AFL is a long, grueling game. Maintaining energy levels for 25-30 minute quarters combined with 3-4 months of pre-season training can be challenging. It is important players fuel their body with the correct foods in order to not only get the most out of their training, but also to sustain energy levels throughout the 23-game season.
Overall diet is dependent on the individual. A young AFL footballer could still be growing and experiencing growth spurts, which could mean that they are ravenous for a period of time. Or you could have working athletes sitting at their desk all day compared to someone on their feet being physically active. The bottom line is quality food choices are important for all different scenarios – with quantity varying to suit the individual.
So, what food sources do AFL players need?
CARBOHYDRATES! This is not the game for low carb diets. AFL requires adequate energy from start to finish and therefore players’ muscles need to have sufficient glycogen stores to release energy immediately. If a player has had an insufficient carbohydrate intake then they will deplete their glycogen stores, run low on energy and may become tired.
A high carbohydrate diet doesn’t mean filling their plate sky high full of pasta, rice and potatoes. It means including carbs in meals, particularly before and after training, in order to provide energy for their training session, and also to refuel for the next. As a rough guide, a third of an AFL player’s plate should be carbohydrates - of course, larger bodied players will need more carbs than smaller bodied athletes.
After a morning training session on the track, AFL players tend to have a hearty meal before hitting the afternoon gym session. There is usually a carbohydrate and protein source, along with plenty of high fibre, high water, low kilojoule veggies and salad. Eating lots of greens keeps an AFL player’s antioxidant, vitamin and mineral intake up, which is important for recovery and general health. Typical post training meals include:
- Chili con carne & salad
- Spaghetti bolognaise & roasted vegetables
- Piled high salad & meat sandwiches
- Curry with rice & green vegetables.
Following an afternoon gym session, players are ready for another feed. Usually, this will include:
- A protein drink
- Fresh fruit (two pieces of fruit each day)
- Hearty soup.
It is important for an AFL player to look after their general health. If they get sick, they cannot perform at their best. As their immune systems are under stress, they are susceptible to colds. That’s why it is importantfor players to have carbohydrate-rich foods post training to help supportthe body’s stress hormone levels back to normal (which increase with intense exercise).
Protein is needed to help support growth and repair of muscles, cells and immune system function. On average, around 1.5 grams per kilogram body weight of protein is recommended. This target is most easily reached by spreading their protein consumption throughout the day. Protein keeps an AFL player’s body in good working condition, allowing the growth and maintenance of muscle. If a player ingests more protein than needed, it is broken down and used for energy production or stored as body fat.
In order to keep energy levels up, you need to keep hydrated! AFL players will need to constantly top up their fluid levels during games, and long and hot training sessions. The top-up amount will change depending on the player’s sweat rates and energy needs – some players need to top up energy/fluid levels during a game more than others and sport drinks can help to do this.
After a hard, grueling match, an AFL player will look to ingest a protein drink along with a small meal; typically, chicken wraps, burritos or pasta. When they have arrived home and have collapsed exhausted on the couch, they will look to top up their energy stores further.
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