When it comes to the perfect fuel for a footballer, it’s all about getting the basics nailed before you even think about supplements.
Now who’s better to speak about nutrition specifically for a footballer, than a former footballer? Protrition had the pleasure of speaking to Mark Fotheringham, a midfield maestro who played for the likes of our hometown club Norwich City, Fulham and also the Scottish Premier League giants, Celtic.
What would you recommend that aspiring footballers do to improve their diet to enhance their performance?
Well, when you’re a professional at the top of the game it’s worth mentioning that the nutrition side of things is all covered for you – the kitchen staff will outline exactly what you have to eat, how many hours before a game. Which food to consume pre-mach, post-match etc.
An example is at Fulham, you’d have to come in first thing in the morning for your breakfast and under the German regime at the time, it would be quite funny – you’d actually have thin slices of chicken fillet, for breakfast! But it was all about getting the protein in and then of course the multi grain cereals and that.
Personally I’d prefer eggs, poached eggs and some wholemeal toast. Maybe a banana and then really start to think about my fluid intake first thing in the morning too, because at the big clubs they test you on your hydration levels. They do this before your training, because if you’re not hydrated and not got enough fluid in your system, sometimes you’ll be pulled out of training! This is because if you’re dehydrated you’re very susceptible to injuries.
When I was playing for Norwich I was so on it, I used to always have my bottle of water with me, sipping it on the way into training in the morning. Footballers can’t get away with it these days, they take your urine levels!
My advice really is that you absolutely have to take your diet seriously if you want to up your performance on the pitch, especially getting a good breakfast in – you need to get your hydration perfect too.
What food is best to have before training sessions or before a big game?
Well this is an interesting one, back when I was playing in the UK, they used to tell you to load up on your carbohydrates right – which was of course great because it gives you the energy you need. However, when I went abroad it was different, instead of 3 hours before a game loading up on carbs, they’d go for 4 hours. This is because when you have too much say pasta, it puts the weight on you; even as much as 100 grams can affect your performance at the highest level.
For example when you look at Man City at the moment, it’s like looking at robots! The players have not got one bit of fat on them at all! Pep Guardiola is very into his nutrition and it’s paying off quite clearly. He’s very strict with the weight of this team.
In Germany, the biggest thing for me is that you used to get weighed before and after training, so if your weight was 1/1½ kilos over what you’re normally sitting at, the coach would have doubts about starting you in the games!
Before a game I preferred to have rice, too much pasta used to feel too heavy on me. I always used to opt for brown rice with a little sauce or something.
When I first started my career at Celtic, I always used to go for a big bowl of pasta with a chicken breast – then towards the end of my career I went for the rice with chicken. Sometimes I’d grab a couple of slice of wholemeal toast too.
What are your thoughts on caffeine intake – how much did you have?
This is a difficult one right, because they tell you you’re not allowed to have any caffeine. But when I played abroad, all the Greek, Italian and Portuguese players all had an espresso a couple of hours before a game! You don’t see it in the UK.
In Germany, they’d even put on a cup of a coffee and slice of cake for you! Obviously not 5 slices, just a tiny little bit to keep your hunger at bay, but that was because they kicked off at 6pm rather than the traditional UK 3pm kick off.
Then there’s post-match, what was on the menu?
This is when it’s the most important. Basically at the absolute top clubs, when you’re on an away game you’ve actually got a chef on the coach! So they’ve already prepared the food as soon as you step on to the bus. He’d be on there, heating it all up in the microwave they have on board for the lads.
Again, after a game you’ll have chicken fillet and rice. It’s all about your protein and your carbohydrates, replenishing any you’ve lost over the 90 minutes. If you’re playing three games like in the Championship, you have to get that right, straight after a game. The guys have a pre-shaken protein shake for you too.
It’s worth mentioning you’re on the protein after every session, every game. It’s sitting there waiting for you at your locker. You can’t get away with it, when I was in Germany they tested my blood levels and told me I was low on carbohydrates. They watch everything!
They speak about your intake of red meats too, they want players to have plenty of testosterone, because that’s what makes you aggressive.
When it comes to post-match though, we always used to get jealous of other teams because they’d have pizzas! It’s because they were just so keen on players getting the food in straight after a game as fast as possible.
Most coaches won’t have it though, if you’re getting beaten then you’ve got a pizza waiting for you on the coach it’s like a treat! I tell you one thing though, I can’t imagine Man City finishing their Champions League games and tucking into a Dominoes!
So it’s safe to say you endorse the fact that it’s essential for an aspiring or current player to look after their diet?
Listen, it’s massive. You see when you’re not playing anymore, you take your diet for granted, because you didn’t realise just how elite you were! I wasn’t educated on that side of things, I only started to learn about it in Germany, getting your fat percentage low and all that.
At Norwich, Darren Huckerby was a phenomenal athlete. He was an absolute machine. However, he was different in his approach – sometimes Hucks would never have lunch at the training ground. He would perhaps take a slice of cake or a coffee, then he’d concentrate on his main meal at dinner time. He felt when he was eating his lunch he was loading up a little too much. But his way worked too, you see the calibre of player Hucks used to be, he used to be such an inspiration to everyone. When he took his shirt off after a game, he just looked like a Premiership player – he was in incredible shape.
To be honest, I definitely think Protrition would be beneficial to the players. Especially for example you’ve got a younger player, they’re maybe not going to be the type of person that knows how to cook all the best stuff. If you can get your meals in at dinner time from Protrition especially, it’s going to be beneficial. Luckily I’ve got a wonderful wife who’s a great cook, so that helps!