Guest writer Christine J. Jones, a researcher at Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine Center, is back to show The Football Educator how “what & when you eat” as a football player can contribute to regulating one of your best performance enhancements – SLEEP.
Using Nutrition for Better Sleep in the Football Player
It is fairly common for the health conscious athlete to spend time and money customizing his or her diet for athletic performance. The effect of good nutrition on muscle building and athletic training recovery is well accepted within most collegiate and professional athletic organizations. In contrast to nutrition, the concept that sleep has an impact on performance has been more slowly embraced by professional sports organizations. Athletic nutritionists have their hands full with plotting out proper meals for their players, making adjustments based on training load, injury, and off season goals. Understanding that a team’s nutritionist could be a key towards better sleep within an organization can create the potential for a new kind of therapeutic pathway when a player is struggling with his or her sleep.
So let me introduce a concept that many teams have not considered: nutrition for better sleep. At 2:00 am in the morning when a player is struggling to sleep, the historic solution is for the player to walk down the hall and bang on the athletic trainer’s door and demand a sleeping pill. Often if alcohol is available, that might be the favored solution to facilitate sleep. Savvy teams, individual athletes, and nutritionists are now using different foods that can help improve sleep as first-line therapeutic agents. Let’s take a look at a few foods that are helpful not only in the world of nutrition for athletic performance but also for zzz’s.
For players looking to wind down at the end of the day:
- Try a Banana before bed. A banana will give you just enough sugar to calm your orexin cells, plus magnesium and potassium to help to relax your muscles. Great for the hungry and tired athlete looking to sleep soon and good for warding of muscle cramps in the morning.
- Serve up some low-fat cottage cheese after dinner. One serving has 7,455 mg of glutamic acid, a precursor for GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter needed for sleep. Plus the protein in cottage cheese is great for muscle building. Just don’t double up on the servings! Too much protein before bed can keep you up later.
- Sip some cherry juice as you wind down. Cherry juice is high in L-tryptophan, an amino acid your body uses to make melatonin. Cherry juice is also full of potassium, a natural blood pressure reducer.
For players trying to stave off sleepiness and/or fatigue and stay awake for just a little longer:
- Spread some Seville orange (also called bitter orange) marmalade on toast. This type of orange has a stimulant and appetite suppressant compound called synephrine. The marmalade combined with carbohydrates from the toast should give you a short burst of energy that won’t interfere with your sleep. Orange marmalade also has vitamin C, which is important in reducing oxidative stress, the natural side effect of exercise.
- Pop some popcorn and finish the movie. Air popped popcorn is a healthy fast-acting carbohydrate that will raise your blood sugar levels fast. A serving of popcorn has tons of antioxidants—more than a serving of most fruits! Antioxidants have the important job of defending against cellular damage.
- Grab a handful of dates. Dates also spike your blood sugar levels fast and have the amino acid L-tryptophan. Dates are high in fiber and will keep you feeling full longer so you can steer clear of midnight munchies. On the run? Bonus: dates are quick and easy to take along.