by Clare Reilly, Sports Dietitian, Australian Institute of Sport
The energy demands of being a field official, referee or umpire vary as much as there are different sports to be involved in. Activity levels can range from an hour or two of continuous running, as in a football game, to sitting in a chair all day umpiring tennis. Specific nutrition strategies are more important for those sports with higher activity levels. However, all field officials can benefit from improved nutrition and proper hydration strategies.
This article will briefly cover some of the most common nutrition issues for a field official. If you require more information, see a qualified sports dietitian for an individual consultation.
A training diet should optimise all the nutrients that an exercising athlete needs. The most important nutrient is carbohydrate, which provides the body with energy. Carbohydrate is the most efficient fuel source for exercising muscles. Carbohydrate foods, such as breads, cereals, pasta, rice, potato and fruit are needed at every meal and snack to help fuel the body.
Protein is another important nutrient, which contains the building blocks for our body. Be sure to eat protein-rich foods such as fish, low-fat dairy products, chicken, eggs, legumes and meat, to help maintain muscle strength and assist in muscle growth.
Other nutrients, such as iron, calcium and fibre are also important in a healthy diet. Iron is found in lean red meats, wholegrain cereals, eggs and leafy green vegetables.
The best source of calcium is low-fat dairy products and fibre is found in wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables. Aim for nutrient rich foods at all meals and snacks to help boost your energy levels, to allow fitness to improve and to keep the body functioning and healthy.
Ideally, a light, high-carbohydrate meal should be eaten at least two hours before a match. Breakfast cereal plus fruit, pasta with tomato sauce, rolls or sandwiches, baked potatoes with low-fat fillings and fruit salad with yoghurt are all good options. Experiment to find the best one for you. Make sure that you are well fuelled for every exercise session.
Recovery from exercise is one of the most important aspects of training and maintaining energy. During training or games, the carbohydrate stored in the muscles is depleted and has to be replenished immediately after exercise.
Often game venues do not provide the best snacks for refuelling. Organise to have suitable drinks and snacks available after the match. Foods such as sandwiches, fruit, soup, cereal bars, yoghurt and carbohydrate drinks will get recovery off to a good start.
Sweating rates during exercise can vary considerably among individuals. Being aware of sweat losses is the first way of determining how much fluid has to be replaced. One kilogram of weight loss during exercise equates to one litre of fluid loss. Losses also vary depending on environmental conditions: the hotter the environment, the greater the rate of sweating.
Good hydration is necessary even for field officials who have low activity levels. Dehydration, the result of poor fluid intake, will affect reaction time and decision-making on the field, crucial parts of being a field official.
In many sports, officials’ opportunities to drink may be limited during an event, so it is important that they begin the game well hydrated, and take every opportunity to drink during breaks in play. Sports drinks encourage better fluid intake because of their taste, as well as supplying extra fuel during a session.
Nutrition and hydration can be just as important for the field official as for the athletes themselves. Aim to stay healthy, well fuelled and well hydrated for best performance.