Football players put a lot of stress on their bodies and burn through tons of energy at practices and games. Eating after a practice or game is essential to a quick recovery, muscle building, improving energy levels, and preventing injury! Eating something is better than eating nothing, but there are important nutrients to include after exercise that will be the most beneficial for recovery.
After football, athletes should consume both carbohydrates and protein for snacks. Including fat with a post-workout snack can be a great way of increasing calories for football players with really high energy needs. It is best if football players can consume a balanced snack or meal within an hour after exercise. This might include a smoothie, greek yogurt, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chocolate milk, or a variety of other foods.
Read on for more information on why football players should eat after they play, important nutrients to include after a football game or practice, and some healthy post-workout snack ideas that teenage athletes can try!
Should Football Players Eat After They Play?
The timing of eating as an athlete can have a major effect on performance! It is essential to make sure teen football players are eating the right things at the right times. Some benefits of fueling properly include:
- Reduced risk of injury
- Increased energy during exercise and overall
- Improved sleep
- Reduced risk of injuries and deficiencies
- Faster recovery
- Reduced soreness
Your body responds best when it gets consistent fuel regularly throughout the day. That way, the body is getting a steady flow of energy to support all the things it needs to do!
Refueling after exercise is an especially important time that the body needs energy because you have essentially wiped out most of your energy stores during your workout. You also need nutrients to help your body recover, heal, and get stronger!
Additionally, muscle growth is improved when protein intake is consumed every few hours rather than if it is consumed in bigger quantities at just one or two meals. This is because your body can only handle so much protein at a time and it stimulates muscle protein synthesis more when you consume protein more frequently.
If you’re serious about football nutrition and really maximizing the gains from your workouts, you should check out my Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football Players e-Book. It details the specific needs that teenager football players have, and provides guides on how to gain or lose weight based on your position. The book also includes a 1-month meal plan based on caloric intake needs.
Important Nutrients for football players to Include After a Workout
I like to remind athletes that eating something is better than eating nothing. Although food is an essential part of athletic performance, eating should not bring a lot of added stress.
If you don’t fuel perfectly all the time, that is okay. Your body is strong enough to handle it. Be grateful for a body that can compensate when we don’t do a great job of giving it what it needs!
Still, making your body feel as comfortable as possible is still the best case scenario. In general, after exercise, athletes should include a good source of protein and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates will be used to restore energy and protein is essential to muscle healing and growth. Fat can also be included to help reduce inflammation, absorb essential nutrients, and reach calorie needs for athletes burning through a ton of energy.
Athletes should try to eat protein and carbohydrates within an hour of exercising. This may need to be a snack if you cannot quickly get to a meal. Since so many football players have extremely high calorie needs, eating a snack immediately after exercise and then still consuming a meal within the hour might not be a bad idea!
There are many different food sources of carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are found in the following foods:
- Starchy foods like crackers, bread, pasta, rice, tortillas, pretzels, oatmeal, etc.
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, and peas.
- Fruits (Including dried, canned, frozen, and fresh)
- Dairy products (especially milk and yogurt)
Most teenagers should aim to include 15-20 grams of protein each time they eat, although some may need more or less. Talk with a dietitian to figure out your individual protein needs. Protein is found in these foods (Many of these foods contain fat as well).
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Legumes like beans and lentils
- Nuts, seeds and nut butters
- Greek yogurt, milk, and cheese
Should Football Players Use Protein Supplements?
Sometimes getting in enough protein regularly can be a challenge. Protein powders, drinks, and shakes can be an easy way of getting in some extra protein, but they are not necessary for teenagers and some can even be harmful.
Protein supplements are unfortunately part of a very unregulated industry. That means that just about anyone can put a supplement out on the market without it necessarily being safe or effective. In fact, some protein supplements have even been found to contain dangerous and even illegal substances!
Teenagers should be particularly aware of the risks of supplements because of the damage they can do to the growing body. If you are interested in using a supplement, talk with a dietitian to find out if it would be a good option for you.
A dietitian can also help you find a supplement that is safe and made with high quality ingredients. Supplements should only be used if they have been tested by a third-party.
Remember that most of your protein intake (if not all) should still be coming from foods! Supplements are only meant to “supplement” the diet. Teenagers should always ask their doctor before starting any kind of supplement.
I wrote all about supplements for football players in this article: Dietitian-Recommended Supplements for High School Football Players.
Snack Ideas for After Football
If you need a snack after football practice but don’t know what to eat, have no fear! Here are some examples of balanced snack ideas that can help your body recover faster and feel more energized!
- Protein bar and a banana
- Fruit smoothie made with protein powder or greek yogurt
- Greek yogurt with berries and granola
- Hard boiled egg with a bagel and cream cheese
- Avocado toast with a fried egg on top
- Trail mix
- Crackers, nuts and cheese
- Peanut butter crackers with milk
- Chocolate milk
- Wheat thins and a cheese stick
- Protein drink, an apple, and crackers
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Deli meat, cheese and pita chips with hummus
- Ham and cheese on rolls
- Beef jerky and applesauce
- Nuts and cherries
- Protein drink and applesauce
- Gatorade, protein drink, and pretzels
- 100% fruit juice and tuna with crackers
- Hard boiled egg and a fruit cup
- Fruit salad and greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese and pineapple
- Banana with almond butter and milk
- Beef Jerky with cantaloupe slices
- Protein balls made with peanut butter, oats, chia seeds, etc.
Remember that this is not an exclusive list of healthy snacks, but hopefully this gives you some ideas! Feel free to mix things up- just pair a carbohydrate with some protein and fat.
If you are getting less than 20 grams of protein in your post-workout snack, I recommend still eating a balanced meal within the next hour or so. This will help your body continue to recover and help make up for any nutrients your body might need more of.
How Often Should Football Players Be Eating?
Calorie needs will be different for each athlete, depending on their activity level, body size and composition, height, and more! However, all football players should be eating regularly throughout the day, including before and after exercise.
Athletes with high calorie needs will struggle to eat enough food if they are not eating regularly throughout the day. Spacing protein intake out throughout the day can also help with recovery and building muscle.
I recommend that football players eat a meal or snack at least every 3-4 hours, but some athletes may actually need to eat more frequently! That starts with getting a balanced breakfast in the morning.
Athletes should learn to listen to their body and determine an eating pattern that meets their nutrients needs and makes them feel good.They should pay attention to how the timing and frequency of their eating makes them feel. Seeing improvements in energy, recovery, and muscle growth are a huge motivator to continue a healthy eating pattern.
Work with a dietitian to figure out an eating plan that works for you and meets your needs. They can work with your unique schedule and preferences to help you find an eating pattern that is best for you.
Football players work really hard, and therefore need a lot of energy for fuel, and lots of nutrient dense foods to help with muscle recovery, soreness, and injury prevention. Eating the right foods at the right times can have a major impact on an athlete’s performance!
One of the most important times to eat is after a workout. Football players should be sure to include a good source of protein and carbohydrates within at least an hour of exercise. Many football players would benefit from consuming a snack very soon after exercise followed by a balanced and satisfying meal.
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