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FOOTBALL: THE DIETITIAN’S ROLE Matt Lawson Registered Dietitian and Sports Coach Matt initially worked within the NHS and has since spent many years specialising in sport. He became a UEFA Licence holder working with a number of professional clubs as well as Team GB. He has also worked internationally with England Ladies football players. Matt works with weight management programmes in Nottinghamshire, maintaining a caseload of Tier 3 patients.

A decade ago, I was invited up to lunch with the players of a League One Club the day before a game by former pro, Michael Johnson. These young players, the future of the club, were sat eating burger and chips. I will never forget that moment, as the point Michael was trying to make was instantly obvious - he knew this was not right and had asked me to try and address it. Things have moved on in football. The game has become quicker, sharper and more highly intense. Supporters often demand high action, quick passing football, exhilarating and free-flowing set pieces for their entertainment. We now ‘expect’ to see very fit and very strong footballers who need to be fuelled with the correct dietary practices. There is increasing examination of practices on the ground throughout the leagues and no longer just for the player who has reached the promised land of the first team squad. This is translating into the academy pathways and in the growing female game with the FA Women’s Super League. I was fortunate to work with the players in the 2015 FA women’s Cup Final at Wembley, the first time women’s

football held such a platform. When looking at the performance of the team, we must focus on key periods during the season (see Table 1). DIETARY REQUIREMENTS

The drive for success is massive. Along with that comes the temptation to go beyond training and try out a supplement to gain some advantage my daily bugbear. Supplement use in the UK is on the increase, but when does this become a performance enhancer and are they really any use? We know that ‘supplements’ describe a broad and diverse category of products that you eat or drink to support good health and supplement the diet. We rightly remind people that dietary supplements are not medicines

Table 1: Key periods for player performance





Season-long plan, work done in pre-season

The long approach requires a simple message, eat well to support your performance. Good cultures in teams are established during preseason fitness programmes. Some players play more than 50 games a season.

Mid campaign November to February

On a monthly basis, we offer one-to-one consultation with players about their dietetic needs. This can be extended to the parents of young players who may request cooking, shopping, and menu planning advice.

Seven-day week, focus for the last 10 games

The game is a high octane sport, with elite players performing intense movements for more than 70% of the match. The overall energy cost of a match can be over 2000 calories (Kcals). Things are won and lost in the end of season run in. July 2018 - Issue 136

Table 2: Sports supplements and their classification Classification

Examples include

Use supported

Caffeine, Sports drinks, Whey protein, B-alanine, Beetroot juice, Multivitamin

Deserve further research. Are considered for provision to athletes under a research protocol

Carnitine, Glucosamine, HMB, Curcumin (turmeric), Tart Cherry Juice, Anti-oxidants

Thought to have no benefit. Not provided to athletes

Fat burners, Ribose, Ginseng, Inosine, Colostrum,

Banned or at high risk of contamination

Maca root powders, Ephedrine, DHEA

and for athletes, or any active individual, these should not be considered a substitute for food. Sports supplements are a form of ergogenic aid taken because they are believed to improve or increase performance. We know that most supplements will not work for most sportspeople and many have a harmful effect on performance. This is why we take a food-first approach, dissecting the diet, the time of eating and how we eat to achieve results.

players, simple messages are key. For example, calcium is important for bone development, so we recommend three portions of dairy foods per day and promote that to parents in our structured education sessions. Players from different nationalities have their own cultural beliefs which we enjoy working with. For example, we have more players who are vegetarian in the modern game and they require intervention to source their nutrition in a different way.


Ultimately, the winning formula for any athlete involves establishing nutritional goals and then translating these goals into dietary strategies which are tried and tested during day-to-day training. I am a big believer in culinary nutrition. Cooking from scratch is the first-line most influential change an athlete can make to improve health, long-term risk of disease and, in the short term, performance. My advice to players and coaches alike, is to develop their own routine in relation to well-planned food intake. In football today, a dietitian leads the way on hydration testing, looking at micronutrient levels in blood results with the Club Doctor and MDT work, arranging hotel menus for away trips and dealing with players who have diabetes, asthma, or food intolerances. There is a big focus on energy usage information from the second 45 minutes of games, even more so for the end of the fixture. Most goals in football are scored in the last 10 minutes, when games are won and lost. For this reason we show players, using video examples, that nutrition can be the difference between winning and losing. That is as good a reason as any, to make sure everyone in the sporting family enjoys the benefits that food can give us.

Many fad diets peddled by so-called celebrities tend to focus on manipulation of carbohydrate or protein in one guise or another. As dietitians, we know that no one way is correct and every athlete is different. Many will not benefit from ‘cutting’ practices (for example, removal of carbohydrate from the diet is linked to injury). Fat is probably the most ‘bashed’ nutrient of them all. Fat has been given a ‘bad’ name among athletes without dietetic support, but when we talk about fat as a fuel it takes on a different connotation. Free fatty acids (FFA) increase in the body towards the end of a football match at the most important time. Fats are an important part of cell membranes and are vital to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The focus needs to be on the right types of fat, more specifically monosaturated and polyunsaturated (omega n-3). Micronutrients can play a huge role in the performance of athletes. IRON DEFICIENCY

Iron deficiency is common in athletes; we need them to understand the role of iron in transporting oxygen in the blood as haemoglobin and in the muscles as myoglobin. For younger

THE WINNING FORMULA July 2018 - Issue 136


Issue 136 dieitians in football  
Issue 136 dieitians in football