I so love the start of the footy season. The anticipation of a new beginning and a clean slate, the sound of the siren cutting through the slight crispness in the air and the whack of a boot connecting with the ball.
This past Easter weekend has marked season kick-off for Australian Rules Football. One eyed supporters all over the country have breathed a collective sigh of relief that finally, their beloved game is back.
Having worked as the Sports Dietitian for the Fremantle Dockers for six years means that my favourite colours on the paddock are simple and easy to remember. Purple and white. That is all.
This time of the year gets me thinking about what the players will be doing before, during and after the game because I know they have quite a routine to follow. Fortunately, professional football players are blessed with fantastic support and access to sports nutrition expertise.
But the thing is, this does not apply to the almost half a million junior and senior players who run out onto the field every weekend between March and September. As a result, many of these players and their families have lots of questions about how to fuel themselves or their kids and there are three questions that I often get asked. The answers to each of them can easily be applied to any sport.
1. Should I eat a chocolate bar prior to playing a game of football?
A 50g plain chocolate bar has a medium Glycemic Index (GI) of 49 and contains 15 grams of fat. Fat slows down the emptying of the stomach and therefore digestion and these factors combined mean that chocolate is best enjoyed at a time not associated with exercise.
Some of you will remember the television advertisement that was aired in the 1980s for Mars Bars®. The theme song contained lyrics suggesting that Mars Bars® helped you ‘work, rest and play’. There was definitely a sports theme to the advertisement and over time, this has led to the belief that chocolate is a good pre-game snack. Great advertising – but not so great for your body!
Any pre-exercise snack or meal should provide you with sustained energy to perform the activity to the best of your ability, and be easily digested. The food should be mostly carbohydrate with a small amount of protein and minimal fat. Ideally the food should be of low to medium Glycemic Index and consumed 1 ½ to 2 hours prior to the game or event.
Some healthy low-fat pre-game snacks include: cereal and milk, toast with baked beans or spaghetti, bread or toast with low-fat spread, Up and Go® drink or Sustagen Sport®, creamed rice and fruit and low-fat muesli bars.
2. Does eating an orange assist performance during sport?
In Australian sporting culture the orange (neatly cut into quarters of course) has long been a part of weekend sport and something to look forward to at half-time. Eating an orange will provide you with some fluid, Vitamin C, and a small amount of carbohydrate (an average orange contains approximately 110 mL of water and 10 grams carbohydrate) so go ahead and enjoy one!
3. Can athletes drink more alcohol than the average person because they will ‘sweat it off’ the next day?
In short – no. On average your body can process one standard drink of alcohol per hour through your liver. This does depend on quite a few factors including age, gender, body mass, drinking experience and food eaten and may be more or less accurate, accordingly. This is true of athletes and non-athletes alike.
It is true that after a heavy drinking session you can often smell alcohol on one’s body, but it is generally bad breath, not alcohol being excreted through sweat. In the mid 1980s, two sports medicine experts made an interesting assessment on the nutritional knowledge of a group of elite athletes in Australia. Twenty-six percent of the athletes believed that alcohol contained no kilojoules, reduced inhibition and actually improved their performance. Wrong! Drinking alcohol before a game or any exercise increases the risk of dehydration and injury, and more than likely very ordinary performance on the day.
It would be interesting to see how much that perception has changed but given that the sports culture in Australia still encourages alcohol consumption in the name of team spirit and friendship, perhaps the change has not been significant.
You can find more practical and expert advice plus free downloadable fact sheets from Sports Dietitian’s Australia.