Sports Injuries

14 June 2019

What's it take to make it through the youth ranks of one of Europe's top football clubs? The right diet, and training goes a long way

Health24 spoke to one of the most esteemed football academies in the Spanish top flight about the nutrition and training techniques which allow them to stand out above the rest.

Ever wondered what it takes to get on the path to becoming a top European footballer? For the teenagers hoping to make the grade at one of Barcelona's top football teams, it starts on and off the training pitch.

Alvaro Martinez López, physiotherapist of the U17 RCD Espanyol youth academy, gave us some insight into the camp and what training is like at youth level.

RCD Espanyol are geographical rivals to FC Barcelona, who were once again crowned champions of the Spanish top flight, La Liga. Espanyol finished a very credible seventh, considering the resources available to the teams battling out at the top of the table.

Derbi barceloni, the derby between Espanyol and Barcelona, is the most contested derby in La liga.

For this Spanish side, football is more than just a game; they invest their time and energy in their youth – building strong individuals from a young age.

Focusing on strict diets and training techniques, they make it easier for players to adapt to the lifestyle at a professional senior level.  

Prioritising hydrates and water

While the diets of athletes and professional footballers are similar, it is important to limit fat intake and any foods that have no nutritional value, he says. The best time for ingestion to take place is another factor that the Spanish side focus on.

“For us it is very important what you ingest before physical activity, prioritising hydrates and water, as it is important to avoid injuries.

“There is also a nutritionist who draws up a specialised plan suited to the characteristics of each player, taking into account physical, morphological and other factors,” explains López. 


Different nutritional needs

During preseason training at Espanyol, data is collected and analysed, after which the nutritionist sets up diets adapted to the form of each player. For instance, a midfielder's carbohydrate intake will be higher as their work on the field is more aerobic for longer, says López.

A striker, however, would require more vitamin supplements because the risk of muscle tissue damage is greater among the more explosive players.

RCD Espanyol youth academy

This Spanish side enforces discipline from a young age, and López believes that discipline is fundamental for the boys to be better as players and future professional footballers. Everything from training to physiotherapy starts at the youth level.

"Their talent won’t be enough to carry them through a long professional career if they don’t stick to diets and training, and maintain good relationships with their peers," says López.  

Image credit: Supplied


Ask the Expert

Sports Injuries Expert

Adrian Rotunno is a medical doctor in the Sports & Exercise Medicine fellowship at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and qualified physiotherapist. Team physician for Dimension Data pro-cycling, and Boland Rugby. Special interests include endurance sport, in particular cycling, as well as contact sports.

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