AFL, also known as Australian Rules Football or Aussie Rules, is a physically, and at times, mentally demanding sport. Therefore, proper nutrition is really important for performance and for the health and fitness of AFL players. There’s a reasonable amount of information available on the internet relating to nutritional requirements for elite AFL players. However, much of the information is not relevant to club level players because of the significant difference in training loads of elite, compared to non-elite players. Therefore, I have specifically focused on game day nutrition in this blog, which is applicable to both elite and non-elite AFL players alike.
The Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) following an AFL match is the worst of any sports I have played. I remember some days barely being able to walk the day after a match. To be truthful, it probably had something to do with my poor nutrition strategies before, during and after the game….if only I knew then what I know now! So, I’m going to use my own bad nutrition example to explain what you should be doing if you want to become the best AFL player you can be.
In terms of nutrition, my routine generally consisted of the following:
The dinner meal the night before a game should be a carbohydrate rich, easily digested meal. In other words, it should be relatively low in fibre and fat with just enough protein and not too large. Eating deep-fried crumbed seafood until it comes out your ears is not recommended. Choose a meal dominated by pasta or rice with some meat and veg, finished off with some fruit for dessert. The carbohydrate in the meal is important to keep your glycogen levels topped up. Glycogen is our bodies storage form of energy for high intensity exercise. An easily digested meal will reduce the risk of ending up with an stomach upset on game day. This could have a significant impact on performance.
Ideally, a main meal should be eaten about 2-4 hours pre-game and be CHO-rich and easily digestible. Game time was at about 2:30 pm so I should have been eating something significant for breakfast, followed by a CHO-rich snack up to an hour before the game. This would have ensured that my glycogen levels were maintained, giving me the needed energy for the game. Fruits, cereals, crumpets, juices, yoghurt, pasta, rice and bread/sandwiches are all appropriate choices. It’s up to the individual to work out what foods are best for them.
I covered most of this in the previous paragraph. Eating a stodgy lunch just before exercising is a recipe for gut issues and lack of energy. IMO, these foods are best not eaten at all, but leave to another day if you must!
Carbohydrates are the backbone of sports nutrition. They provide the energy for high intense exercise when our body stores of CHO (glycogen) have been exhausted. Consuming CHO during moderate to high intense exercise that is longer than 1 hr has been shown to improve performance. A review study carried out in 2015 concluded that CHO consumption before and during team sport games, like AFL, seems to have the greatest impact on performance towards the end of the game. Current recommendations are to consume about 30-60g per hour for exercise between 1 -2 hrs. Therefore, an AFL player would need to drink between about 500-1000ml of a sports drink (6% CHO) per hour. Other forms of CHO can be consumed during exercise, but a lot of athletes prefer sports drinks because they are an easy option.
Whatever form of CHO you consume during exercise, ensure that the CHO concentration is not greater than 8%, otherwise you increase the risk of getting an upset stomach. Therefore, fruit juice & coke would need to be diluted as they are up around 11% CHO concentration. The quarter and half time breaks are the best chance to consume CHO. Trial nutrition choices during training before using on game day. Start at the lower end of the range and work your way up i.e. 30 g/hr. We’re all different so your gut tolerance and CHO needs are different from the next person’s.
Good sports nutrition strategies are really important for recovering from an AFL match. Poor recovery strategies can lead to an increase in injuries, poor performance and poor health generally. Drinking alcohol straight after a match is not an optimal strategy for effective recovery, but it is a common practice in non-elite AFL clubs. I certainly enjoyed my post-match beer after a match, but I wouldn’t do it now. It’s likely that most players are dehydrated to some degree post-match. Therefore, drinking alcohol, which is a diuretic, will cause further dehydration when players should be rehydrating. There are also many other potentially negative effects that alcohol consumption has on acute recovery. If you’re going to drink post-match, it’s better to wait until your body has rehydrated and you have consumed the recommended CHO and protein intake. Weighing yourself before and after a match will provide an estimate of sweat losses.
Players muscle glycogen stores will be significantly depleted following an AFL match. Therefore, CHO needs to be consumed to replenish glycogen levels. Protein is also important to repair tissue and grow lean tissue. Eating a well balanced carbohydrate focused meal post-match should provide sufficient CHO and protein, along with much needed vitamins and minerals. If a post-match meal is 2 hours after the match, prepare a good size snack to have straight after the game.
AFL is a demanding sports that takes a lot out of players. Adopting good nutrition strategies will go a long way to helping players get the most out of their bodies….week in, week out!
Good nutrition gets results. Contact me today if you want to get the most out of your ability. Initial consultation are FREE for new clients….what have you got to lose?
Rick Hallion is a nutritionist located in Coffs Harbour, NSW. Rick has a keen interest in AFL sports nutrition & develops nutrition plans for athletes across Australia. Rick provides consultations face to face at his office in Coffs Harbour, or online Australia wide. Raised in South Oz, Rick is an avid Crows supports, but also follows the Swans in his adopted state of NSW.
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