6. Eat to prevent illness
Maintaining maximum immunity can often mean the difference between success and failure during the season. Highly-trained players are especially vulnerable to coughs, colds and flu as a result of a temporary suppression of the immune system after heavy bouts of exercise. The immune system is particularly sensitive to any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances with a recent study in college students finding poor vitamin D status associated with increased frequency of the common cold and influenza (Willis et al., 2008). The following nutrients are important for immune health: Vitamin A, C, D, zinc and essential fatty acids, found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, oily fish, dairy and meat.
7. Hydrate for optimal performance
Once in a hydrated state, players should drink when they feel thirsty. Traditional sports nutrition experts advised team sports athletes to drink ‘ahead of thirst’ as by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.
However, studies supporting this theory are fundamentally flawed, showing no correlation of exercise performance with dehydration. “The idea that thirst comes too late is a marketing ploy of the sports-drink industry,” says Tim Noakes M.D., a professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Starting exercise in a hydrated state is crucial for performance however the conventional wisdom of how much to drink to prevent a decrement in performance is evolving.
8. Supplements may enhance performance
A well-designed diet is the foundation upon which optimal training and performance can be developed. However, certain supplements, such as sports gels and bars, electrolytes, caffeine and beta-alanine are known to potentially enhance team sports performance.
Creatine is one of the most investigated supplements with regards to team sports as it promotes rapid regeneration of ATP, the energy currency of the muscle, allowing the player to recovery faster after bursts of high intensity activity. Multiple studies have found enhanced player performance after both acute and chronic creatine supplementation in exercise involving repeated high intensity work outs with short recovery intervals (>2min recovery).
Increased performance has also been found in match-simulated protocols or movement patterns within actual play on the field. It is important to note that creatine has been subjected to rigorous scientific studies since the early 1990s with any reported adverse effects totally unfounded.
9. Prevent brain fatigue
The cause of fatigue is complex and influenced by events occurring in the nervous system. Progressive fatigue that occurs during high-intensity intermittent exercise, particularly during the second half of matches has been attributed to the depletion of muscle glycogen stores, reduced circulation blood glucose and progressive dehydration.
However, the ‘central fatigue hypothesis’ is based on the assumption that during prolonged exercise the central nervous system limits your performance by reducing the number and activity of muscle fibres that your body is using at one time. A recent body of evidence has found that rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate mouthwash compared to a non-sweet solution improves endurance performance.
In a follow-up study conducted at the University of Birmingham, brain scans revealed that the carbohydrate mouth rinse stimulated certain areas of the brain involved in motor control. A recent study by Beaven et al., 2013, also found a rapid increase in sprint power production after rinsing the mouth with carbohydrate, which could have benefits for specific short sprint exercise performance such as hurling.
10. Alcohol and performance
Although the consumption of alcohol is intimately associated with Gaelic games its consumption is limited to a handful of celebratory occasions in the successful footballer’s season. Alcohol exerts a negative effect on performance through increasing body weight, reducing endurance performance, increasing fluid loss and body temperature and increasing vitamin and mineral depletion. Alcohol also has a number of direct effects on central neurotransmitter synthesis and release.
These actions affect some or all of the actions of the central nervous system resulting in impaired reaction time, hand-eye co-ordination, accuracy, balance and gross motor skills (Reilly et al., 2003). Alcohol can also impact the repair of even minor injuries (sprains, cuts and bruises) as it increases the bleeding and swelling around soft tissue injuries. Alcohol inevitably decreases training adaptations and reduces performance levels (Maughan J. 2006).