AFL is a physically demanding, versatile sport. On the field, different playing positions have different physiological demands. Midfielders generally run the furthest distance during a game and require good fitness with their role on the field requiring repeated sprints, jogging and minimal rest time. On the other hand, forwards and backs might have longer rest times between efforts, but also require a good amount of strength to assist physicality in tackles and marking contests. During training, players will take part in a mix of skills, endurance, speed, power and strength training to assist their needs on the field. Due to these high demands on the body for AFL, nutrition is a key consideration for an athlete who wants to perform at their best. The goals of nutrition for AFL players are to ensure that fuel is consumed at the right times around training sessions and games to maximise performance, nutrition for recovery is prioritised in between training sessions to help with injury and illness prevention, and that nutrition is also utilised to suit individual body composition goals during different phases of the year. Here’s what you need to know about nutrition for AFL and what players should eat to fuel performance.
Fuel for the work you are going to do
Training during the week might vary from two training sessions a week at the club level, to 6-8 sessions a week at the elite level. Fuelling around training sessions is important so that you aren’t running on an empty fuel tank and can maintain higher intensities for longer. Having adequate fuel on board also helps to ensure you have the energy and clarity to focus on skill development. Fuelling for the work you are going to do is a key mantra that we use at Health & Performance Collective. Think about what training sessions you have on, and plan your meals and snacks beforehand accordingly.
- Aim to eat a meal containing quality carbohydrates at least 2-4 hours before a training session
- Aim to eat a carbohydrate-based snack at least 1-2 hours before a training session to ensure you have adequate fuel available for that session
- The same general rules can apply to game day as well
Good quality carbohydrate options include wholegrain breads / wraps, pasta, brown rice, rolled oats, muesli, Weet-bix, sweet potato, potato and quinoa. Closer to a training session or game, you might want to choose lower fibre options so that these digest quicker, such as a banana, muesli bars, crumpets, honey on toast or rice crackers.
Recovery nutrition in between sessions is often under-rated or poorly executed by many players. Recovery is a 24/7 process; it’s not just about what you eat in the 1-hour window after a training session has finished. In particular, consuming protein with each of your meals and snacks across the day will help with continual muscle repair and synthesis. Incorporating plenty of colour (from fruit and vegetables) and also healthy fats will ensure the body has an availability of vitamins, antioxidants and other micronutrients to assist recovery which in turn helps to support the immune system and injury prevention.
Game day nutrition
When it comes to game day nutrition for AFL, there is one golden rule to cover first: don’t try anything new on game day! It’s important to establish a routine of meals and snacks that you know sit well in your stomach and help your body to feel great. It’s not necessarily about creating a strict plan or superstitions around certain foods, as it does help to be able to be flexible and adaptable with a few different food options available up your sleeve! However, knowing what those options are comes down to practising first. Before you try anything new on game day, make sure you try it first on a training day to see how your body feels. In general, aim for carbohydrate-rich meals on game day to ensure your body is fuelled for performance. Meals should be low in fat and can contain a moderate amount of protein. Reducing fibre in your meals 1-2 hours before game time also helps to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) upset during the game – the feeling of nausea or cramps that some may be familiar with if you have eaten a big meal too close to a game before! Some pre-game meal ideas 2-4 hours prior include:
- Chicken & salad wrap or roll
- Homemade pasta salad with tuna or chicken
- Toast with eggs
- Porridge or overnight oats
- Homemade fruit smoothie
What should you eat during an AFL game?
You might have seen the professionals on TV having snacks at quarter breaks and half-time. From gels, to lollies, energy drinks, supplements and more, there is a range of options that can help to top up fuel stores, assist hydration and delay perception of fatigue during the game as well. A well-planned nutrition strategy will help an AFL player to reduce their time to fatigue, so they can play and perform at their best.
The Health & Performance Collective’s team of dietitians have worked with the GWS Giants AFL team for over eight years, as well as their women’s and NEAFL sides. Backed by our experience and nutrition expertise, we have created the ‘Nutrition for AFL’ e-book to help athletes of all levels, to improve their nutrition intake for performance, recovery, injury, illness prevention and more. Our Nutrition for AFL eBook covers our tried and tested game day nutrition strategies for AFL players and provides you the space to plan out your own unique game-day strategy. The Health & Performance Collective Nutrition for AFL eBook has 8 chapters and 64 pages of content to help you with your game, including:
- How to build healthy meals and snacks
- Adjusting your intake for training
- Managing nutrition & injury
- Nailing your game day fuel
- Meal planning for your training week
- Simple recipes for athletes
If you are wanting to take your game to the next level, need help with your energy levels, are sick of unwanted niggling injuries, or simply want some credible and reliable nutrition information, grab your copy of our eBook here.