Fuelling for AFL footy finals
By Simone Austin Advanced Sports Dietitian
Food is an essential ingredient of an AFL footy player’s preparation. The most important ingredient some might say. Well I would say, considering my job is the club sports dietitian. It is key for optimal performance week after week aiming to reach that last Saturday in September!
It is about quality food choices, even though many will think only quantity, with plates piled high of food for energy. As these guys need to be lean and fast, as well as strong, they can’t carry excess weight, even if that is excess muscle. It is a balancing act between enough food to fuel and repair, without excess to be too heavy to perform in such a fast paced game.
I educate players about food choices that give them the most bang for buck- nutrient dense foods. Food packed with:
- vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for general health, repair and immunity, such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and wholegrains
- protein to build and restore muscle, in lean meats, fish, legumes, milk, yoghurt, cheese and nuts
- quality carbohydrates for energy. Wholegrain most of the time such as brown rice, wholegrain breads and breakfast cereals (oats, porridge, muesli), quinoa, freekeh. Also, fruit and vegetables such as potato and corn.
My players haven’t quite found the love yet for wholemeal pasta, so we are still on the white variety there! Many people believe players should down a mountain of pasta the night before a game. This can leave them feeling sluggish and lethargic, not what we want. Eat a standard bowl, one they would normally eat for a meal, along with some vegetables or salad and maybe a wholegrain bread roll. Other’s might fuel themselves with a chicken curry and rice. Some form of carbohydrate is important.
An easy way to think about an athlete’s dinner plate is to divide it into thirds, one third is protein food, one third carbohydrate and one third vegetables. For those of us supporting rather than playing, half a plate of vegetables and one quarter each of carbohydrate and protein is generally recommended. These players need a little more fuel and repair than most of us!
A player needs to think about timing of eating. Having enough fuel before training and recovering afterwards. Their time schedule may lead to breakfast, early lunch, second afternoon lunch, pre dinner snack, dinner and snack before bed. Meals range from lasagne, pumpkin soup, poke style bowls, roasts, vegetables and meat curries or stir frys and toasted sandwiches.
Gone are the days of guzzling litres of sugary drinks. Water is the main drink. They can eat fruit and other carbohydrate foods before, during and after to top up carbohydrate and electrolyte stores. Some sports drink during matches and on a long, hot training day are used. If you are playing in the snow like the Hawks did, you might be sipping a cup of tea on the bench to keep warm!
After the game preparation starts for the next game straight away. After a gruelling game of Aussie rules, it is often hard to eat when you are exhausted, so fluid is a good option. The Rokeby’s Breakfast smoothies tick the recovery box. With the desired 30 grams of protein, carbohydrate and electrolytes, all in a great tasting drink. You can replenish and rehydrate all in one, ready for the grind of the following week.