In the golden days of football – i.e., any era with a sepia tint, big hair or short shorts – sports nutrition largely relied on what the club chef fancied cooking for the players that day. It also often featured regular fry ups, beer, and cigarettes!
Today, sports nutrition is taken very seriously indeed and is a huge part of the modern game. In addition to healthy meals tailor-made to each individual player, nutritional supplements are also provided and often seen sipped, gulped and slurped by players on the field.
But do supplements work? In this article, we will find out.
Do Supplements Work?
First things first: yes, supplements can certainly work. Yet they only deliver the desired outcome if you are already doing other things properly. In other words, supplements work, but they are not a miracle cure for an unhealthy lifestyle.
If your daily fitness, nutrition, and hydration are all up to scratch, then sports supplements can provide a significant boost to your focus, performance and/or recovery. If you smoke 20 a day, gorge on takeaways, and barely sleep, then a supplement will only go so far.
Footballers of all levels should aim to eat a balanced diet, taking in around 50% to 60% of quality carbohydrates, with the rest of your meals made up of lean protein and some healthy fats. Colourful vegetables and fruits should feature heavily, as should plenty of water and sleep. Be sure to read our article focused on the different elements of a footballer’s diet.
The Ins and Outs of Supplements for Footballers
With a diet that is working to keep you fit and healthy throughout the year, you can unleash the power of supplements on matchdays and in training sessions to take your game to the next level.
The word ‘supplements’ encompasses a lot of things, including gels, shots, powders and drinks, which are all made to do considerably different things. We can roughly arrange supplements into categories based on when they are best used:
Before the Match
Carbohydrates are a big part of sports nutrition supplements. Carbs are your body’s favoured source of fuel; broken down into glucose and stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. However, the body can use up stored glycogen very quickly, especially during a 90-minute match.
This is when attention turns to carbohydrate supplements, which usually come in the form of a drink or an energy gel, such as our Fuel90® range. These supplements deliver two forms of carbohydrates to the body, which means up to 40% faster absorption than a single source of carbohydrate. A supplement of this nature is often easier to consume just before a match than solid food.
Another supplement that is regularly taken alongside carbohydrates before a match is caffeine. It is important to remember that caffeine does not give you energy, but acts as a stimulant to your body and mind, increasing focus and reducing feelings of fatigue. A strong cup of coffee will often do the job, as will a powerful supplement such as our new Focus90® shot, which contains 200mg of caffeine, as well as beta alanine, l-theanine and tyrosine.
During the Match
With the match underway, supplements can still be used effectively to help maintain energy levels for the full 90.
At this stage, carbohydrate supplements are often combined with an electrolyte supplement, usually in the form of a sports drink or energy gel. Electrolytes – comprising sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride – are essential minerals that allow fluid to pass through cell membranes, and are therefore critical to hydration.
On average, a footballer will sweat out 1.1 litres of fluid during a match, losing electrolytes in every single drop. This is why replenishing electrolytes is crucial. A supplement such as Hydrate90® – combining 29g of carbohydrates with 380mg of electrolytes – is used by top-tier teams around the world, and worthy of a place in your kitbag.
After the Match
When the final whistle is blown, the emphasis for players shifts from performance to recovery – namely replenishing energy stores, repairing damaged muscles, and rehydrating.
Carbohydrates still play an important role in post-match recovery, but protein becomes a big focus. A good post-match meal will contain a good balance of quality carbs and lean protein in a 3:1 ratio, although you can begin refuelling in the dressing room with a supplement.
A straightforward Whey Protein or Vegan Protein supplement along with some fruit is suitable, although you can also opt for something more complete, such as our Recover90®. This is an all-in-one post-match supplement, combining 31g protein and 30g carbohydrates with 374mg electrolytes to replenish the vital nutrients lost during the match and kickstart the recovery process.
In addition to taking them on a matchday, footballers can also make use of some supplements during the week, both during the season and in the summer. Instead of performance and recovery, the focus with daily supplements is more on protection from illness, inflammation and oxidative stress.
While a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholefoods is the ideal way to source your nutrients, sometimes you need something more, which is where vitamin supplements come into play.
Active sportspeople will find that a good multivitamin supplement acts as an insurance policy to top up levels of any essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants missing from your diet, helping you to stay fighting fit for weekly training sessions and matchdays.
Should You Bother with Supplements?
In an article written by a company that sells sports supplements, you may expect us to immediately say ‘yes’, but the answer is more complex than that.
As outlined above, the most important thing you can do to enhance your football performance and recovery is eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, and sleep well. Not just on matchday, but throughout the season.
But when you are fit and healthy, taking supplements can be a gamechanger.
Taking fast-acting carbohydrate and caffeine supplements before a game will keep you running until the final whistle; hydration supplements will keep you feeling energised throughout; and recovery supplements will ensure you are ready to go again for the next match.