The National Football League is home to some of the most gifted athletes to play professional football. The time and dedication of players, coaches and staff put toward achieving success from winning a game, or progressing toward the Superbowl cannot happen without teamwork. For the players, proper diet and nutrition before practices and games plays an integral role in achieving that success.
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Leslie Bonci, the director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh and dietitian consultant for the Pittsburgh Steelers, states that optimal body fueling makes a specific impact on the team and on the player's speed, strength and performance. Without proper preparation, the athlete cannot reach their full potential.
Each diet varies from athlete to athlete, and is based on body size and position. For example, an offensive lineman focuses on strength and power and their diet may consist of high protein foods such as lean meats, eggs, etc. A running back focuses on speed and agility, so carbohydrates make up the majority of their nutritional intake.
Most football athletes take on strenuous two-a-day practices, which involves practicing at two different periods throughout the day. Bonci recommends that football athletes work on hydration and fueling habits one month before training camp, to prepare their muscles and digestive tract for the upcoming season. This includes hydrating at every meal, as well as before, during or after exercise, and in large volumes. Some techniques involve drinking 16 oz. of sports drink one hour before exercise, 20 to 40 oz. of sports drink during exercise and 24 oz. of fluid per pound lost during exercise, immediately after exercise.
Ideal meal patterns include three meals per day with a pre-exercise and post-exercise snack in between each meal. Choosing foods that contain low amounts of fats help the athlete perform optimally since fats take longer to digest, leaving the athlete with a heavy, full stomach, which will slow them down in games and practices. Some pregame meals include turkey or ham subs, fruit salad and frozen yogurt, or pasta with red meat sauce, grilled chicken, salad and fruit.
Postgame meals help the athlete restore the nutrients lost during exercise, but should follow after an athlete consumes a high-electrolyte sports drink, or fruit. Some include high-fat and high-carbohydrate food combinations such as steak kebabs with rice or mashed potatoes, stake and salad.
Because football players constantly stop and go throughout the game their systems experience high intensity movements followed by rest. An ideal carbohydrate intake for a football player is anywhere between 55 percent to 60 percent since football players require the energy from carbohydrates to exert on the field that protein and fats cannot provide. If the player experiences weight issues or is influenced by the low-carb phenomenon, they are more prone to consume less carbs and more fat, states Bonci. She also emphasizes that a higher intake of carbs will provide more energy for the athlete, which can lead to optimal performance.