Major upgrade to your Minor Diet
Having worked with a couple of county minor teams in the year few years and studied the food diaries of the players. I have seen similar dietary problems cropping up on a regular basis. This is a crucial time when players have a lot on their plate (excuse the pun!). Many of these players are doing the Leaving Cert and all the study that goes along with it, whilst also trying to juggle the commitments of playing on the county minor team. It is hugely important that players know how to fuel their bodies and mind so they can have the energy and enthusiasm to perform on all fronts.
At this stage, players will be more than likely still relying on their parents to provide them with the majority of their home cooked meals but they are without doubt old enough to take charge of their own nutrition and make some changes to their diet to help them with training and performance.
So here are 6 changes I recommend to the average minor footballer or hurler that will help them as they face into the season.
1. Eat soon after you exercise
I was shocked to see one or two players not eating for many hours after a match they had. Whatever the excuse, failing to eat after a match is not acceptable.
During a typical training session or match, players will burn lots of calories. Gaelic games are high intensity sports and glycogen in the muscles is the predominant energy fuel for activities such as sprinting, jumping or hard tackling. The muscle's energy source will become depleted after a tough session and it is important to replenish this by eating some carbohydrates. Muscles will also need to be repaired and regenerated. Muscle fibres are damaged during vigorous activity and consuming protein after exercise will immediately help the recovery process.
A good idea would be to eat some protein and carbohydrates within an hour post training/match to maximise training adaptations, improve recovery and replenish lost fuels.
2. Stop eating so much bread
In some of the diaries I have seen, lads are eating nearly half a slice pan on a daily basis. A slice of toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and a toastie as an evening snack would not be uncommon. This problem is exacerbated when the bread is white, refined and extremely processed. It has poor nutritional quality, low fibre and can cause a large spike in blood sugar due to it's high glycemic index. Good quality wholemeal brown bread (like the stuff your granny makes) as a food is not a problem and can be a handy, easily accessible source of carbohydrates. When players sometimes take this to the extreme and are eating bread in every meal, it is definitely not advisable. It is always good to rotate food sources and bread is no different.
Instead of having a sandwich for lunch, eat some of the previous nights dinner which which will hopefully have some good quality protein and vegetables and replace the odd slice of toast with fruit or nuts.
3. Quit eating sugary cereals every morning
Seriously, you are expecting to perform and do well at county minor level yet you are eating sweets for breakfast! The worst way to start your day is to eat a processed cereal loaded with sugar. A breakfast like this is low in fibre and protein and will skyrocket your blood sugar making you feel hungry very soon again (when inevitably your sugar level drops). When your blood sugar drops, you will crave more sugary snacks to stabilize your low blood sugar which will inevitably have you reaching for the sweets or chocolate. Many lads will drink a glass of orange juice alongside their cereal for 'one of their 5 a day' which makes the situation worse.
Instead of the high sugar based cereal, try to eat a breakfast with more protein and fibre. Scrambled eggs with sliced tomato on brown bread or porridge with mixed seeds and berries will all set you up nicely for the day.
4. Stop eating the exact same stuff every day
Similar to bread, many people tend to eat the same food on a continuous basis. The same snacks, same fruit, the same breakfast. Eating a broad variety of colorful foods gives us exposure to variety of nutrients and will reduce the likelyhood of having a deficiency. Instead of eating an apple and a banana every day, have a kiwi or a piece of pineapple/melon. If you have the same breakfast every morning, change it up, eat eggs, yogurt and muesli, porridge etc. If you are in a restaurant, eat some meat/fish you haven't eaten in a while, go for the prawns, the duck or the lamb.
Always try to eat a variety of foods and be open to trying new and different tastes on a regular basis.
5. Ramp up the Vegetable Intake
The one thing that nutritionists round the world agree on is that we should all be eating more vegetables. When we train hard on a regular basis, we break down muscle tissues and place stress on the body. Consuming a regular intake of vegetables can help boost the immune system and ensure that we meet our intake of various micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. A lack of antioxidants in athletes can lead to excessive ROS and nitrogen production that induce muscle damage, inflammation, immuno-suppression, susceptibility to injury, and prolonged recovery.
A recent study (Healthy Ireland Survey 2015) showed that just over 1 in 4 (26%) Irish adults reported that they eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily. Fairly pathetic really. I would hazard a guess that this paltry score is even lower in Irish teenagers, even those that play GAA at a high level. If you are interested in maximizing your health and recovery, make sure you are getting a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (7 or more is even better!). In my experience, most lads can manage the few pieces of fruits a day but definitely struggle to fit in the vegetables.
Here are a few tips to maximise the vegetable intake: have an omelette loaded with mushrooms, onions or spinach, have a salad at lunch with green leaves, tomatoes, beetroot or add carrots, onions, peppers to one pot meals such as curries and stews. Again, try to have a great variety and colour.
6. Double up on fish
Another problem I see on a regular basis with teenagers and with adults alike is the lack of fish in the diet. For a nation that is surrounded by fish we are pretty bad at including it in our diet apart from the odd battered fish and chips!
Oily fish in particular such as salmon, mackerel, trout have high levels of omega 3 which can promote recovery, reduce inflammation, improve cognitive function and general health. They are a rich source of protein and vitamins A and E. Oily fish is a source of vitamin D which helps improve muscle function and bone health. Many people are deficient in vitamin D especially over the Winter months when we cannot sufficiently get it from the sun.
We should strive to get 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily fish.
So there you have it. 6 changes that you can look to implement in your diet over the next couple of months. Small changes, big impact.