The Role of the Immune System in Sports Performance
The immune system is our body’s defence system against external elements such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Food plays a fundamental role in all aspects of our life and it is especially important before a game. Incorrect nourishment can lead to performing below what is expected, even forcing a substitution of a player or impeding him or her to play, despite being called up. That’s the main reason why nutritionists highlight the importance of meals before a game, as it is not just one more everyday meal.
“When the player sits down at the table to eat before the match, they must follow a series of routines and habits which they have already tried and resulted in being effective for them to perform at their best. It is not a moment to experiment, they must not pay attention to other players or non-nutrition professionals”, recommends Mireia Porta, FC Barcelona’s nutritionist.
Nutritional education is fundamental and crucial for professional athletes, but it cannot be done only in key moments of the season. It is very important that athletes gradually take in and understand the key role of nutrition, starting from when they are at youth academies as it is a fundamental part of their training once they are professionals.
What general recommendations can be given for a pre-game menu? The first advice is, it has to be easy and quick to digest, and that has to take place before starting the match. At least a three-hour gap between lunch and a game played in the afternoon.
The second recommendation relates to providing the appropriate nutrients. You have to be very careful with food which contains a lot of fibre, as it is very healthy, but it is not the most appropriate before a match. It is better not to eat food products such as artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, whole grains and legumes before playing because they delay digestion and can produce digestive discomfort to the athlete.
Fats can also cause difficult digestion, so it is not recommended either. That is why fried, stewed and battered food products must be avoided, instead of steam, sauté or grilled is a perfect choice. You must not eat cream, cheese nor cream cheeses. Also, choose fish with less fat, instead of eating salmon or sardines (which are very healthy foods, but more difficult to digest) try white fish, which have the same amount of proteins but less fat and are digested faster. The same occurs with red meat such as veal, it is better to eat white meat.
Another aspect to take into account is to avoid food products that produce discomfort to an athlete as well as any sort of intolerance. One example is milk, an athlete can tolerate it well during a training session, but when there are nerves and stress it may take a toll. If we are not very sure about the tolerance, a good alternative is to substitute it for a yoghurt or a vegetable drink.
It is also recommended to avoid hot spices, and acidic or irritating ingredients such as pepper or citrus, which may cause reflux or acidity.
For all these reasons, when nerves are running high in pre-game, the tendency for athletes is to eat menus low on Fodmap, thus avoiding fermentable food products that can cause bloating and digestive discomfort.
An example of a menu:
Let’s imagine a teenager will play a match in the afternoon. The food should be taken at least 3 hours before the start of the game and it should include a first course rich in carbohydrates: a rice three delicacies, some gnocchi or a pesto pasta can be good options.
Also, a second course including protein: white meat such as chicken, turkey or rabbit. You can also serve white fish such as hake, sole, dogfish, cod, etc. Another option can be a cuttlefish or a sautéed grilled squid. You can also opt-in for grilled or scrambled eggs.
As a garnish to gain extra energy for the second course, mashed potato or baked sweet potato is recommended. If they want vegetables, the best options are pumpkin, zucchini, carrot or beetroot.
For dessert, a yoghurt, fruit or compotes.
To conclude, not everything is food: the intake of liquids must not be forgotten as it helps optimize pre-hydration. Drinking soups or juices or shakes in the meals prior to the game can help us get to the match well hydrated and improve our performance.
An article published in The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine —in which members of the club’s medical services participated— now suggests to consider the detailed structure of the area affected, and treating the extracellular matrix as an essential player in the prognosis of the injury.