The UEFA expert group statement on nutrition in elite football (1) has now been published. After many months of hard work, a sizeable group of experts have come to an agreement about optimal sports nutrition recommendations for football (soccer). This blog will not discuss the entire document, but will highlight some key recommendations. You are strongly encouraged to read the full paper, to see all recommendations, but also to understand the background and the scientific evidence behind each of these recommendations.
The need for a UEFA consensus statement
In an editorial by the great football manager Arsene Wenger, the reasons for this UEFA statement are outlined better, than I could describe them:
“We are at a stage where nutrition has become increasingly scientific and specialised. Players are now monitored very closely to understand what can be done to keep them performing at their best, whether in terms of their body composition, post-training/match recovery or different nutrient requirements.
Eating together has always been an important part of bonding as a team. Previously, food was provided at the training ground and players were educated on how to eat at home. We are now seeing clubs managing every aspect of nutrition (such as the preparation of meals), with chefs being used to deliver club guidelines away from the training ground.
This increased interest in and focus on nutrition brings with it greater challenges. Gurus chasing money and fame can also contribute to the noise surrounding nutrition, as can other key stakeholders such as partners, agents and friends. Clubs have to maintain an open dialogue with their players and the people they are close to, while also maintaining a firm position on performance issues, which is no easy feat”.
And then concludes:
“This Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Expert Group Statement on nutrition represents a vital first step, bringing together the best scientific and on-field practitioners from around the world to add much-needed continuity to recommendations for players and teams. The continued development of good nutritional practices within the game will, of course, also have an impact far beyond clubs’ training grounds, helping to promote good health across society as a whole”.
“We are at a stage where nutrition has become increasingly scientific and specialised" - Arsene Wenger
What can you expect in the UEFA consensus statement?
Well, there are 9 key areas that are discussed. These are:
1. Match day nutrition
2. Training day nutrition
3. Body composition
4. Stressful environments and travel
5. Cultural diversity and dietary considerations
6. Dietary supplements
9. Junior high-level players
The document is divided into these 9 sections and each section was discussed by assigned experts in these areas. The experts were a combination of scientists and practitioners.
Infographics to communicate science
The messages from this document are summarised in 3 infographics, also published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2). The publication clearly states the danger of relying solely on information in infographics, and encourages readers to read beyond the simple messages of an infographic. Of course, there is value in a short summary of the recommendations, displayed in a very visual way. However, it is important to also understand the background and the context in order to make sensible decisions on nutrition strategies.
Here is the infographics for training day nutrition:
Below I have picked 3 of the topics that are discussed:
What should I eat the day of the match?
Match day nutrition is typically around 3500 kcal per day (at least for elite male players). Goalkeepers will require slightly less. Research on female players is sparse. The overall guideline that the intake on match day should focus on carbohydrate with a total intake of 6-8 g/kg per day. A meal should be consumed 3-4 hours before kick-off, that provides 1-3 g/kg of carbohydrate per kg body mass.
If you want to read more about similar topics check out these blogs on mysportscience.com:
The statement concludes that biomarker testing is required to inform interventions like iron or vitamin D supplementation. It is deemed important that this is overseen by the medical and performance support team with input from a sports nutritionist where needed.
Often in football, markers are measured and on the basis of these markers the diet is adjusted, or a supplement is provided. Many technologies are available and many companies try to sell services that link measuring various markers in blood, urine, saliva, hair etc to nutrition needs. Most of these methods are unvalidated and most markers are unreliable and not good indicators of a nutrition deficiency. So, the statements warns that only valid and reliable tests should be used. The consensus statement also states that there is currently a lack of evidence for genetic testing and nutrition prescription.
".. there is currently a lack of evidence for genetic testing and nutrition prescription".
Food allergies and intolerances
There are many companies that claim they have tests that can help to identify food allergies and intolerances. Food intolerances are not immune mediated. Examples are gluten or lactose intolerances. There are no validated diagnostic methods for food intolerances (apart from lactose). Coeliac disease is another common condition that can be diagnosed clinically through validated tests. Many other tests, especially IgG tests are unreliable and not accepted as methods to detect intolerances.
Other key messages from the expert group statement: