UEFA sets out to provide definitive consensus on football nutrition

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©UEFA
©UEFA

Related tags: Nutrition

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has revealed details of a new initiative that provides nutritional advice to footballers in order to optimise preparation, performance and recovery.

The 2018 UEFA Football Nutrition Consensus aims to be the last word on instructing players on the intake, type, quantity and timing of foods, fluids and supplements.

“It is integral that nutrition strategies also need to evolve to fuel players to meet these demands,”​ UEFA said.

“This created a clear need for an updated consensus to establish best practice guidelines and improve player care.”

Presented at the 2018 UEFA Medical Symposium, in Athens, Greece, the consensus has been compiled with the help of 23 leading researchers and practitioners within football.

These include James Collins, head nutritionist for Arsenal Football Club, Graeme Close, professor of human physiology at Liverpool John Moores University and Peter Res, head of nutrition at AFC Ajax.

The consensus will include nutrition requirements to promote fuelling, recovery and adaptation to both training and matches during different phases of the season.

Guidelines for the safe use of evidence-based supplementation will also be provided as will guidance on this growing area within the game.

The new recommendations are a response to calls for a much-needed update to the existing consensus​written in 2006.

In the 12 years after its publication, there has been a huge growth in nutrition research applicable to the physiological demands of football matches and training sessions,

Calls for a set of modern guidelines were also echoed in an editorial co-written by Collins last year.

Increasing physical demands

Writing in the British Medical Journal​, the piece describes how the physiological demands of the game have increased with some high-intensity and sprint activities increasing by 30%–80%.

“There has been an exponential increase in football-specific publications, including ‘fashionable topics’ like the use of low-carbohydrate high-fat, paleo, gluten-free diets and supplementation,”​ it said.

“Keeping up-to-date and adequately processing the copious amounts of research and ensuring appropriate interpretation and application are challenging.”

Increasing globalisation of the game was also considered, as the authors believed it bought “greater cultural diversity and specific nutritional demands, such as training/competing during Ramadan”.

The written piece also described working in a sport where a ‘magic bullet’ was highly sought after by players, coaches and performance/medical staff, adding to the intense pressure on practitioners to deliver something different.

“However, evidence-based decision-making is often impossible because of a lack of evidence of either efficacy or safety.”

“An updated consensus would help to define best practice in this difficult but crucial area.”

Supplements in football

The editorial, which also mentions the “alarming”​ use of supplements in the game, echoes a report by sports website ESPN​ in which the use of unregulated dietary supplements could cause players to fail doping tests.

Described as a “growing problem in professional football,”​ players have tested positive for banned substances that later were discovered to have originated from supplements taken without their clubs' permission.

"As a club we educate the players and tell them to avoid supplements,"​ said Manchester City club doctor Matthew Brown at Manchester's Soccerex conference in 2017.

"It's for the best of their careers that they avoid supplements, but the problem is policing that.”

UEFFA’s consensus and supporting guidelines are expected to be published in a leading sports and exercise medicine journal later on this year.

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