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Football nutrition: time for a new consensus?
  1. James Collins1,
  2. Alan McCall1,2,
  3. Johann Bilsborough3,4,
  4. Ron Maughan5
  1. 1 Research & Development Department, Arsenal Football Club, London, UK
  2. 2 Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, School of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3 Boston Celtics, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4 University Technology Sydney (UTS), Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  5. 5 School of Medicine, St Andrews University, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
  1. Correspondence to James Collins, Arsenal Football Club, Bell Ln, London Colney, Hertfordshire WD7 9AD, UK; jcollins{at}arsenal.co.uk

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Good nutrition choices can support optimal health and performance of footballers. The intake, type, quantity and timing of foods, fluids and supplementation can optimise preparation, performance and recovery of players within and between matches.1 In the fast-paced world of elite football, a one-stop shop resource gathering current best practice and research information would greatly benefit practitioners and players. Expert consensus statements are widely used to improve the quality of player care. Recently, a generic sports nutrition consensus was published1; however, football is different and somewhat unique, and specific nutrition guidelines have not been updated for over a decade.2

We believe that sports-specific recommendations are needed, and 10 years on we ask ourselves, are these guidelines relevant today? This editorial highlights (1) why an updated football-specific consensus is necessary and (2) how it can benefit the modern-day football practitioner and player.

Why an updated consensus is timely!

Research is moving faster than we can keep up

Like many areas in sports-related research, there has been an exponential increase in football-specific publications, including traditional topics such as macronutrient intakes before, during and after training/competition, to more ‘fashionable topics’ like the use of low-carbohydrate high-fat, paleo, gluten-free diets and supplementation. Alarmingly, supplements can run the risk of a positive drug test and endanger long-term health, including fatal liver disease.3 Keeping up-to-date and adequately processing the copious amounts of research and ensuring appropriate interpretation and application are challenging.

It’s not like it used to be

Ten years on, we also ask whether the game itself has changed? Evidence suggests that physiological demands have increased with some high-intensity and sprint activities increasing by 30%–80%.4 While not new, we now have much better understanding of the impact of congested schedules on injury and performance of players.5 Our aim should be to update our understanding of strategies to minimise negative consequences during these common periods. Additionally, increased flexibility of match-times imposed by broadcasting services, alongside more frequent travel demands, change players’ nutritional strategies. Finally, increasing globalisation of the game brings greater cultural diversity and specific nutritional demands, such as training/competing during Ramadan.6

How can updated football-specific nutrition guidelines be useful?

Prepare players to cope with evolving demands of the game

The objective of football is not to run further or with more high-intensity distance than the opposition, but to win the game, and players seldom use their full physical capacity. However,  they should be prepared to cope physically if called on. Seasons can be gruelling, with top players playing up to 70 games. FIFA law requires a minimum of 2 full days between matches, but it may take up to 5 days to fully recover (if no recovery strategies are implemented).7 Nutritional strategies are rated by elite teams as one of the most important ways to accelerate this process.7 An updated and systematic synthesis of the best evidence and current practice can yield new insights on techniques and strategies to maximise player recovery in a football context.

Maximise rehabilitation

Injury is an unavoidable risk to footballers, and nutrition strategies to support and optimise injury rehabilitation is one area where there has been increasing research8; despite this, practical applications remain unclear. A consensus could yield insights into this growing area and provide recommendations on how individualised preparation and recovery strategies might promote soft tissue recovery. Many clubs currently invest heavily in strategies, for which there is no evidence of efficacy.

Evidence-based supplement use

Working in a sport where the ‘magic bullet’ is highly sought after by players, coaches and performance/medical staff, combined with heavy influence from peers and salesmen, there is intense pressure on practitioners to deliver something different. However, evidence-based decision-making is often impossible because of a lack of evidence of either efficacy or safety. An updated consensus would help to define best practice in this difficult but crucial area.

Other important considerations

The women’s game has come a long way in the last decade, but research has not kept pace and we still rely largely on evidence from studies on men. A careful review of the validity of the assumptions involved is warranted. Likewise, the greatest pressures are often on young players seeking a first professional contract, but the needs of growing youngsters are different from those of the adults on whom recommendations are also based. This area also needs revision.

Concluding summary and a call for action

According to the exponential increase in sports-related and football-related nutrition, as well as a concomitant evolution in the demands of the game, one decade on from the last Nutrition Consensus, we now plan to follow up with an expert-led Evidence Review to update practitioners and players on the current state of play. Our research group welcome and will give full consideration to thoughts from our research and practitioner peers, highlighting any additional areas that may warrant inclusion in a consensus.

References

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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