As summer comes to an end and pre-season footy training rolls around, many footballers kiss their muscle building training goals goodbye and farewell the efforts and progress made to the development of their physiques during the off-season. As demanding football sessions become part of every week, they often think their ability to build muscle must come to a halt, and even expect to lose some size over the duration of the season.
Similarly, many football players rejoice when their season comes to an end, as they believe they can now start growing again. They furiously begin stocking up on their favourite supplements; protein powder, carbs, pre-workout and creatine just to name a few. But what if there was a way to maintain your hard earned gains during football season, or even GROW in to the season?
Well perhaps there is, and we’ve got the Ten Top Tips to help you make GAINS during footy season!
1. Eat in a Caloric Surplus
The requirement of eating in a caloric surplus in order to gain weight is a well-known fact that circulates around the fitness industry. It derives from the calories in vs calories out equation; if you consume more calories than you use during any given time period, you can gain weight. But if you use more calories than you consume, you can lose weight. Football players who are highly active and who are likely to possess an above average amount of muscle mass will have quite a fast metabolism and hence a very high metabolic rate. Therefore the quantity of calories you will use in a single day will be high. Paired with multiple training sessions and a game every week, you may be shocked to learn just how many calories you need to be consuming to replenish what you’ve used. Therefore, it is paramount to consume enough calories if you want to build or maintain muscle tissue during season. Try our Free Nutrition Plan HERE to give you an idea as to what your caloric requirements are, and what that looks like in a meal plan.
2. Meet Your Protein Requirements
Meeting your protein requirements may seem like a given, and you’ve more than likely heard this many times before. For muscle growth to occur, excess proteins and amino acids are necessary to facilitate the repair and rebuilding process of muscle fibres, which results in the generation of new tissue and increased muscle strength. When accompanying your muscle building regime with hours of football training and games, your protein requirements will become higher if you want to hang on to your hard earned off-season gains. As you are now expending more energy during training and games, you are at risk of becoming deficient in the necessary amino acids your muscles require in order to repair themselves. If you are low in protein, muscle tissues will be broken down in order to access these amino acids required to rebuild torn muscle fibres after a demanding session. Use our Free Nutrition Plan to find out just how much protein you should be eating, and how frequently it needs to be consumed, as protein cannot be stored in the body and is therefore required to be consumed continually throughout the day.
3. Utilise Meal Timing Strategies
Pre and post-workout nutrition is often spoken about in the bodybuilding community, but is equally as important for performance based sports. The eating opportunities prior to, and after, physical activity should be thought of as the most crucial of all meals. Approximately 90 minutes before a game or a training session, ensure you are adequately fueled. Slow digesting, low GI carbohydrates paired with a protein source is your best bet to provide you with long lasting energy and to prevent muscle breakdown, while also reducing muscle damage as you play. Some examples of what to eat prior to training or a game can be viewed in the following table:
|Brown Rice or Quinoa||Chicken|
|Whole Wheat Bread/Wrap||Tuna|
If you can’t get a decent meal in prior to training or a game, or are running short on time, opt for something quick and easy like a high quality meal replacement shake. This shake will be digested quickly and won’t cause you any stomach discomfort by the time you’re due to start. Something is always better than nothing, so always keep some emergency items in your gym bag.
When it comes to post-workout, or after the game nutrition, it’s common to forget about that protein shake that was the welcome end to all weights workouts during the off-season. It is best to consume some fast absorbing nutrients including protein and fast digesting carbohydrates, which will instruct and equip your body to start its recovery process. Proteins break down into amino acids, which are actively responsible for repairing muscle tears and generating new tissue, while carbohydrates will quickly convert into glucose, which will also accelerate the muscle recovery process and allow you to train again sooner with less soreness. Opt for a protein shake which contains a high amount of naturally occurring BCAAs, such as MTS Machine Whey or Core Nutritionals Iso, and add in a scoop of Dextrose, which is a rapidly digesting carbohydrate.
4. Incorporate Refeeds and Cheat Meals
We know it can be difficult cramming in all the calories needed to fuel your day and adequately recover, especially on game day where you often miss out on several eating opportunities. This is a good time to incorporate a Refeed or a Cheat Meal, either the night you’ve played a game or the following day. The idea behind both of these concepts is to consume a higher quantity of food than you typically would during a single meal, which will allow you to intake a higher amount of calories and macronutrients. This is the perfect opportunity to go out and indulge in something that you typically wouldn’t eat, or catch up with some friends over a meal. You don’t need to feel guilty for it either; your body needs these calories! You need to refill your muscle glycogen stores which have just been used to get you through four quarters of demanding activity.
Typical Cheat Meal options often include pizza, burgers and ice cream, which are quite calorically dense; meaning that they contain a higher amount of calories than other foods similar in size and weight. Therefore, it is far easier to get in the extra calories that you’ve missed that day, or even during the week. Refeeds on the other hand don’t have to be comprised of ‘junk’ food items; you can simply just consume a higher amount of your standard meal options. For example, you may decide to have an additional serving of rice or two with your dinner that night. Just be aware how many calories or meals you have missed during game day or even during the week. This will give you a rough idea as to how many calories to aim for during a Cheat Meal or Refeed. To learn more about both Refeeds and Cheat Meals, check out our article HERE!
5. Intra-Workout Supplementation
As discussed in Point 3: Meal Timing, supplements can become your best friend if you are really struggling to consume enough calories. Protein shakes with added carbohydrates are an easy way to get calories in from quality sources, and can be used around and even during your training or games. If you really don’t have time to fit a meal in prior to your training, a high-calorie shake will do the job, and supply you with long lasting energy while protecting your muscles from breakdown. We know training sessions and games can be long, and fatigue inevitably sets in as you expend more and more of your energy reserves; enter Intra-Workout Supplementation. If you want to keep adequately fueled during your game or training, try adding some BCAAs and quick digesting, liquid carbohydrates into your drink bottle. This way, you will continually fuel yourself through the entirety of your training or game, which will reduce muscle catabolism (breakdown), allowing you to preserve your muscle mass and pull up less sore the following day. MTS Machine Fuel or Core Nutritionals ABC, are our top picks, with Core Nutritionals ABC having the added benefit of beta-alanine, which reduces lactic acid buildup in muscles and hence reduces the onset of muscular fatigue. For intra-workout carbohydrates, you want something that will digest quickly, but provide sustained energy. Our favourite source is MTS Carb 10.
6. Continue Lifting… HEAVY!
With the demanding schedule of football season taking over three or four days of your week, it’s easy to simply replace your off-season weight training sessions with footy training and games. The phrase ‘Use It or Lose It’ cannot be more applicable than in this situation. The human body is highly adaptive, hence why the same training methods and workout routines don’t work for sustained periods of time. You’ve spent months moving some heavy weight, and as a result, your body responded by increasing its muscle mass. To all of a sudden omit the heavy lifting from your schedule signals to your body that you no longer need that muscle mass. So be sure to continue lifting heavy even during footy season; perhaps even consider incorporating a strength based powerlifting workout program into your footy season weight training regime. Because if you don’t lose it, you’re going to lose it!
7. Get Your ZZZs
Those late nights at training mean late dinners and more time needed to wind down before catching some ZZZs, which inevitably means that you’re hopping into bed much later than you normally would. Yes, you hear it all the time. Yes, you think it’s lame. But when you really learn why sleep is so important, you’ll be jumping into bed as early as possible without hesitation.
Sleep is the perfect opportunity for your body to truly repair itself as your body is in the ideal anabolic environment for growth. During deep sleep, your body releases Human Growth Hormone, which is responsible for regenerating muscle cells and tissue. Additionally, while you are asleep, you aren’t using calories for whatever activities you typically tend to during the day. Nutrients can therefore be used to repair muscle tissue, which means more muscle mass, improved strength and faster recovery.
The final, and perhaps most convincing reason why you should be getting your ZZZs… testosterone production! Known to yield increases in muscle growth, strength, training intensity, mood, energy and libido, while decreasing body fat and inflammation levels (goodbye joint pain), elevated testosterone is a must if you are serious about making GAINS during footy season. Studies have revealed that those who get more hours of shut eye secrete higher levels of testosterone, as demonstrated in the below graph. If that doesn’t convince you to choose bed over another episode of Game of Thrones or Entourage, we don’t know what will!
If you find that you have trouble winding down and getting to sleep, or just generally don’t get good quality sleep, a good sleep enhancing supplement can help. We recommend Core ZZZ.
8. Continue To Take Rest Days
You may have utilised rest days during the off-season, giving yourself a complete day off from any form of exercise. It is harder come football season, as you’re likely to want to use your original rest day to actually get into the gym and lift some weights. While it makes complete sense, and we admire your dedication, it’s probably going to be more beneficial for you to take a whole day off from any type of training. This will give your body the chance to completely recover from a gruelling week of football and your own weight training. At the end of the day, regardless of whether you’re putting in the work and having successful training sessions, if you’re not adequately recovering by getting enough nutrients and rest, then your hard work is at risk of becoming redundant. While it’s hard having to cram in an additional session during your day, or another hour after your footy training to hit the weights, you’re better off knocking it all off in the one day. An entire day’s rest will do a world of good, both physically and mentally, and will allow you to train at a higher intensity the following session.
9. Reduce Stressors
Reduced stress has a variety of benefits, particularly when it comes to relationships, working life and emotions. But did you know that reducing stress can also have a favourable impact on maintaining muscle mass? Exercise and training surprisingly induce a stress response not dissimilar to the response of commonly known sources of stress, such as running late, financial instability or strained relationships. When you exercise, particularly during cardiovascular training (including football training and games), your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol. From an internal perspective, when energy must be channeled away from vital internal processes to physical activity, your body releases cortisol to signal that additional energy is required. But if you’re running out of glucose (or carbohydrates), your body will go to the next best thing: protein. And where does it obtain this protein from? That’s right, your muscles, which can be broken down to access individual amino acids that your body will then convert into glucose. Cortisol is beneficial during a life or death situation as it ensures you have the adequate energy to survive a threat, but it is quite clear that playing football isn’t a life threatening activity. Reducing cortisol levels by avoiding, or at least minimizing, all sources of stress will give you the best chance of hanging onto hard earned muscle mass. You can also incorporate the following tips to mitigate exercise induced cortisol secretion:
- Include both proteins and carbohydrates pre and post-training and games
- Supplement with intra-workout carbohydrates during training sessions and games
- Avoid excessive intake of stimulants such as caffeine
- Supplement with Glutamine, Vitamin C, Turmeric and Ashwagandha, found in ATP Science Cort RX and Core Nutritionals Hard; both of which are shown to reduce cortisol levels.
10. Be More Productive In The Off-Season
Football season certainly takes its toll on the body, and it indeed requires a little more planning when trying to gain or maintain muscle. It is therefore absolutely crucial to use your off-season effectively if you want to reach your long term physique related goals. If you’ve spent years building muscle during the off-season, only to end up where you started by the time finals roll around, you need to ask yourself; how effectively you are using your off-season?
We’ve discussed what is involved in the muscle building process: heavy lifting, adequate calories and enough rest. How consistently are you adhering to every aspect of this simplistic equation during your off-season? If your muscle building schedule consists of a handful of relatively difficult workouts per week, with no attention paid to your recovery, including nutrition and rest, then you cannot expect any progress to last with the addition of your football obligations. If your off-season training and nutrition protocols are of a high standard and tailored toward building muscle, which includes heavy lifting, minimal cardio and adequate protein and calorie intake, then you can have your cake and eat it too. Utilise our Free Nutrition Plan to learn what your caloric and macronutrient requirements are, both during football season and during the off-season, to hang onto your hard-earned muscle mass and maximise your muscle maintaining and building potential.