When it comes down to debating who might win the coveted FIFA World Cup, all eyes are on the profiles of the individual players, the caliber of their coaches, etc.
Of course those factors are all extremely important – but in our frenzy to predict how a team’s new strategies might impact the fate of the game, we might be overlooking some of the more interesting questions.
How about discussing players’ diets, for example? It might sound like a funny point to raise, but it’s worth taking seriously. An athlete’s body is for all intents and purposes a machine that needs to function to a high standard – so what about the fuel they’re taking in?
England and Italy are due to face off this Saturday in what promises to be a heated contest, and their respective diets may play more than a small part in the outcome.
TheFA.com, official website of the English Premier League has its own page dedicated to player nutrition and makes it very clear how seriously the topic should be taken:
Here’s a fact: young footballers can have all the skills in the world but without the proper nutritional support, they won’t be as fit as they could be and their performances will suffer.
The page goes on to describe the ideal types of food, and the balance that should be struck between them:
- Simple carbohydrates: Sweets, cakes, soft drinks, jam
- Complex carbohydrates: Rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals, fruit
- Saturated fats: Butter, margarine, cheese, pasties
- Unsaturated fats: Sunflower oil, salmon, nuts
- Protein: Milk, chicken, eggs, fish, yoghurt
- Vitamins and minerals: Fruit, vegetables, dairy products
- Fibre: Seeds, peas, beans
- Water: Foods, drinks, formulated sports drinks
Footballers need increased energy to gain that extra edge, and that’s most commonly found in carbohydrate. Now, in a healthy diet, 55-60% of it should come from carbohydrate, but for footballers, it’s even higher – as much as 70%!
Of course, players need other nutrients too and it’s not easy to get the perfect intake of carbohydrate from eating a regular three meals a day. The way to do it is by snacking – snacks play a crucial role in a player’s diet, especially if eaten immediately after training or a match. That’s when the energy stores in the muscles which have just been working are best refuelled.
Snack Attack! These snacks are high in carbohydrate but low in fat
- Banana, jam or honey sandwiches
- Muesli bars or sweetened popcorn
- Fruit cake, currant buns, scones, American muffins
- Crumpets, bagels, English muffins, scotch pancakes
- Pop Tarts, rusks and cereal
- Jelly cubes
- Jaffa cakes, wine gums, jelly babies
- Low fat rice pudding, bread pudding
- Yoghurts and milkshakes
- Fruit and dried fruit
If this list is anything to go by for working out what the England team might be getting fed in training, then it paints a pretty clear picture: simple carbs (sugar) and complex carbs (starch, etc.) galore. In practice this probably means a lot of traditional English foods (scones, pies, Yorkshire puddings etc. will all get the job done well) as well as plenty of snacking on sugary treats.
A report from The Guardian during the previous World Cup which describes the England team’s shopping list seems to back this theory up. Apparently things like English mustard and bars of organic chocolate featured prominently on the menu.
And how does Italy match up against this full frontal carb assault? Well, probably not too badly. In fact, the traditional “Italian diet” might very well do the job all by itself, with only minimal tweaks here and there necessary according to Beppe Signori, one-time Italian national striker. As the website Oxfordindex.oup.com explains:
A diet based on simple Italian country food consisting mainly of pasta, bread, olive oil, plenty of fruit and green vegetables, small amounts of meat (mainly poultry and fish), helped down with moderate amounts of red wine. The diet has been popularized in a book (The Italian football diet and fitness programme, written by Jane Nottage and Dr Claudio Bartolini and published by Thorsons in 1993). It has been endorsed by Beppe Signori, a striker for the Italian national football team. The diet is designed to provide ample energy (as much as 4000 calories a day are needed by professional footballers) and all the essential nutrients needed for an active lifestyle. It is especially high in carbohydrates and vitamins, but low in saturated fats. See also Mediterranean diet.
And if a recent news story from The Metro is to be believed and the Italian team really had parmesan cheese and parma ham confiscated from them in large quantities by Brazilian customs agents, it doesn’t look like they’re straying too far from the set menu.