The making of a pro - the diet

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown discusses advances in sports science and Arsene Wenger's influence on the preparations of a modern footballer

Sports nutrition is now essential to the development of any professional footballer, but that was not always the case.

Upon arriving at Chelsea in 1996, Italian striker Gianluca Vialli was astonished by the eating and drinking habits in the English game, which included Alan Shearer eating chicken and beans as his pre-match meal so often it became his nickname and other players not thinking twice before consuming roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.

The application of sports science in British football can, however, be traced to the appointment of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in 1996, according to former Gunners star Martin Keown.

“At the beginning, we were eating steaks just a few hours before kick-off and then suddenly, under Arsene Wenger, it was almost frowned upon to eat any meat,” Keown told Goal at a Gatorade event in London.

“Then it was fish, it was vegetables, carbohydrates - it became very scientific under Wenger.

“With fluids as well, if we didn’t have a bottle of water in our hands the manager would shout at us. He was frightened of the players becoming sick and very conscious of the fact that your immune system is at a very low level when you’re a top athlete.

“So you refuelled and wouldn’t eat for pleasure - it suddenly became very professional.”

The extent to which players can be monitored in modern sports has also helped to garner knowledge which has seen changes made in pre and post-match routines.

During pre-season, many clubs track players with digital equipment placed in their shirts, which produce statistics that provide staff with more information about their behaviour.

Meanwhile, sports drink giants Gatorade have gone even further. Through unique link-ups with football teams – including the Brazil national side – Gatorade’s sports science experts have been able to determine how much fluid is lost and exactly what types of refuelling each player needs to replace the carbohydrates and electrolytes they use during exercise.

One player who has benefited is Tottenham midfielder Paulinho, who says that it is changes in hydration, rather than nutrition, that have had a positive effect on his game.

“For me, it’s not a matter of changing diet. Overall my diet hasn’t really changed,” he explained to Goal. “I still eat the same things at home, I still go to the same kind of restaurants.

“What is important now is the specific hydration. I follow what is considered specific to me to perform better during a match and during training, and that’s how I use the hydration techniques to my benefit.

“It will remain important for my future too in terms of adding to my performance. In that respect, Gatorade has really helped so far.”

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