Like any other sport, proper nutrition for a football player is very important.

     Most people know that drinks with caffeine provide a temporary boost in energy. What they don’t know is that drinks with caffeine also provide a temporary boost in mental acuity, as well.  We all, as coaches, have surely said or as players, we’ve been told how caffeinated beverages are not a good thing for footballers either when training or during the season.Carbonated drinks, fruit juice or energy drinks containing caffeine should be avoided, both before and during training.” This statement has become as common a practice as eating spaghetti the night before a match.

     When I played in college, drinking soda or any caffeinated beverage was so taboo that our coach would patrol the dining commons and if he saw a glass of soda in front of us, he would walk by and knock the glass over.  It didn’t matter whom it spilled on or how much of a mess it made.  He would just knock it over where it stood.  When it came to a soft-drink like Sprite, which can look like a clear juice or something similar, he would put his finger in it, taste it off his finger and then either knock it over or leave it be.  

     So, with that being the case, what do caffeinated beverages have to offer the game of football? Actually, quite a bit…and…actually, not very much. Nutritional experts recommend a limit of 500 mg of caffeine daily for and average adult.  The American Academy of Pediatricssays teenagers should drink no more than 100 mg of caffeine daily. People who exceed these limits may suffer from headaches, restlessness, anxiety or insomnia. These are the numbers for the average population and not high-level athletes putting their bodies through intense training on a regular basis.  So, is there a different recommended amount for athletes? Is it higher?  Is it lower? Is the long-held theory of “no caffeine” not really a theory, but a fact…or is it actually a myth?  

     Like any other sport, proper nutrition for a football player is very important. Eating and drinking incorrectly before a match for example, can cause a sudden rise in insulin, followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar.   

     In contradiction to popular beliefs, when it comes to proper hydration, it doesn't matter whether the playing environment is hot or cold. Footballers should begin any training session or match with a "full tank" of water and always have the opportunity to replenish their supply of fluids every 10 or 15 minutes.  

     The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that youth players up to the age of 16 should drink five ounces of fluid during every break, older players should drink nine ounces and all players should continue rehydrating in this way all the way through at least an hour after training or a match concludes.   

     Another aspect to keep in mind and one that I have experienced first-hand as both a player and a coach, is that players should either bring their own drink bottle to training and matches or be supplied their own cup or water bottle in order to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Regardless, the drink inside should, ideally, be a “flavored” sports drink. These drinks contain sodium (which helps stop muscle cramps) and they taste good. Research shows that giving youth players "flavored" sport drinks increases voluntary drinking by 90%, compared to drinking plain water.  This is a great habit that all of our young players should be getting into, if they haven’t already.  

     So, what about caffeinated beverages? In general one 8 oz cup of tea has around 50 mg of caffeine.  The same amount of coffee has twice the caffeine, averaging 100 mg per cup. Caffeinated sodas have 35-50 mg per 8 oz can.  Energy drinks (like Red BullMonster, or Full Throttle) have 70-80 mg per 8 ounces.  Though 500 mg of caffeine daily is the upper limit, this does not mean that drinking 500 mg of caffeine from all types of beverages is healthy.  An athlete that consumes ten cans of soda pop would be getting 500 mg of caffeine, but they would also be consuming almost a pound of sugar.  

     The results of improper fluid in take before a match manifest themselves in the form of lethargy and jelly-like legs. Eating too close to kick off can also cause sickness and nausea. Proper nutrition helps players meet the physiological demands of soccer. The Three Key concepts (among others) are:  

- Eating a healthy diet daily   

- Nutrition before, during and after training and competitions to reduce fatigue, improve performance, prolong endurance, decrease muscle damage and speed up recovery.

- Maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance.

     However, research currently being done in Europe and Asia predominately, but also slowly showing-up in research labs across the United States, is beginning to display an interesting twist to the whole “caffeine and athletic performance” enigma. Two different recently released studies have shown that caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea may actually have positive long-term benefits to the performance of a football player.  For example, coffee and tea may reduce a player’s risk of muscle tears, soft tissue damage, bone injuries and also help increase the healing rate of deep contusions.  Studies are now also showing positive effects from caffeine may have a direct correlation with more efficient recovery from concussions and even helping to alleviate the causes of exercise-induced asthma.

     While we’re talking about drinks, let’s quickly spin-off on a tangent and chat about food for a second.  Eating properly is as important as hydration and even though it has already been mentioned, I want to be sure and nail that piece to the wall of this discussion before we go any further.

     Ideally a player should eat a suitable meal approximately three hours before kickoff. Eating this meal as close to the three hour mark as possible is a good practice to get used to. Eating more than three hours before kick-off may cause a player to feel weak from a lowered blood sugar level and eating any sooner than three hours before kick-off increases the risk of feeling sick. This is why most professional clubs (and even some collegiate programs) schedule team meals about three hours before match-time. Due to the prolonged and vigorous nature of the sport, carbohydrates are a soccer player's main fuel. Good carbohydrate sources include bagels, cereals, beans, rice, pasta, bread, pretzels, fruit, juice, potatoes, beans, whole-wheat bread and tortillas.

     Rotating the conversation back to drinks again, another study also found that coffee might also help prevent cruciate ligament injuries in females.  This is according to a Harvard study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011. They found that women lacrosse athlete’s who drink at least four cups of coffee (36 ounces) per day reduce their risk of soft tissue cruciate damage by over 50 percent. The study also found that female lacrosse athletes who drink at least four cups a day of a lower caffeinated coffee has beneficial effects in cruciate stability, as well; but the effect is much less profound compared to caffeinated coffee. To conserve muscle glycogen, prevent fatigue and in turn, better stabilize parts of the body such as the knee, footballers should also add a carbohydrate-based sports drink to the liquid intake before, during and after training sessions and matches.

     In turn, drinking soda may also decrease a player’s risk of soft-tissue cruciate injury. However, unlike coffee and tea, drinking soda pop is not considered a healthy option. Doctors are reluctant to recommend daily consumption of caffeinated beverages, especially at higher doses, out of concern for the harmful effects that caffeinated beverages can cause.  Coffee, tea and soda can exacerbate symptoms of gastritis or gastric ulcers especially in young adults.

     Caffeinated beverages also have an effect on the cardiovascular system, yet the effects of such on athletes is mixed.  Coffee causes a small elevation in cholesterol levels.  The caffeine in coffee and tea can strain an athletically healthy heart by temporarily increasing the heart rate and blood pressure.  The positive effects of heart-healthy antioxidants, which are highly concentrated in coffee and tea, balance these harmful effects. 

     According to research published in the journal Circulation early in 2009, coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of stroke in athletically healthy individuals.  TheAmerican Heart Association has found no clear adverse effects to moderate coffee consumption defined as one to two cups per day. It is important to point out that the healthy aspects of coffee and tea do not overcome the unhealthy amounts of sugar and saturated fats added to many specialty drinks.

     Saying that coffee makes a double tall mocha healthy and beneficial to a footballer’s performance would be like saying that apples make apple pie good for you.  In both cases any health benefits are purely social.  

     Taking your coffee black and your tea plain may sound old-fashioned, but when consumed daily, drinking your coffee and tea plain or adding only a little milk likely offers a relatively unknown benefit to your performance.  Of course you can still have fun with the order.  Enjoy a “single tall skinny drip without the whip” and be faster, stronger, fitter, smarter and better.