Team strategy and physical ability are not the only factors that contribute to football success—players must focus on nutrition and sleeping schedules as well.
The Duke football program collectively understands that eating well and sleeping regularly has a significant effect on both practices and games.
“We preach sleep and nutrition all the time,” said David Cutcliffe, head football coach. “We are very conscious about that.”
The diet arranged for players, which revolves around a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, is centralized around the practice of healthy eating, said Hap Zarzour, senior athletics trainer who works with the football team.
“We aim for a diet... that is sound and provides enough calories to produce enough energy to be able to practice and maintain [players’] weights,” he said.
Zarzour added that players generally eat four or five meals per day to consume enough calories to have enough energy for training and practice.
A typical meal for redshirt-sophomore and offensive guard Brian Moore consists of a “big carb”—such as a baked potato or pasta—a meat, fruit and a limited portion of dessert.
“[Since] we practice so much, we exert so much energy and burn so many calories, the important thing is hydration and drinking water,” Moore added.
Zarzour said although the whole team generally follows the same nutritious guidelines, there is some variation in diet from player to player depending on whether they need to lose, maintain or gain weight.
One of the biggest challenges for players, Zarzour said, is finding enough time in between classes and practices to eat, adding that from time to time players will not perform as well or cannot finish practice because of eating something they should not have or from not eating at all.
“We wouldn’t want [the players] eating a greasy hamburger or pizza before practice because they’ll get sick,” Zarzour said. “[But] when they don’t eat enough, there’s not enough fuel in the tank and they run out of gas.”
As permitted by the NCAA, the staff can provide players with one meal per day, through the training table, which helps them get at least one solid meal amid their busy schedules.
Junior Matt Daniels, a safety, said the table always has two or three meats, pasta and a salad bar and “mixes it up” daily with additions such as a taco bar or tofu.
“The training table provides [us with] the nutrients that we may lack or don’t get throughout the day,” Daniels said.
Zazour said that in addition to diet and nutrition, players need an adequate amount of sleep to be fully rested for practices and games, adding that players should get eight to nine hours of sleep every night.
To ensure players are well-rested and mentally prepared the night before both home and away games, the entire team spends the night in a hotel, said Moore, adding that it is the best sleep he gets all week.
Good sleep habits aren’t only beneficial for the players, but extend to the coaches as well. Cutcliffe said he is one of the few college football coaches to go to bed early the night before a game.
“One of the things I’m going to do is to try to find a way to get eight hours of sleep the night before a ball game and I believe I’m much better when I do that,” he said.
Still, sticking with the football dietary requirements and getting enough sleep could be hard for a typical college student.
“[Football] players need to be very disciplined in their life to be successful,” Zarzour said.
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