UEFA-backed consensus sets out best-practice nutrition for elite football

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©UEFA
©UEFA

Related tags: UEFA, IOC, doping

Nutritionists from FC Barcelona and AFC Ajax are amongst a group of experts, who have published a UEFA-backed statement that sets out best-practice nutrition recommendations for elite footballers.

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, ​the paper covers such considerations that include matchday and training day nutrition as well as dietary supplement use that raises doping violation risks.

“It was important for us that the expert group included those actually working on the ground with elite footballers on a day-to-day basis,”​ explains Alan McCall, Arsenal FC’s head of research & development.

“Only with this combination of practical expertise and scientific knowledge are we able to get the right information that will make a difference to players’ health and performance,”​ he adds.

While stating that supplements can be useful, the paper does recommend the footballer’s nutritional programme be centred around a ‘food first’ approach, with supplements used only to meet specific health and/or performance objectives.

The paper, which enlists the help of 31 leading experts in nutrition and football, points to vitamin D, iron and calcium as micronutrients that require supplementation in athletes

It also advises players with restricted eating patterns or restricted energy intake during periods of weight reduction, may benefit from a broad spectrum, low-dose multivitamin and mineral preparation.

While these supplements present no major risk for health, the experts highlight chronic supplementation and/or high doses can do more harm than good citing routine iron supplementation, and possible iron toxicity.

Regarding sports foods, the paper recommends footballers have clear nutritional guidelines to follow on training and MDs.

Where it is not possible for players to consume foods in the form of meals, sports foods (eg, CHO-electrolyte drinks, gels and recovery shakes) can provide a convenient alternative to meet nutrient targets.

Supplements and performance

The expert group, which also includes representatives from the French Football Federation, the Mexican Football Association and the Australian Institute of Sport, questions the role dietary supplements plays in sporting performance.

The evidence that professional footballers would benefit from these supplements is very limited, they say as based on general methodological considerations it is likely there are fewer benefits than in other sporting contexts.

“Since many commonly used supplements will display a large interindividual variability in terms of response, they should be trialled and monitored in training before being used in competition.

“The evidence for some performance supplements (eg, caffeine, creatine) is stronger than for others (β-alanine, nitrate).

“Sodium bicarbonate was removed from this category by the expert group due to its lack of use within elite football.”

The risk of a positive doping test resulting from the use of dietary supplements is also discussed in some detail with the group stating that banned stimulants have been found in so-called training or pre-workout boosters,

Muscle building products have been shown to contain prohibited selective androgen receptor modulators, aromatase inhibitors, β2-agonists, new anabolic steroids and growth hormone releasing peptides.

Additionally, products containing prohibited diuretics, stimulants and β2-agonists are frequently advertised as weight loss or fat burner supplements.

Also, erythropoiesis-stimulating agents, that is, endurance performance enhancers, were found to contain prohibited inorganic cobalt and nickel.

Third-party testing

The paper points to third-party testing programmes now in place that allow athletes to make choices to reduce the risk of a positive doping outcome as a result of using contaminated supplements.

Examples include: ‘Kölner Liste’ for Germany, ‘Informed Sport’ for the UK, ‘AFNOR NF V 94–001’ for France and ‘HASTA’ for Australia.

None of the current athlete-centred quality assurance programmes for dietary supplements tests for the presence of the active ingredients and focus entirely on the presence of WADA-prohibited substances.

Where so much is at stake, the group cites a recent publication​ by the IOC’s Medical and Scientific Commission that assists athletes in weighing up the risks of supplement use.

“UEFA’s Expert Group statement will help practitioners to make better decisions in their own practice about how to tailor nutritional interventions to individual players and training plans, taking account of possible health challenges and other requirements,”​ adds Tim Meyer, UEFA Medical Committee chairman

Project leaders James Collins and Alan McCall says, “As we approach a new season, the proceeds of this UEFA Expert Statement on Nutrition in Football will help to underpin the practical use of nutrition in clubs and federations around the world, as well as providing direction on future research in elite football nutrition.”

Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

Published online: doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2019-101961

“UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite football. Current evidence to inform practical recommendations and guide future research.”

Authors: James Collins et al.

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