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Body Composition: Building Muscle
The physical demands of elite AFL football are high and players are required to be strong, fast, agile,
and lean. For almost all AFL athletes, the goal is to increase muscle mass and strength; and minimise
body fat. Body composition is usually assessed by looking at body weight and skinfold’s.
Set realistic goals
It’s important that athletes set realistic individual goals, as they all have different genetic potential
to develop muscle mass. It is often difficult to build muscle during the competition season, because
the demands of training and games leaves little time for the required resistance training and rest
needed to grow muscles. The off-season or pre-season is therefore the best time to focus on
building muscle.
Increase energy intake
To grow muscles athletes need to support regular strength training sessions with a high energy
(calorie) diet. This calls for a general increase in food intake containing plenty of carbohydrate,
moderate amounts of high-quality protein and limited fat.
Carbohydrates are important to ‘fuel’ the muscles to do the training, which will stimulate muscles to
grow. A carbohydrate rich meal or snack prior to resistance training has been show to increase the
effectiveness of the workout (e.g. lift heavier weights or more repetitions).
Pre workout meals (3-4 hours)
Fruit toast with ricotta and banana
Baked potato with corn and cheese
Baked beans on toast
Breakfast cereal with milk
Sandwich with meat filling and salad
Fruit salad or berries with yoghurt
Pasta or rice with a low-fat sauce
Pita bread wrap with tuna and salad
Pre workout snack (1-2 hours)
Fresh fruit
Canned fruit
Tub of yoghurt
Cereal bar
Flavoured milk
Fruit bun or fruit scone
Well timed protein
There is a tendency for athletes wanting to build muscle to focus on protein quantity. Most male
athletes easily consume the protein they need and consuming more won’t result in more muscle
mass. The focus should be on timing protein intake around resistance training sessions.
Consuming protein after a workout provides the amino acid building blocks needed to repair muscle
fibres that get damaged during exercise and to promote the development of new muscle tissue.
Although protein requirements vary between individuals, consuming 10 - 20 grams of protein within
30 minutes of training can help maximise the muscle rebuilding and repair process.
Quality protein
Proteins are made up of chains of smaller chemicals called amino acids. A protein’s nutritional value
or quality is judged by how many of the essential amino acids it provides and in what quantity. When
it comes to building new muscle tissue you need a high quality protein source that contains the
essential amino acids. Protein from animal sources, such as eggs, meat, poultry, fish or dairy is high
quality, because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids.
One amino acid, leucine, in particular plays a key role in turning on the muscle building machinery
after exercise. The highest concentrations of leucine are found in whey protein from dairy products
such as milk, cheese and yogurt.
Snacks that provide 10g high-quality protein
2 small eggs
30 g (1.5 slices) reduced fat cheese
70 g cottage cheese
1 cup (250 ml) low-fat milk
35 g lean beef, lamb or pork (cooked weight)
40 g lean chicken (cooked weight)
50 g grilled fish
50 g canned tuna or salmon
200 g reduced fat yoghurt
150 g light fromage frais
250g vanilla custard
What about supplements?
Most teenage athletes are still in a development phase in terms of performance and body
composition. When an athlete is still growing and developing, significant gains can be made through
optimal training and good nutrition. Introducing a supplement at this stage may prevent good
dietary and training habits being formed. There is also insufficient information available on the
safety of supplement use in athletes under the age of 18 years.
In addition to the concerns of safety, athletes are faced with the problem of contamination with
prohibited substances, leading to a positive doping offence. The way in which the supplement
industry is regulated may put athletes at risk of consuming a product that does not disclose all of the
ingredients or that may include contaminants. In 2005, the AFL agreed to adopt the World Anti
Doping Agency (WADA) Code. WADA’s position on supplements is that in the end, taking a poorly
labeled dietary supplement is not an adequate defense in a doping hearing. Athletes should be
aware of the dangers of potential contamination of supplements.
For some teenage athletes, who are well-trained and have been completing at an elite level for
many years, a well-researched supplement may enhance the gains of heavy training. But
consideration should be given to its safety and efficacy, and an athlete should consult a dietitian or
GP for taking any supplement.