Player Priorities | Maintaining Nutrition and Fitness

adam burton

Maintaining high levels of fitness and nutrition is part and parcel of being a professional football player, but if your regular training schedule is disrupted, things can quickly change. Information around health and fitness can often be contradictory and staying healthy becomes even harder when you don’t have daily support from elite coaching professionals. Adam Burton is the lead physical performance coach for Gamechanger Performance, a company who deliver the PFA’s rehabilitation programme at St. Georges Park. Here, he shares some simple tips on how you can maintain a healthy routine on your own.

Hi Adam, what’s the best kind of diet for football players to follow?

Diet is a confusing term for people, as we tend to associate diets with losing weight. So when working with footballers, we prefer to call it a fuelling strategy. A balanced plate with lots of colour on it is key. We focus on getting the correct amount of carbs, protein and vitamins on our plates instead of eating lots of pasta and no greens. Now it’s getting to the point where people are taking it to the next level and creating nutrition strategies based upon body size, playing position, blood markers and sweat loss, so there’s lots of expert advice out there for players.

What’s the best way for players transitioning out of football to stay healthy?

When they’re playing, they need to consume a certain amount to match the demands of their expenditure. When that stops they don't require as much intake, so not changing that strategy could lead to weight gain. Footballers already eat well, so it’s more a case of adjusting the overall volume of the food they eat. If they are swapping football for other activities like coaching or have kids that they're running around after, they don’t have to drastically drop their intake because they’re still going to expend a lot of calories doing daily life activities. When it comes to fitness, after years of little flexibility in what they can do, it’s nice for players to have a choice and choose activities simply because they enjoy it, whether that’s going to the gym, a bike ride, running or playing golf.

How important is sleep when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

While they’re playing, it will be hammered home to footballers that sleep and nutrition are the two key things. That shouldn’t change as they transition out of football. Your body needs physical and psychological repair, and sleep is the one thing that people probably try to duck out of, but I would say it should remain a priority, just as it was when they were playing. Research says people typically need around 7-8 hours a day, but that doesn’t have to be straight through, as long as you take naps and accumulate around 8 hours during every sleep cycle.

Does a healthy lifestyle play a part in maintaining good mental health?

With the increase in mental health awareness, there is research that shows positive links between a healthy and active lifestyle and reducing instances of poor mental health. Staying fit and healthy could potentially be helpful to people; however, you can be very physically active but unwell mentally. Quite often it’s the lack of routine that can lead to anxiety, so a support network will be the biggest help for players who might be struggling when leaving the game.

What’s the best way for players who are injured to maintain their fitness?

People will immediately be thinking, ‘what can I be doing to keep myself fit?’ but there’s a lot of people that may forget the psychological side of being injured and the toll that can take on a player. I would advise them to maximise their support networks, work closely with club staff and consider taking a break or holiday to properly recuperate. Physically, it’s about engaging in the routine that’s been set by the club medical staff and having trust within them and giving the maximum effort when you can, but also making sure you don’t neglect the mental wellbeing side of it. 

Find out more

It’s a challenging time for all of us, but the PFA will always be here to support you. Any player past or present who is worried about life away from football, can find out more about the full range of coaching, education and wellbeing services offered by the PFA Charity: click here