The world famous MilanLab at AC Milan’s training facility in Milanello is at the cutting edge of sports science. Swide spoke to their nutritionist about how they feed their footballers.
Whether it is optimising performance, speeding up recovery from injury or prolonging an athlete’s career, the MilanLab has long been associated with excellence. Integral to any high performance sports programme is of course, good and balanced nutrition.
Do different footballers have different dietary requirements or do they eat the same things?
Each player has his own diet, specifically designed by the medical staff to meet their eating habits, but at the same time provides the macro and micronutrients needed to address the training and for upcoming competitions.
What foods should be avoided by footballers?
If a diet is properly balanced, then there are no forbidden foods. Of course, a diet too rich in animal fats, called saturated fats, mainly in dairy products, should be avoided.
Can food play a specific role in recovering from injuries?
Of course, because many foods are rich in nutrients that can "repair" cellular lesions, which are at the basis of muscle-tendon injuries, obviously not traumatic: the omega 3 in fish, antioxidants found in various fruits and the vitamins found in many vegetables.
How is the food sourced and prepared at Milanello?
Organically farmed food (organic) is preferred), then a well-organised kitchen, assisted by medical staff, which prepares simple recipes that are also tasty. We vary the menu as much as possible according to what foods are in season.
How important is the food preparation to a foods final nutritional value?
Food should be cooked at non-extreme temperatures, vegetables should be raw or steamed, and red meat should be either rare or medium rare and fish should be baked.
Are there any particular current ‘trends’ in nutrition that you could tell us about?
There isn’t a season goes by when some self-appointed ‘guru’ doesn’t wake up one morning and decide to invent an ‘absolutely revolutionary’ diet for losing weight or gain muscle tone. It is best not to chase fads, but to turn to real professionals who can seriously direct you to a diet that suits your lifestyle and health. In short, your diet should by tailored individually. It is useless to follow a certain regime, take blood tests, to follow a book that explains how to follow a certain diet and then to discover subsequently in medical exams, biochemical or hormonal changes that can undermine your health.
How important is it to be aware of the source of your food?
It’s very important because the selection of excellent raw ingredients rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids, enables you to put nutritious food on the table that allows your body to function at its best.
Is the cuisine provided for the AC Milan players fundamentally ‘Italian’?
Absolutely, but being a multi-ethnic group we try and meet the particular needs of players with special eating habits.
What is the most popular food among the AC Milan squad?
Chicken breast, bresaola (dried beef) ad fish are the most requested dishes, together with plenty of vegetables.
Do foreign players sometimes have trouble adapting to radically different eating habits?
Yes, but their professionalism combined with the company's ability to meet specific needs allows our group to make sure the athletes are satisfied at the table.
How important is discipline in following a nutritional plan?
I would say fundamental, and that is why athletes entering the association of AC Milan are followed from the beginning to instil also discipline at the table.
Are there particular food ‘treats’ that can be used as motivators or to reward goals achieved?
We use the colour of different food that we bring to the table. By combining vegetables of different colours and serving them with pasta and simple dishes we can enhance their flavour.
If you could ban one food from Milanello forever, what would it be and why?
‘Banning’ food doesn’t really come into a good diet, which is rather a well-structured set of rule designed together with the athlete.
What should a player eat before a game?
There are standard menus, including lightly seasoned pasta (fresh tomatoes and Parmesan are the masters), a second course of light white meat or ham, good coffee, and possibly some seasonal fruit and vegetables.
What is best to eat in the evening, after training or a match?
Integrating sugars with rice or pasta, proteins with red meat, but also lots of vegetables, raw or steamed. To be honest, and to partly contradict what I’ve just said, I would avoid cheese and bread.
How important is it to instil good eating habits in children?
As I said before, it is essential for any child beginning physical exercise to now that certain foods are essential for proper growth and because sport becomes a contribution for a good state of health it is also the family’s responsibility to contribute to this by teaching their children balanced eating habits.
What if your son (future AC Milan player) won’t eat his vegetables?
Fortunately, my children are used to eating all foods, including vegetables; in my practice as a doctor you must always remain vigilant as to where he food is coming from at the cost of passing for pedantic (not to use other terms that young people refer to their parents) and I recommend using serving food that help you grow: first of all fruit and vegetables, at least 5 servings daily.