Fuelled for footy

Australian Rules football is a popular sport, played by children from primary school age and upwards, at a variety of levels. It is a strenuous game and all players, amateurs and professionals alike, should take their diet and nutrition seriously if they want to perform at their best on the field.
An AFL match lasts about two-and-a-half hours and, on average, on-ball players jog and sprint over a distance between 12-20km per game while full-backs and full-forwards perform a higher number of short sprints. Over the whole match, extreme demands are placed on the players’ bodies.
Nutrition is important 52 weeks of the year for players, and of utmost importance in the 22 weeks of the competition season. Players who consume a wide variety of food rich in nutrients should meet all their nutritional requirements. Carbohydrates are the body’s fuel for energy and are extremely important in a player’s pre- and post-game diet regime.
Meals that are high in carbohydrate and low in fat are popular pre-game meals – pasta fits the bill nicely. Games are usually played late in the afternoon and sometimes at night, and many players have their larger meal three to four hours before the match, and then top up carbohydrates and fluids one or two hours before the game, with foods such as breakfast cereal, sandwiches, white bread, muffins or fruit.
Similarly, after the game or a training session, players should replenish their carbohydrate and protein stores with a recovery snack to aid in muscle damage or injury repair.
Australian Rules footballers are also prone to iron deficiency, as their stores become depleted through sweating. Players should be aware of foods such as lean beef, trim lamb, liver, pork, chicken and fish, which are all good sources of iron, and include these foods in their weekly diet. Plant foods such as cereals, bread and vegetables contain a type of iron which is poorly absorbed, but, if combined with vitamin C-rich foods such as orange juice, capsicum, broccoli or cabbage, the absorption rate is increased. Iron supplements should only be taken on advice from the doctor.
Many professional clubs now recruit players as young as 17-and-a-half years of age. Many of these players move interstate and have not yet developed sound nutritional habits. Young professional players should seek the guidance of a sports dietitian to help them to develop shopping, meal-planning and cooking skills.

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