Haven’t played football since school? Let Dan Hodges, Head of Sports Science for Vitality partner AFC Bournemouth, guide you back into the game…

How can I get back into football gradually after a long period of not playing?

After a long period of not playing football it is important that you ease your way in gradually. If you have remained active within your period of not playing then this isn’t such a problem. Football is an intermittent sport with periods of high intensity and low intensity work, therefore any activity that you have done e.g. racket sports, interval training in the gym, etc. will have a physical crossover on your return to the pitch. On the flip side if you haven’t been active you need to ease your way back in. 5-a-side with your friends is a great way to start – it’s fun and, due to the small-size pitch, there are lots of repeated football actions. Couple this with some strength and interval training in the gym and you’ll be good to go in time.

What position should I play?

If you have played football before then it’s best you stick to your previous position. You will understand what the role entails physically, technically and tactically, which will help you return with more ease. From a physical perspective there is also a certain amount of muscle memory. Your neuromuscular system has been previously programmed to perform certain movements, which will make the physical transition back into football somewhat smoother.

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What pre-match fitness can I do to help?

To enhance your fitness for football it is important that you train your energy systems in unison with the demands of the game. Intermittent runs on a field or treadmill, which you may split into walking, jogging and sprinting at different intensities, will have a good carry over. If you are able to train with a football then this will also help. Any drills that include a ball will help you technically but will also boost you physically as the demands are greater. It is important that you monitor you work to rest ratios as this will determine what types of work you are doing. For instance, if you are working on maximal sprinting then you will need to give your body around 1-3 minutes to replenish in order to be ready to perform maximally again. If you are working on repeated sprinting and training yourself to recover quickly then your will need to be rest between 4 and 6 times the time it takes you to work – e.g. 5 seconds sprint = 20-30 seconds rest. Although long jogs will have an initial impact on your aerobic fitness, when it comes to football the carry-over is not so great due to the intermittent nature. In unison with this it is also important to work on your strength in the gym, this can make you more resilient and help you remain injury free. When performed properly it can also have a big impact on your acceleration and power on the football field.

Typically for a pre-game warm up I would focus on the RAMP concept:

Raise – raise your heart rate

Activate – activate main muscle groups

Mobilise – mobilise key joints and movements

Potentiate – potentiate your neuromuscular system ready for the training session/game.

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What’s the best thing I can do in terms of food, drink and rest?

Leading into games it is important to understand that carbohydrates are the main source of energy. That being said, your choices need to be carefully thought about as the wrong choice could leave you feeling sluggish and not ready to perform. I would typically advise staying away from any ‘white’ carbohydrates, such as white pasta, bread and rice. These foods release sugar quickly into your blood which may leave you feeling hungry within the next 30-60 mins – not ideal leading into a game. Foods that provide a slower release of energy, such as brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, are much better suited as a pre-match meal. These foods should be eaten in conjunction with a form of protein e.g. piece of salmon, chicken/turkey and further carbohydrates in the form of vegetables. The meat portion contains a good amount of protein and fats that will help you sustain energy and fill you up. Protein is also a key factor in re-building damaged muscle as part of your recovery after the game. Veg provides a source of carbohydrate but also contains key vitamins and minerals that will help you hydrate and allow your body to perform many of the chemical processes that allow you to perform at your physical best.

Once the game has finished it is important to try to re-hydrate your body. The best way to do this is through a drink that contains various electrolytes. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium help to maintain fluid balance and muscle contraction. The lack of electrolytes in plain water mean that it is effectively passing straight through your system without adding the key ingredients needed to begin the recovery process. By consuming electrolytes your body can efficiently begin the repairing process and enable reactions to occur in order to return to homeostasis.

“It is important to monitor your work-to-rest ratios”

– Dan Hodges, Bournemouth AFC’s Head of Sports Science

Once you have consumed your electrolyte drink a recovery shake is the next step. This will typically contain a good level of carbohydrate and protein. The carbohydrate will be simple – meaning it is quickly released into your blood (the type you don’t want before a game or at rest) and will help re-build your glycogen stores. The protein will begin the repair process and help to re-build damaged muscles from exercise. This is typically consumed within 30 mins of exercise and can be as simple as chocolate milk.

Finally within 1-2 hours it is important to have a meal. The meal will again be high in carbohydrates and protein and contain some veg which contain antioxidants to help alleviate muscle soreness. A typical post game meal may be something like chicken, sweet potato wedges and mixed veg with an emphasis on rehydration throughout the following night.

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