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Playing for Time

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Footballers’ diets used to be a joke. Back in the 1960s and 70s players would regularly be seen on London’s ‘trendy’ Kings Road (even ones who didn’t play for Chelsea) enjoying meals, beers and nights out with beautiful people. These days footballers have strict nutrition regimes to keep them in peak condition for a season that can last 12 months, if you’re an international.

You’re probably not an international, but you can learn from the pros to make you a better player. Staying well hydrated is essential, and that starts well before kick-off, with pre-hydration.

Drink a Good Game

‘An isotonic drink is the fastest way to get fluid into your body,’ says dietitian Sarah Schenker. ‘The “tonic” refers to the osmolarity, or concentration, of the drink. Isotonic drinks contain similar amounts of sugar – around 6-8% carbohydrate – and salt as the human body, and they’re the quickest way of absorbing what you need. Many sports drinks now add caffeine and taurine, which help you stay mentally sharp.’

Carbs are important because if your body starts to run out of fuel it will draw on the glucose in your liver and muscles to keep you going. Use that up and you’ll be too weak to even shout at the ref.

Make sure you have a comfortable amount in your system before you take to the pitch. ‘Most people won’t want too much before they start as it can be uncomfortable – about 100-200ml in the 30 minutes before is enough,’ says Schenker. ‘Water empties quickly, whereas high-carb drinks are slower to absorb and empty because they contain more molecules.’

Stay Swigging

Dehydration affects physical performance – even a two per cent drop in body fluids will thicken the blood, decrease the heart’s efficiency while raising heart rate, and increase body temperature. ‘At 3%, you lose 10% of your strength and 8% of your speed,” says sports nutritionist Adam Carey. ‘At 7%, people start to die.’

We don’t want that, and staying well hydrated generally is important. ‘Drink two litres of water the day before. That’s your daily requirement, plus a bit extra to make sure you’re well hydrated,’ says Schenker.

It’s natural that you’ll be tired by the final whistle, but sports drinks can help here, too. ‘Have an isotonic drink immediately after the match to recover your glycogen,’ says Carey. ‘Then have some fast-acting carbs – 1g per kilogram of bodyweight – which you can put into a smoothie.’ Just don’t add beer…

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your GP before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.