I get it all the time: a young kid comes in and asks me for a good supplement program for football. Usually, the kid wants to bulk up and get stronger. The answer I give him depends on a few things: age, metabolism, playing position and where they are in their season.
As a football player, your daily calorie requirement skyrockets over that of the average person. You have two-a-days, you have the weight room, the actual on-field playing time, all of this puts a huge burden on your body's energy needs and recovery needs.
Over the summer, football players can burn anywhere from 700 to 1000 calories a day during their workouts alone. During the season, players can burn anywhere from 500 to 800 calories during practice.
The very first concern for any player is, am I eating enough? This is a case where you want a lot of carbohydrates to fuel your intense schedule, you need to think about proper hydration during any of the above events and most important, you have to recover enough to be able to do it all again.
So, a lot of quality carbs, the usual protein requirement of 1 to 1 1/2 grams per pound of bodyweight, and moderate fat - healthy fat - intake. What should your daily calorie intake be? A good starting point is to multiply your current bodyweight by 18, divide that by 6 meals.
So, if you weigh 200 pounds, that would be 3600 calories per day, or 600 calories per meal for 6 meals. However, different positions dictate different body-types: receivers, half backs for example, need a lot of speed to excel in their position, they're looking at functional, lean muscle mass, so they will need to closely monitor carb intake to avoid getting fat.
On the other hand, bigger, heavier lineman need a lot of functional strength but usually have a bit of fat, that means they can be a bit looser with their calorie intake while still eating quality calories.
Also, are you a starter or a 3rd string guy on the bench? In season, if you are a backup or don't get a lot of on-field time, your calorie needs drop. All of this is important because it all starts with nutrition first, before you begin to add supplements.
What Supplements Should You Add?
Here's a list of the best choices:
- Always, always take a good, natural multivitamin; think of it as health insurance. Any deficiencies in one or more nutrients will affect, among other things, your performance.
- It's never to soon to promote joint health. With the pounding players take on the field and even in practice, not to mention the fact you're in the weight room, it makes a lot of sense to use a good joint product containing Glucosamine/Chondroitin in a 1500mg to 1200 mg ratio.
- Many products add MSM, Boswellia, and Citrus Bioflavonoids to name a few. If you are experiencing any problems, look for a product containing natural COX-2 inhibitors, COX-2 is an enzyme responsible for a number of joint concerns, there are some herbs that can block this enzyme thereby controlling some issues.
- Depending on the product, you will take this 2-3 times a day with food. You can take the daily dose all at once if you want but it's better to divide up your dosage.
- Omega 3s have many uses but in this context it's a great lubricant for the joints. Take 1 cap with your joint product.
- Even in more endurance based sports, protein intake is critical. Especially in football, where functional size and strength is so important. Use a protein powder to insure adequate protein intake throughout the day. Think every 2 1/2 to 3 hours as far as protein is concerned, be it food or whey protein powder.
- Use at 1/3 strength only as a means of getting calories if it's hard to get to meals. Choose one that is low in sugar. This should not replace a protein powder but should be used as a means of getting enough calories.
- If you are a leaner athlete, pay extra attention to your waistline. Too many calories, from any source, over and above what your body needs will lead to fat storage.
- For me, weight gainers are a better choice if the individual has a really high metabolism and needs to pack on some pounds to be more effective on the field. In this case you can take a larger serving but a 1/3 serving taken more than once a day if needed is a good compromise because you still get a reasonable amount of calories but the shake is not so huge it becomes undrinkable.
- When it comes to younger athletes trying to gain weight, most people don't understand that to gain weight you have to reach a consistent level of daily calorie intake that exceeds your daily calorie needs. This is, however, where you have to be careful as exceeding daily needs to much will result in fat gain.
- Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the bloodstream. Important for recovery, this can be taken up to 3 times a day. Take after workouts and practices with your post-workout shake.
- I would use this pre-event, be it practice, workout or game. The use of creatine to increase speed: while you can go with caffeine or ginseng, I think it would make more sense to maximize the ATP systems of energy, since speed is more a muscle function than anything else. In other words, you train for speed, then you make sure your body has the fuel it requires to allow you to actually hit the speed you're capable of.
- First and foremost, make sure you have enough carbs in your diet. This actually begins long before you hit the field and in the case of football, almost never stops! Since creatine is actively involved in the ATP process, it can be a useful aid in promoting energy thereby helping you with speed.
- Adding some BCAA powder can help limit catabolism. A current bodybuilding trend is "during the workout" drinks to help keep you anabolic and thereby speed up recovery.
- This is a great concept for football players and could be combined with your "Gatorade"-type product to be sipped during weight work, practice and even game time. These type of drinks can also include creatine. With or without added supplements, proper hydration is critical to optimal performance.
- Take the drink of your choice as needed during your day.
- Since nitric oxide increases blood flow, nutrients will get to your muscles faster and waste products will be removed faster. This can be important for a football player when trying to maximize performance.
- This would be products like NO-Xplode. The use of these would be age dependent and really only used prior to the weights. Caffeine in the morning is great but this type of product won't work well during long practices or a game. One side effect of these can be shortness of breath, this can't be good in an endurance based sport like football.
Making The Right Food Choices
Depending on your level, you may have your meal plans set up for you. Having seen several college level meal plans, I have to say they seem a little bit too heavy on the junk. I see no reason to load an athlete up on junk foods as part of an everyday meal schedule just to get them to eat enough.
If you have to set up your own plans, use the following guidelines:
Choose quality calories - here are example food lists to choose from:
- Carbohydrates - whole grain breads and cereals, granola, oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, "PowerBars". Simple carbs like fruit are best eaten around practice, workout and game times.
- Fats - those that occur naturally in the protein sources, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, canola oil.
Set up your meals with selections from each food group. Shakes should be used as in-between-meal snacks and after workouts. Remember, you are taking in at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight - to get your calorie total of protein, multiply that number by 4.
Example: 200 pounds = 200 grams x 4 = 800 calories per day from protein. You can take up to 1 1/2 grams, so that could be as much as 300 grams or 1200 calories. This works out to 22-30% of total calories.
Taking another look at the calorie suggestions at the start of this article, we decided a 200-pound athlete would require a daily calorie total of 3600 calories a day, or 600 per meal. This worked out to be 18 calories per pound of bodyweight. This serves as a general rule of thumb, you can go up or down as needed.
The Houston Texans use a formula of 15-24 calories per pound, 15 if the person is fat and needs to lose weight and as high as 24 if they are trying to gain weight. This approach definitely requires a diet log to be successful.
When you use a log you enter your meal totals: calories and macro nutrient values and time eaten. This will allow you to make adjustments as needed and keep you on track.
Most higher level teams have a dietitian or nutritionist on staff, this individual would use a specific formula to figure exact calorie needs, taking into account such things as the amount of calories burned during each workout and each athlete's resting metabolic rate (RMR). Depending on your level: high school or college, you may have the services of such a person.
The above information should get you started on a good, solid nutritional approach to a successful season.