Athleticism in the Premier League
Alain Haller explains the building blocks of athleticism in football.
In the world of athletics, trainers tailor workout routines for each athlete. These workouts are dependent not only on an athlete's specific anatomy but the sport they play as well. In football, athletes must shift between intense activity and periods of rest, known as "maximal intermittent exercise". Players regularly sprint toward the ball or jog across the pitch, or standstill as a free kick is prepared. Let us not forget: running backwards, jogging backwards, walking backwards.
In total, professional footballers regularly run 10-12km per match. This means that players must recover from high-output scenarios (sprinting) without any real-time for recovery. These brief recovery periods are facilitated by blood flow that delivers stores of oxygen and phosphate to muscles, which risk lactate buildup (cramps).
The words, interval training, will cause the ears of any football fan to perk up. In the Premier League, Interval training is a full-time job for trainers, and dieticians are not far behind. Many are still interested in learning the lesser-known secrets of building and maintaining an athlete.
Performing Like an Athlete
Helming one of the greatest football clubs in the world, Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea personifies the potential of an athletic turnaround. While de Gea is tall, lean, gifted with lightning agility and other markers of athletic prowess, these physical attributes alone will not make a player one of the world’s greatest.
In 2011, de Gea was two years into the start of his career at Atletico Madrid when Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, became convinced that de Gea was his club’s future goalkeeper. But when an 18.9 million pound transfer was raised, many felt unconvinced of de Gea’s viability in the UK’s football club.
To put it lightly, de Gea’s first six months with Manchester United were unimpressive. He was quickly pulled and sat on the substitutes bench in place of Anders.
But a mere eight years later, in the 2019 season, de Gea became one of seven goalkeepers ever to reach 100 clean-sheet games with one club (Manchester United). Though Liverpool and Manchester United have boasted high Premier League odds in online action throughout the season, de Gea is a consistent asset for Manchester United. Fans regularly pay close attention to their team’s final line of defence and, no matter the league, a goalkeeper’s performance tips the scales in the team’s stats, rankings, and odds.
But de Gea’s current stardom did not come easy. When it came to his turnaround, it wasn’t only a training regime that needed tweaking. For the young Spaniard, his athletic development required one of the building blocks of athleticism that many fans have yet to uncover: healthy lifestyle.
Fueling and the 4 Rs of Recovery
In de Gea’s case, the spritely athlete needed discipline in the gym. Not only did de Gea require daily doubles at the gym in Manchester, but he also needed to want to train, gain muscle, and show up earlier than his teammates.
A large part of lifestyle is food and drink, which each athlete must tailor to their specific needs. There are foods with sufficient protein; fuel foods that contain lower GI carbs; protection foods like veggies, fruits, and healthy fats; and hydration fluids that keep the body energized. These meals will change on gameday, usually consumed 2-3 hours before kickoff. A surprising facet of fueling for game time is caffeine, generally ingested through a gel pack by athletes today.
Just as important as fueling for a game, training day, or off day is the act of recovery. While goalkeepers don’t experience the same demands as athletes engaging in high-interval scenarios and run nowhere near the estimated 10k per game, they require the same amount of recovery care.
Known throughout the sports world are the ‘Four Rs of Recovery’—refuelling (carbs), repair (protein), rehydration (water), and rest. Athletes must maintain high levels of oxygen and phosphate to fuel their muscles during a match, but allowing their systems (especially vascular systems) time to recover.
If de Gea plans to climb past former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel on the list of most clean sheet Premier League games, he’ll need at least another 12 shutouts. But, on the bright side, he’s already number six on the list of best Premier League clean-sheet ratios. And while the hardest days for de Gea are over following his 2012 return to Manchester United’s home pitch, he must maintain a positive, healthy lifestyle to stay at the top.
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About the Author
Alain Haller is a freelance journalist and writes about nutrition and training.