Sports nutrition has come a long way in the last century. In 1904 Thomas Hicks won an Olympic gold medal running a marathon in high temperatures. Running for 26.2 miles, Hicks sucked on a wet sponge, ate five eggs, drank three shots of brandy, and received two doses of strychnine (a muscle stimulant now used as rat poison) to keep him going. Though he won, he was unable to receive his medal because he was “in medical distress.”
Today, athletes have healthier support systems including access to registered dietitians to precisely control their diets and maintain performance during training, practice, and game day itself. Diets can vary dramatically based on a player’s body type, metabolism, and position on the field, but follow a few general guiding principles.
While playing football, muscles use more oxygen than they have available and the body operates with an oxygen debt. In order to replenish the energy muscles need, athletes' pregame meals generally focus on easily metabolized carbohydrates. Post-game meals usually consist of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein to aid in recovery. As the season progresses, even the hardiest football players begin to experience muscle damage and fatigue. As a result, mid-season diets are designed to reduce muscle inflammation and promote musculoskeletal health with lots of Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, seeds, and nuts) and vitamin D (found in fatty fish and egg yolks).
During their football careers, players must consume sufficient food to recover from their exertions. However, after retirement, if players continue to eat the same diet, they may exceed the number of calories they need, especially from fat, and as a result can be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease as they age. Increasingly, teams are trying to educate players regarding nutrition so they can have healthy lives not just while playing, but after their careers as players have finished.
Related: Gridiron Glory
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