Lichfield City Football Academy players-Diet

What you eat and how effectively you digest it can impact on your wellbeing and performance.

When you’re busy, rushing between the classroom and football and sticking to a tight schedule, it isn’t always easy to eat the right things. But eating well is important, and not only for long-term health and for maintaining energy and concentration levels. It also helps to reduce tummy upsets.

It’s a good idea to understand how food is digested, how problems can arise and what you can do to minimise the risks. Become familiar with the symptoms of the main digestive disorders and if you spot them in yourself seek medical advice immediately.

From the moment you swallow your first mouthful of food, enzymes in your saliva are starting to break it down, and saliva even protects the mouth against bad bacteria. Interestingly, when we sleep we produce less saliva, which may go some way to explaining why some people have bad breath and a sore throat in the morning. Brushing your teeth before bedtime is therefore important, as it neutralises the day’s bacterial build-up, while brushing in the morning cleans away the bacteria that has accumulated during the night.

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Once chewed, food makes its way down into the stomach, where the churning action of the stomach walls starts to physically break it up before it is moved on to the small intestine. There, the heat produced within the body, and specifically the digestive system, heats the food up, causing it to break down further just as it would in a hot pan.

Digestive enzymes start to break down the carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the food, working like tiny pairs of scissors, cutting up the chains of molecules. Chains of simple sugar molecules are cut up quickly, whereas more complex sugar chains take longer. This is one reason why eating food with complex carbs, such as wholegrains, oats and lentils, provides a more slow and sustained release of energy whereas cakes, biscuits and sweets will result in a quick peak that will fall soon afterwards.

Because simple carbohydrates take only around two hours to break down they also don’t keep us full for long. In contrast, proteins and fats take up to six hours, keeping us satisfied for much longer.

When we exercise we convert any sugar stored in the body first before starting to burn stored fat. If we eat lots of sugary foods there will be plenty of sugar stored away.


Unlike other nutrients, fats cannot be absorbed straight into the bloodstream; they’re not soluble in water. Instead, fats are absorbed by the lymphatic system. As we know, too much saturated fat in the diet can cause serious problems in the heart, so it is important to limit the amount of heavy saturated fats in our diets.

It is bacteria in the large intestine that produces the gas we pass as wind. Alcohol can multiply these gas-producing bacteria in the gut by a factor of up to 1,000, producing a common and unpleasant side-effect the morning after.


Irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is another increasingly common digestive complaint, characterised by uncomfortable bloating, wind and abdominal cramps.  Here, food is moving either too rapidly through the intestines, which often causes diarrhoea, or too slowly, resulting in constipation. While this reaction is usually caused by the individual eating something they are sensitive or intolerant to, as in the case of ulcers, stress is thought to be an important contributing factor.

Meanwhile, eating a healthy diet, low in ‘bad’ fats and balanced with complex carbohydrates and protein, exercising regularly and trying whenever possible to recognise and control stress, will all help you to develop and maintain a healthy gut.

Eat well and improve your performance Lichfield City Academy players.