KNVB, the Royal Dutch Football Association, has introduced innovative measures to help footballers choose the best foods according to their training schedule, including a colour-coded buffet and nudging techniques.

Naomi Brinkmans speaks during the Foodvalley Summit Sports & Nutrition on 11 October. Brinkmans is a sports performance dietitian at KNVB and HAN University of Applied Sciences, providing nutritional guidance to the Dutch national football teams from the under-15s to the first team. She does not advise the players individually, so she has developed a range of initiatives to help them make the best dietary choices depending on whether they are training, recovering or in match preparation.

Colour-coded buffet
One such concept is a colour-coded buffet at the training campus. “They can just walk around the buffet and choose what they want but still within the nutritional guidelines,” she said.

Orange stands for energy or carbohydrates, blue represents recovery or protein, and green stands for maintenance or vitamins and minerals, meaning fresh fruits and vegetables. A large TV screen in the buffet hall provides information about how much of their plate to fill with different foods, Brinkmans explained.

A typical lunch might be half a plate of orange foods, a quarter blue and a quarter green, for example, while on a training day, players would be encouraged to choose more foods from the blue category.

“Football players especially are not really very eager to learn things by reading or listening, but they are by seeing things,” she said. “They remember the colours, and energy is easier to remember than carbohydrates.”

Nudging techniques
In addition to the colour coding initiative, Brinkmans also uses nudging techniques to encourage players to choose more of the foods they shy away from.  “A lot of football players are not really from well-educated wealthy families so their diets are often made up of processed foods and not a lot of fresh foods like vegetables,” she said. “I try to get them to eat more fresh foods and unprocessed foods.”

Considering that people tend to fill their plates with whatever is offered first at a buffet, vegetables are now offered first for the boys’ teams because they tend to prefer meat and carbohydrates. On the other hand, the girls’ teams are offered carbohydrates first and vegetables last, to counter their tendency to skimp on carbohydrates.

Brinkmans aims to take into account the latest sports nutrition research, such as the benefits of working out in a fasted state to stimulate training adaptation, as well as her own research, which suggests football players need less energy than previously thought. She says she is trying to educate the younger men to eat fewer carbohydrates, and to increase the amount only in preparation for a match.

How easy is it to get footballers to adhere to these guidelines? “Football players can be quite picky but if it’s tasty and looks good, you can almost give them anything,” she said.

Interested? Join the Foodvalley Summits Proteins of the Future & Sports & Nutrition, 10-11 October, Ede, The Netherlands with a.o.:

Nutrition for athletes from a dietician point of view, 11 October 14.45 hrs 
Learn from sports dietitians active in the nutritional guidance of elite athletes about their daily practice, also in relation to food and ingredient industry.

More information: Program & Registration