An Impossible Boxing Day: Why European Football Stops at Christmas
European football fans ask themselves this question every single Christmas. Why aren’t there matches on?
The second edition of the “Barça Nutrition Sports Conference”, took place on the 9th of October, with relevant personalities in the sports nutrition world. The latest trends in periodization, monitoring, nutrition education, and the use of supplementation, among other topics were debated. The book “High-Performance Nutritional Cuisine. Practical Recipes for football” was presented at the event, which showcases 20 recipes created by the FC Barcelona nutritionists for the first team when competing, in order to recover well.
In the first part of the day, Dr. Franchek Drobnik, member of FC Barcelona medical services and the chief of the research department at the High-Performance Center (CAR) of Sant Cugat del Vallés, explained the importance of measuring variables when monitoring the athlete’s performance and health condition. He highlighted that “although we can currently measure everything, we must choose those parameters that best adjust to the targets we want to reach. Measuring is just a tool to reach our goals”. Likewise, he pointed out that sleeping is fundamental for the athlete to ensure their recovery and perform optimally.
Moreover, Dr. Neil Peter Walsh, professor at John Moores University of Liverpool, analyzed the main risk factors for infection in athletes, as well as different nutritional recommendations to preserve the immune health (e.g. balanced diet, adequate-protein intake, considering tolerogenic supplementation with vitamin C and D and probiotics in athletes likely to get sick). He also highlighted that the goal of supplementation, should not be oriented for immune resistance (something did traditionally), but for immune tolerance. Like that we reduce the risk and seriousness of a possible infection.
Dr Antonia Lizárraga’s, responsible for FC Barcelona sports nutrition area, focused on biomarkers used by the club. She explained that “sometimes pathology markers for the general population (e.g. cholesterol, homocysteine, bilirubin) mean adaptation for the elite players”. On this basis, she highlighted that due to the thin line that there is between adaptation and injury risk, it is necessary to enlarge the spectrum as much as possible in order to control the player’s health condition.
To wrap up the first part of the day, Rafael Barleze, scientific coordinator of the International Sport Club from Brazil, presented a clinical case about metabolic optimization, explaining how they take into account the load adaptation processes (e.g. hormonal profile, energy optimization, catabolism prevention), for performance optimization during the match (e.g. increased muscle glycogen reserves, reduction of muscle fatigue markers, improvement of the metabolic flexibility) and recovery processes (sleep quality and the reduction of stress markers) to value the athlete’s performance and health.
Dr. Ian Rollo, principal scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, analyzed how physical and technical demands have increased in football in recent years (e.g. number of sprints, distance covered at high intensity, number of passes), which means that demands of sports nutrition have also increased. He also detailed how during the extra time, which is frequent in the main competitions, different performance variables decrease, like the number of passes or accelerations. For this reason, he explained how the ingestion of carbohydrates during the match can improve the precision of the pass and dribbling, attenuating fatigue symptoms. He also pointed out that the goal of sports nutrition must not only be restricted to the 90 minutes of the match but also to obtain consistency in the performance throughout the season.
Dr Graeme Close, professor at John Moores University of Liverpool, pinpointed, that to meet the requirements during the match and training session, it is necessary an integrated approach, in which the trainer, the coach and the doctor work together with the aim of creating an individualized plan that allows the player to perform optimally. He also questioned how can nutritionists periodize a week without knowing which players are going to play until two hours before the match.
Dr. Victor Hugo Teixeira’s, who is a professor at Porto University and nutritionist at FC Porto, explained the need for nutrition periodization, as “the metabolic impact of food is not the same in the morning as in the afternoon, nor when a training session is performed in the morning or in the afternoon. Because of that, I periodize carbohydrates and proteins during the whole season, during the week and for the whole day”.
To finish this block, Diego Ferreira, nutritionist at Al Hilal, analyzed the importance of nutrition education in high-performance, because “there are many cultural barriers to successfully implement nutrition strategies within a club, team, and its players. Thus, it is important to start to educate with information based on facts, in a creative and positive way”. He summarized that the nutritionist must take into account different aspects before considering an intervention: “who we are treating, what their previous knowledge and habits are, their cultural level, or what resources do they have”.
Dr. Asker Jeukendrup, underlined that nutritionists should base their intervention first on a balanced diet, then on sports nutrition and lastly, on supplementation. He emphasized that players, must not invert the action pyramid using supplementation as their main source, as this cannot compensate bad decisions that were taken previously. He also insisted that “the most important thing for a nutritionist is time. We cannot generate trust in 3 minutes, we need to take the necessary time to explain why we are doing what we are doing”. Likewise, he explained why supplementation periodization is important, as a sustained supplementation can have long term negative effects because endogenous synthesis can be suppressed. On the other hand, he insisted on analyzing the risks and benefits of each supplement, because “there are more than 55,000 in the market, and only a few have solid evidence that they can improve performance. Let’s not forget that some of them are badly controlled and may be contaminated”. To finish, he summarized 10 key points to carry out a personalized periodization program.
Dr. Nicky Keay, endocrinologist and researcher at Durham University, explained the need to consider women’s hormone oscillation on which to base the periodization of external factors, like training load, nutrition, and rest. She stated that menstruation is necessary for women’s health and performance since sexual female steroid hormones preserve bone health, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function. Finally, she highlighted the importance of recording and understanding the different menstrual factors in female football teams. “Monitoring menstrual cycles will ensure that personalized and effective recommendations can be given to sportswomen”, concluded Dr Keay.
To end the day, Dr. Salah Eddine Haddou, Unit Hassania Union Sports Club’s nutrition department chief, emphasized that “new nutrition practices are sustainable if the club understands their potential to improve the players’ and teams’ performance”. For that, it is “important to improve the players’ nutrition knowledge through persuasion, encourage changes in the nutritional behavior in the mid- and long term, and make these changes sustainable overtime”.
The Barça Innovation Hub team