- Optimise body composition
A lean and lighter physique will assist the player in executing fast and agile movements while also allowing them to cover a significant distance during a match. Recent observations in the last number of years have noted a reduction in body fat across GAA players in general, despite player position and code. To achieve the optimal body composition players follow nutritional strategies emphasising protein intake, optimal fat intake and, in some cases, low carbohydrate intake.
- Optimise Fuel For Training
It is recommended that players consume a diet high in carbohydrate to enhance performance. However, the majority of studies in team sports athletes report eating a diet moderate in carbohydrates. This coincides with FIFA’s 2006 guidelines. Therefore, moderate intakes of carbohydrate foods that cause a steady release of sugar into the bloodstream such as wholewheat pasta, brown basmati rice and porridge, maintaining energy levels are recommended prior to training. A variety of high-quality protein foods and fats are also essential for muscle repair, improving energy levels, reducing muscle soreness, reducing body fat and improving training adaptations.
- Optimise Fuel to Enhance training adaptations
Although current sports nutrition guidelines for team sports recommend consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrate to meet the demands of training a relatively new phenomenon ‘train low, compete high’ argues otherwise. Recent scientific studies have found that training with reduced muscle carbohydrate concentrations (train low) can up-regulate the activity of certain genes involved in training adaptations which can subsequently boost performance when muscle carbohydrate stores are fully fuelled (compete high). However, it should be noted that although reducing carbohydrate stores for training may promote certain adaptations, this may not translate this into an increase in performance in elite athletes.
- Optimise Recovery Nutrition
Carbohydrate stored in the muscle is known as muscle glycogen and is significantly depleted after training and competition. For team sports players training five-six times weekly, rapid refuelling is advised. Carbohydrate foods which are converted to sugar quicker (high glycaemic index), such as white bread, white pasta, may have advantages over those that release sugar slower (low glycaemic index), such as wholegrain bread and brown basmati rice, in refilling glycogen stores.
Muscle glycogen replenishes faster during the first hour after exercise, consuming carbohydrate after this time will prolong the restoration of muscle glycogen. After high-intensity exercise the body is also in a catabolic state, which means that muscle tissue is being broken down. This can lead to inflammation, delayed onset muscle soreness, muscle damage and illness. Therefore, along with appropriate carbohydrate, high-quality proteins, dietary fats and foods high in antioxidant, such as fruit and vegetables, should be essential components of recovery.
- Optimise Optimal Nutrition to enhance recovery from injury
Immediately following a severe injury, an inflammatory response is initiated. Although during the acute phase of injury inflammation is crucial for healing, excessive inflammation, particularly if prolonged, can lead to other problems which can exacerbate the injury. Therefore, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods; oily fish, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and foods high in antioxidants; cherries, blueberries, kidney beans, pecans, into the diet can enhance the recovery process. Muscle injury repair also requires an increased protein consumption as the muscle’s ability to respond to dietary protein is impaired. Foods high in vitamins A, B, C, and D as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc are all important for injury recovery. The use of NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) should be moderated with long-term use associated with prolonging the healing process as they interfere with ligament healing, muscle strain healing, weight training adaptation, and bone healing.