How Football Players Fuel Up

It’s football season again! In a game where strength, power, speed and skill are all essential to becoming great, nutrition can be a game changer. Football players spend hours a day training, lifting and practicing and more and more understand the role nutrition plays.

A football team consists of everyone from your six-foot-six-inch, 320-pound lineman to the five-foot-seven-inch, 150-pound running back. Each player has similar needs, but very different goals. Many young players make the mistake of not fueling their bodies enough by eating only once or twice a day. In doing so, their metabolism slows down and their bodies aren’t able to perform properly. Ideally, football players will eat five-to-six times a day depending on their goals.

As the director of sports nutrition for North Carolina State University, it is my job to make sure our football players are fueled for peak performance. Here is a typical day of food intake for a NC State football player:

Ideal Fueling Day:

  • 6 a.m. – Egg omelet with ham, cheese and veggies; turkey sausage; oatmeal with walnuts and blueberries, low-fat milk
  • 9:30 a.m. – Post workout smoothie or low-fat chocolate milk and banana
  • 12 p.m. – Deli turkey sub on wheat bread with vegetables and cheese, pretzels, fruit, water, electrolyte drink
  • 2:30 p.m. – Handful of trail mix, peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • 6:00 p.m. – Garden salad with vinaigrette, baked fish, brown rice, dinner roll, broccoli, fresh fruit, water or low fat milk
  • 8 p.m. – Greek yogurt with granola, grapes

Hydration is also important for football. As little as a 1 percent loss in body weight due to sweat loss results in a decrease in performance and focus. For every pound athletes lose in practice, they need to drink 16-24 ounces of water/electrolyte drink and return to normal weight by the next morning.

Here are my three rules for a winning season:

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Decrease risk of muscle pulls, decrease risk of cramping and avoid heat exhaustion.
  2. Fill your plates with color: Load up on fruits and vegetables for vitamins and antioxidants that help your body recover.
  3. Choose low-fat dairy: Protein and carbohydrates help your muscles recover and the calcium and vitamin D in milk aid in maintaining strong bones.

Diana Nguyen, MS, RD, LD, CSSD

Harbourt NguyenDiana is the director of sports nutrition for North Carolina State University and is responsible for the nutrition and well being of all Wolfpack student athletes. Following her motto of “what can food do for you?” Diana advises student athletes on nutrition through individual counseling sessions, meal planning, cooking demonstrations, grocery store tours and team presentations.