Taking in the right fluid and nutrition is vital to aid performance and reduce fatigue and injuries. There isn’t a magic food which will ensure success. Most of the energy utilised during competition comes from food consumed in the days prior to the event. However the prematch meal is vital for energy stores during long exertion such as a 90 minute football game. The best time to have the prematch meal is around 3 hours before any exercise to allow for clearing of the food from the stomach.

After you have eaten it takes at least 2 hours for food to be digested so exercising earlier than this means that your blood is being shared between being used for digestion and the exercising muscles. The type of food is important so as to be easily absorbed and give vital energy to the working muscles.
The prematch meal needs to be composed largely of carbohydrates which help with replacing energy stores in the liver and muscles. For ease of digestion and clearance from the gastrointestinal tract, the fat and fibre content should be kept low. Examples of ideal foods for the prematch meal include pasta, grilled chicken, steak, salmon, mashed or sweet potato, peas, carrots, cereals, toast, fresh fruit juices and low fat fresh salads.
Good hydration is essential for anyone exercising to maximise performance, reduce risk of injury and improve recovery. Studies have shown that even a 2% decrease in body weight through water loss, (possible by sweating on a hot day in 1 hour), can cause up to a 20% decrease in performance. Calculating how much fluid an individual needs varies and can be measured more accurately by regular assessment of the body weight during exercise and in different environments. An alternative method is to check urine colour and volume!! However as this is impractical for most people, a rough guide is to have 300-500ml of fluid 15 minutes prior exercising and then take approximately 150-200ml every 10-15 minutes during exercise, depending on the conditions. Usually cold fluids are more palatable during exercise. It is important that the fluid leaves the stomach quickly and so the drink needs to have a glucose content of less than 10%. Water is fine if exercising for less than 90 minutes but an isotonic drink (e.g. Lucozade sport) is recommended if it’s for a longer period.

It’s just as important to rehydrate after exercise and replenish the glycogen (the way body stores energy in muscles) used during exercise as quickly as possible. This is achievable with a high carbohydrate sports drink.

At the end of a game the emphasis should be on replacing muscle energy stores quickly so fruit, protein milkshakes and even low fat pizza are suitable.

Several clinical studies have shown that a good warm up program can prevent injuries by 50% or more and enhance performance. The warm-up is to prepare the body for the subsequent activity, and should consist of a combination of stretches, starting with the large muscle groups. Also include dynamic movements e.g. jogging, twisting and gradually increasing the intensity. The warm up should be sufficient to produce some mild sweating without fatigue and be approximately one quarter of your total exercise time. The effects of a warm up can last up-to 30 minutes, so don’t warm up too early. Below is a guide in order of exercises, of a suitable warm up for football:

3 minutes jogging
5 minutes stretching all major muscle groups in body
5 minutes gentle kicking of a ball between players – gradually increasing intensity
5 minutes quick burst specific exercises eg 1 or 2 touch football in a box
3 minutes of short drills of short distance sprinting / jumping

Finally it is just as important to do a cool down after exercise to help return the body to pre-exercise conditions. This can consist of a gentle jog for a few minutes to gradually lower the heart and breathing rate and also include stretching to help relax the hard worked muscles.

If, after reading these guidelines you have any questions concerning physical activity/exercise related health issues please forward to me and I will do my best to answer them in further issues.

Dr Zafar Iqbal
Head of Sports and Exercise Medicine Crystal Palace FC
Sports and Exercise Medicine Physician
Pure Sports Clinics
Twitter – sportsdrzaf

The information provided by Dr Zafar Iqbal is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or making any changes to existing treatment.

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