The elite footballer has never been better equipped to maximise his potential. From nutrition and sleep experts to virtual reality providers, there is no stone left unturned in the quest for success in a world where small margins have such a telling effect
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The science of recovery
We’ve all heard about players plunging into ice baths to help with post-match recovery – or, in futuristic fashion, stepping into cryotherapy chambers. However, although these techniques can theoretically help the body to recover more quickly, when preparing for two or three games in a week or back-to-back training sessions, by shutting down the damage to the muscles, in the long term they can actually weaken the adaptation process. This is the view of Paul Balsom, head of performance for the Swedish national team
and Leicester City FC, UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists last season. “When you’re training hard, oxidants are released into the body and what the body will then signal is a process of adaptation for the muscle to repair and get stronger,” says Balsom. “But with the ice baths and cryotherapy, you are potentially blocking those pathways.”
If cryotherapy chambers are not sufficiently sci-fi, many elite clubs today have sleep pods installed at their training grounds and even employ sleep coaches. “With a player who plays in the Champions League and also plays for his
"They play, they travel, then it's a prep session, then they play again, so what they have to do is become really, really good at recovering"
country, the most they have to do is recover – they don’t have any training time,” says Simon Wilson, a performance adviser who has worked with many of England’s biggest clubs. “They play, they travel, then it’s a prep session, then they play again, so what they have to do is become really, really good at recovering.” For sleep, total blackout from the sun is one requisite, and clubs often send an expert to screen possible hotels ahead of away trips. “They’ll look at bedrooms and quality of mattresses and quality of light and noise,” adds Wilson. Players at one English Premier League club are even encouraged to wear amber-lensed glasses at night as these block out the blue light from electronic devices, which inhibits the natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin.