Congratulations! You have made it through another tough but rewarding football season! You might be sad to see it end, or maybe you are excited for a break. Either way, athletes need to continue to take care of their bodies, even during the off-season- physically as well as mentally and emotionally.
Nutrition Tips for the Football Off-Season
- Continue to Exercise
- Fuel Appropriately for your Exercise
- Adjust your Calorie Intake as Needed
- Hydrate Appropriately
- Include Nutrient Dense Foods in your Diet
- Incorporate Mindfulness into your Life and Diet
Read on for more information about what nutrients your body needs during the off-season, how to eat for an off-season exercise routine, and nutrition tips for preparing for an upcoming football season.
How to Take Care of Your Overall Health During the Off-Season
Although we will mostly focus on nutrition, teens should remember that there are so many other factors that affect their overall health and well-being. The end of the season does not mean an end to healthy behaviors!
These healthy behaviors that should be maintained both during the season and in the off-season:
- Get enough sleep. During football season, you will probably regret it at practice the next day if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. In the off-season there might not be those same immediate consequences, but it is still so critical for athletes and non-athletes alike to get plenty of sleep to regulate their growth and development, muscle recovery, and hormone levels.
- Stay hydrated. Being in the hot sun at football practice might remind you to drink water, but when that ends, guess what?! Your body still needs water to function!
- Continue to exercise. Create a workout routine for yourself that is enjoyable. It may be helpful to include some cross-training in the off-season. Doing other forms of physical activity can decrease risk of injury and overuse of muscles and bones, while still helping you stay in shape.
- Adjust your calorie intake as needed. You might not need to eat as frequently or as large of portion sizes when you are expending less energy in the off-season. Teenagers should learn to listen to their bodies and adjust to what it is telling them!
- Include plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Eating healthy shouldn’t stop at the end of the season. Hopefully you can notice that eating nutrient-dense foods makes you feel better overall and continue doing so even through the off-season.
- Fuel appropriately for exercise no matter how intense or not intense the exercise is. As you continue to create an exercise routine for the off-season, do not skimp on fueling before, during, and after workouts. Continue to support your body in all it’s activities!
Nutrients Your Body Needs During the Off-Season
Your body is a complex machine that needs lots of nutrients to keep things running. The nutrients that your body needs during the off-season are the same as what it needs during the season, but maybe in slightly different amounts. Understanding the basics of nutrition and what different nutrients do for the body can help you determine any changes you need to make during the off-season.
Carbohydrates are what give your body energy- not just for exercise, but for everything! For example, your brain alone needs tons of carbohydrates to function day-to-day.
If your physical activity level decreases in the off-season, you may not need quite as many carbohydrates as you were consuming before. Still, most teens need at least 50% of their calories from carbohydrates, even without exercising.
Carbohydrates are found in lots of different foods. Here are some of the common ways teenagers eat carbohydrates!
- Fruit (fresh, frozen, dried)
- Sugary foods
- Sports drinks
- Granola bars
- 100% juice
We often think of protein when we think of building muscle. What we sometimes forget however, is that so much of our body is made up of protein- not just muscle!
Protein needs will be higher when you are in-season and putting a lot of strain on your muscles and body, but once the season is over, that doesn’t mean you no longer need protein!
Continuing to include strength training and adequate protein intake will help your body stay strong and conditioned, even during the off-season. To get the most out of your protein intake, it should be spaced throughout the day, rather than just consuming a ton at one meal or snack.
Teens should try and get their protein intake mostly from food sources, and should include both animal and plant proteins in their diet. If you are interested in using a protein supplement like a powder or premade drink, talk to your doctor first to make sure it is appropriate for your needs. They can also help you find a supplement that is third-party tested and safe for use.
Here are some of the best food sources of protein!
- Nut butters
- Greek yogurt
- Protein powder
- Protein drinks/shakes
- Soy milk
Fats are essential for absorbing important vitamins. Choosing healthy fats can also improve cholesterol levels and heart health as well as decrease inflammation in the body.
Fat is higher in calories than protein and carbohydrates, so your intake will likely decrease a little bit when your calorie needs aren’t as high, but they are still a key part of a healthy diet!
The following are healthy fat sources that you can include in your diet during football season as well as during the off-season!
- Nut butters
- Oils (Olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, etc.)
- Fatty fish (Salmon, mackerel)
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are what we refer to as micronutrients. They do not provide any calories, but they are essential for other processes in the body.
Vitamins and minerals help with everything from strengthening bones, to cell division, to metabolizing food into energy, to vision, to strengthening the immune system, and so much more!
The best way to get the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals is to consume foods from all food groups and to get variety in what you eat. Allergies, intolerances, or physical conditions may require supplementing certain nutrients if you cannot get enough from the food that you eat. Talk with your doctor and dietitian to make sure you are meeting all of your micronutrient needs!
Yep, water is actually a nutrient and it is used for so many things in the body. When you are no longer running around for hours every day in the hot sun, your water needs might not be as high, but it is still essential to your overall health that you stay hydrated!
One of the best ways to determine if you are drinking enough is to look at the color of your urine. It should not be clear and it should not be too dark. A hydrated teen will have urine that resembles the color of lemonade.
Fueling for a Less Intense Exercise Routine
In-season athletes often figure out a fueling plan that works well for them through trial and error. The same nutrition principles apply when you are fueling for exercise in the off-season. It may still take some trial and error but following these tips will be helpful in finding something that works for you.
- Focus on carbohydrates before exercise. Just because you aren’t going to a 3-hour practice doesn’t mean you can skip out on eating before a workout!
- Stick to simple sugars during a workout if needed. I recommend some extra carbs during exercise if you are working out for an hour and a half or longer. However, a short but intense workout may still benefit from some extra carbohydrates consumed, especially if fueling prior to exercise was less than ideal.
- Eat after exercise, even if it is not super intense. Adjust how much you eat as needed. During the season you may have needed a post-workout snack and a meal, but now you might need just one or the other. Don’t be afraid to eat more if you feel hungry! Your body will let you know how much it needs.
Tips to Prepare for Football Season to Start
As you prepare your body and mind for the start of another season, there are a few things you can do to help you be ready for what lies ahead. Here are some tips from a dietitian!
- Enjoy the break before things get started up again. Let your body fully heal and rest to be ready to go 100%.
- Start working in more physical activity to get your body physically prepared for the season. Nothing is worse than feeling totally out of shape on that first day of practice!
- Start experimenting with your fueling plan before the start of the season. Trying out a new pre-workout meal right before a practice or game might not go over super well. Start learning what works well for your body even before your season starts and you can always adjust things as necessary.
- Incorporate flexibility and stretching into your exercise routine to help your body be more prepared for the intensity of football season.
- Learn to meditate and incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Learning how to work with your mind will greatly help with mental health struggles and immense pressure to perform during the season. Build that foundation now!
- Don’t cut out “unhealthy” foods. There is room for your favorite foods even during the season. Setting food rules for yourself about what you can or cannot eat during football season can lead to binging, obsessive thoughts about food, and other negative outcomes.
- Get on a schedule with eating. If you have been going long periods of time without eating, start eating more regularly and adding in snacks between meals. Sometimes it takes the body some time to adjust to eating more frequently so it is good to start early (or better yet, never stop).
- Focus on getting a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat every time you eat. The only time this might not be the case is right before or during exercise.
- Include more fruits and vegetables to your diet. This will get your body used to eating more dietary fiber without causing too much digestive distress. Remember that the harder you work your body, the more nutrients it needs to repair itself and stay healthy. You are heading into a time where those nutrients will be extremely important to your overall health!
- As you start pre-season workouts and start ramping things up, it might be easy to get the extra calories your body needs from fast food, soda, and treats. While those kinds of foods can absolutely be included in an athlete’s diet, they should really focus on increasing their caloric intake from nutrient dense foods that will make them feel good and provide other benefits besides calories.
The football off-season looks different for everyone. Maybe you play a different sport, maybe you take a vacation, maybe you continue training all year round. Nutrition needs can be adapted to whatever your off-season situation.
I encourage off-season athletes to continue healthy habits. They should include some kind of exercise daily, eat nutrient dense foods, and adjust their calorie intake to their physical activity level.
Doing these simple things will not only make you feel better and live a healthier life overall, but it will also make it easier to transition into the next football season!
Mangieri H. Healthy hydration for young athletes. Nata.org. Published July 2018.
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