Dairy Council Northern Ireland

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Food for football

Muscle not fat

Many athletes in many sports try to gain weight as they believe that this will benefit their strength and power. In football, this may mean that players will be able to deal with tackles better or their sprinting speed will be faster. But you need to remember that any weight gained must be muscle and not fat. If you gain fat then this will only show you down and give you none of the benefits of muscle. 

Does protein pack a punch? 

A lot of athletes believe that if you increase protein intake you will gain muscle. How many times have you heard of players and athletes from different sports increasing meat or chicken intake or eating more eggs? As muscle is made up of protein a lot of people think that if you eat more then this will mean that your muscles will get bigger. It’s not that simple, and certainly not in football. 

Gaining muscle

There are a number of key things you must do to gain muscle:

If you don’t eat enough and get enough energy or calories, then gaining muscle will be impossible. As football is a running game played over a relatively long period of time then you will need significant amounts of carbohydrate to fuel this running. If there is little or no carbohydrate then you will have to use some protein to fuel the exercise. As your protein is stored as muscle then you will have to break down and use up your muscles to do this, and so undoing all the good work you may have done in the past.

Eat at least 5 meals per day. Small frequent meals around training and matches are better than 2–3 larger meals. Use milk, milkshakes, smoothies and yogurt drinks as between meal snacks, along with sandwiches, fruit, toast, breakfast cereals and scones.

If you eat well for six days and have one poor day then this will mean that the whole week will just average out. You need to eat well every day of the week.

Late nights out will not help you to gain muscle. You are using more calories and not allowing your own growth hormones to do their job. During sleep growth hormone rises and this helps you to convert the food you’ve eaten into muscle.

If you do weights, then you need to have something with protein and carbohydrate in it. Milk or a milkshake is the simplest way of doing this; 250mls before, and the same directly after.

Do you need to buy supplements? 

The best answer to this is no! They are expensive and do exactly the same thing as food can do. The key issue is to eat enough to gain the weight. No amount of supplements will help you if you are not eating enough in the first place. If you need 3000 calories per day and you are only on average eating 2800 calories then gaining weight as muscle will be very difficult and in the long term recovery will be affected. 

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