counter supplements, are effective in this process.
  • Nutrition and Injury written by the UCLA Bruin’s Nutrition Team, gives additional information on how to promote a speedy recovery through proper nutrition.

They focus on pre-game nutrition: 

Proper nutrition is essential year-round for football players, but pre-game meals take thespotlight during the football season.  Foods need to fuel the athlete, but not slow him down – especially a cornerback like Richard Sherman!  More specific information regarding diet plans for football players can be found in Lisa Dorfman’s football nutrition E-book for My Sports Dietitian.

  • Pre-game Meal and Half-time Recovery Nutrition for Athletes is another great resource about pre-game nutrition.  Here, Tavis and Ronnie, co-owners of My Sports Dietitian, provide information about the timing of pre-game meals, the breakdown of nutrients, and half-time nutrition for optimizing athletic performance. Be sure to check out the website – the first 50 athletes to sign up will receive a free coupon code for the course.

They don’t ignore fueling during the game:

Fueling during a game is extremely important, and that doesn’t just mean drinking Gatorade.  Some professional football players think outside of the box – or cup – for their during-game fuel.  Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch eats Skittles while on the sideline, and Gushers are Sherman’s go-to snack.  It may sound odd, but these are full of simple carbohydrates that are easily broken down – which means they provide fast fuel.  Although these sugary options are not recommended in high amounts, or for everyday snacking, they can serve as a kick-start to any football player’s game.

  • Fueling during long workouts is just as important as fueling during long games.  Here Tavis explains the role of nutrition during a workout.  This is particularly important for football players, since practices can last for hours at a time.

If you’re interested in more information on these topics, check out www.myfootballnutrition.com. This blog has highlighted a few of the key concepts that can be found there. Information on myfootballnutrition.com dives deeper into subjects such as position specific goals, supplementation, and many more nutrition-related concepts that are important for football players.  It also provides examples of diets to follow, along with the scientific breakdown of how we use carbs, fats, and proteins for fuel and growth. Myfootballnutrition.com is a great resource for any football player wanting to optimize his performance and gain the advantage!

You can also listen to Lisa Dorfman’s interview on the Next Level Podcast show as she discusses the challenges of fueling football players. 

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Contributing Authors:

Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC
The Running Nutritionist ®
Author: Performance Nutrition for Tackling Stress (Momentum Media, 2013)
Twitter: @FoodFitness
www.foodfitness.com
www.AntiStressDiet.com
www.HealthyMiami.com

Laura Maydak, BS Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition
Twitter: @lmaydak
Linked In
Email: lauramaydak@gmail.com

Sandra Hensley, MS, RDN, LD
Email: shensley70@gmail.com