Top Nine Supplements for Football Training

TAGS: ZMA, Joe DeFranco's energy bars, protein shakes, Joe Defranco

I’m always hesitant to talk about supplements for football training. While there is a short list of products that can really help your football training, they aren’t magic bullets. And as any coach reading this will know, we’ve all had “the conversation.”

Player: Coach what supplements can I take to get bigger?

Coach: Well, what are you eating every day?

Player: Well, I had some Cheerios, a Red Bull, a burger, and a Snickers bar today.

Coach: {head explodes}

So before we get into supplements at all, first realize that they are—as the name implies—supplements. They supplement your normal eating. They don’t replace it. If you aren’t eating correctly, start. Then, when you have that down, you can worry about supplements.

In addition, some of the best supplements for football players are both very cheap and not very well hyped. It’s hard to justify rolling out a major ad campaign for a $5.00 bottle of something. That’s better saved for the $75.00 and up bucket of worthless chemicals.

When it comes to supplements to improve football ability both in the weight room and on the field, go:

  • Simple
  • Cheap
  • Effective
  • Know why you’re taking what you’re taking

Here are the top nine supplements to help you get faster, bigger, stronger, and more explosive for football.

1. Protein: Five of the nine supplements in this list are what we consider “base supplements.” They aren’t exciting, but they work and they’re necessary. Protein powders are the base of the base. Can you train without taking a protein shake? Yes, of course. But why would you? I know some guys use this as a badge of being “hard core” (whatever the hell that is) but do you really want to be that guy sitting in the gym eating chicken out of a Pyrex bowl stinking up the place?

Protein is excellent for football training, especially for high school and college players because it’s so easily carried around. You can quickly drink it in the halls, on the way to class, or at your locker. You can try, as I did in vain, to eat actual food in class, but most teachers get mad when you pull out a giant roast beef sandwich. (No, I don’t have enough for everyone, damn it.) It’s also very cheap. While it may seem like putting out $25–35 up front is expensive, the truth is most protein shakes made at home with two scoops and water come out to around $1.77. For 50 grams or more of protein and minimal carbs and fat, that’s impossible to beat. And it’s ideal post-workout. You train hard, so get the nutrients into your system as quickly as possible. This helps you recover faster. Recover faster, train harder, and get bigger, stronger, and faster on the field. Simple.

But let’s clear one thing up. Protein is just food in liquid form. No more, no less. All the bells and whistles and marketing hype is just that. Don’t expect to start drinking a few shakes and wake up looking like Arnold.

Start off with two shakes per day—one between breakfast and lunch and one post-workout. Many experts suggest you drink one-third pre-workout, one-third during, and one-third after lifting. This is fine as long as your stomach can handle it. In the summer, it can be tough, so test it out and see how you do. Your shake does no good for you if it’s coming out instead of going in.

Favorites around here are Muscle Milk, CytoSport Complete and Optimum’s 100% Whey.

2. L-tyrosine: L-tyrosine is one of the most exciting supplements I’ve ever come across for football. It’s an absolute lifesaver on those days when no matter what you just can’t seem to get your brain right for the game. This isn’t a base supplement, but it’s a staple around here. Most people have never even heard of this amino acid, so what’s the big deal?

Again, it’s tough to hype up a supplement that cost less than 10 bucks. L-tyrosine is a precursor to adrenaline and blocks the movement of tryptophan (the stuff in turkey that makes your fat uncles fall asleep after Thanksgiving dinner) across the brain. This gets you “up” without causing you to be jittery or cranked out like ephedrine used to do. This is huge for both training and football games. Combined with some caffeine, it’s an unbelievable pre-game/workout supplement. It’s capable of waking you up, firing up the central nervous system, and getting your brain right.

Don’t overuse this stuff. Like everything else on Earth, the more you use it, the more the body adapts. In-season, save it for game day. In the weight room, save it for the big PR days. About 45 minutes pre-lift or pre-game, take 3–4 l-tyrosine caps. You can combine these with a caffeine tablet for maximum effect. You can also use one of Joe DeFranco’s “DeFranco Energy Bars” if you need a pre-training meal, as these have a lot of quality protein and a nice dose of tyrosine and caffeine.

3. ZMA: ZMA might be the most underrated supplement in the world when it comes to recovering from training. Studies have shown that athletes, especially football players, are deficient in magnesium. The harder you train, the more the minerals are burned up. This can lead to poor sleep quality and achy joints.

By taking ZMA (zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6), you get a much more restful, deep sleep. This alone makes it almost anabolic in nature. Studies have shown that simply by supplementing with ZMA you can increase your testosterone levels. You spend a ton of time training, lifting, running, and practicing football. You have to balance that with an equal amount of recovery, and there’s nothing better for recovery than sleep.

Biotest’s ZMA is probably the best out there. You should definitely go with that to start.

4. Caffeine: This one is tricky. If you’re under 18, I’d stay away from this one. I realize most high school kids drink coffee and those femme latte crap drinks, but something about putting caffeine in pill form causes problems. Plus you’re young so you should be wired through the roof anyway.

For the more mature football player, caffeine tablets can be a lifesaver. They get you focused, get the nervous system fired up, and wake you up. This is especially helpful after a long day of classes, work, or playing PS3. Most guys just drink coffee, but this can be problematic. Most convenience stores water down their brew to the point where you’re essentially drinking acidic, brown water. Even places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts can be inconsistent with how much caffeine per cup you’re getting.

Your best bet is to buy a bottle of caffeine tablets. They’re super cheap and safe. One tablet is equal to a cup of coffee. And all you need is one. They’re much more potent than actually drinking your caffeine. Take one tablet 45 minutes prior to a big workout, practice, or game. Again, save it for the big ones. If you keep hammering away, it’ll lose its effectiveness. You should take a week off from caffeine every eight weeks or so. That means completely off—no tablets, no coffee, no diet soda. If you’re really suffering during that week, you’ve been relying on the stuff too much.

If you really want to have a huge day, combine one caffeine tablet with 3–4 l-tyrosine tabs. If you can, drink this down and take a very short nap (15 minutes). As you wake up, the cocktail will start kicking in, and by the time you hit the gym or the field, you’ll be ready to kill.

5. Fish oil: This is another base supplement and something about it just bores the hell out of most football players. Who cares about heart health? Don’t you know high school football players are “unbreakable” like Bruce Willis?

Even if we put the heart health benefits aside, fish oil is still extremely useful for football because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Every time you lift, every time you practice, and every time you play a game, you’re creating inflammation. The longer you stay this way, the longer you’re sore, tight, and unable to train at 100 percent. The quicker you squash inflammation, the faster you can get back to training or on the field at full strength. This alone is invaluable.

Back when I played in high school, I was much stronger than anyone, setting school records by my junior year. Everyone would break my chops and ask what special supplements I was taking. They joked about the steroids I was jabbing in my butt or some special creatine water I was drinking. Truth is—and this is disappointing to most people—I got that way because I was absolutely obsessed with recovery. I’d go crazy to sleep extra, eat right, and kill inflammation as quickly as possible. Because of this, I could train more than everyone.

Think about that the next time you have an extra 20 bucks in your pocket. Are you going to buy some faux testosterone pill and pee out your money, or are you going to do the smart thing, make the boring choice, and get some fish oil so you can recover faster and train harder than everyone?


6. Multivitamin and mineral: Here’s another boring, base supplement that is absolutely indispensable. If you want to perform at the highest possible level, every cell in your system has to be functioning properly. Taking a good multivitamin and mineral can help ensure that your body is replacing the nutrients you’re burning up in your training. And despite what most know it alls will tell you, you do need extra vitamins and minerals. Maybe the average American fat ass who sits on the couch playing video games doesn’t need them but a football player does.

Even if you eat a ton of different protein foods and “eat the rainbow” in vegetables, there isn’t any way you’re getting in all the minerals you need. The fact is most football players are woefully deficient in magnesium, zinc, and copper. This should tell you why you need to supplement.

But you have to get a good product. Taking Centrum won’t get you anywhere. A good multiproduct will require you to take 2–3 pills per day to get the full dose. Take one with breakfast, one pre-workout, and one at night. This ensures that you get a nice, steady flow of nutrients and you replace anything you lose quickly.

7. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is included in all multivitamin products, but athletes need more. Any time you put stress on the body, you need more vitamin C. It also has some anti-inflammatory properties.

Training hard? You need more vitamin C. Stayed up late? You need more vitamin C. Had a long practice where you were sweating enough to fill a bathtub? You need more vitamin C. Vitamin C also keeps your immune system humming. You can’t train when you’re sick, so don’t get sick.

If it’s very hot out, you need more vitamin C because it’s water soluble and will be lost when you sweat a lot. But you should take it even in the winter. Take 500 mg three times per day. Make sure you take 500 mg with your vitamins about 30 minutes before your training.

8. Zinc: Zinc is one of the most anabolic minerals on the planet. While it’s included in most of the good multiproducts, it usually isn’t enough.

Years ago, I picked up a small tip in the book, Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. The author suggested taking 50 mg of zinc twice per day with coffee. This seemingly small practice changed my life. I recovered much faster and actually had a much easier time dropping body fat (I’d been having trouble getting rid of that last 10 lbs before that). Plus, I definitely felt the other positive side effects from having more free testosterone in my system (look it up—I’m not going into that one here).

Zinc is also a mineral. When combined with magnesium, it can help you sleep much better and more deeply (it’s the “Z” in ZMA). Again, you don’t hear much about zinc because it’s cheap. You can get a bottle of zinc for under $3.00 at Walmart.

Look for zinc products where the source ends in “-ate” (e.g. zinc gluconate). This is true for all minerals. When taking zinc tabs, do so with a meal. Taking them on an empty stomach will make you feel like you have the stomach flu on a boat in the middle of a tsunami.

9. Coconut oil: The low fat mania of the 1980s and 1990s claimed many nutritional victims, none more so than coconut oil. This extremely inexpensive but amazingly potent oil is the proverbial bee’s knees when it comes to killing inflammation, combating fatigue, and adding quality, healthy fats to your diet.

Coconut oil has a host of benefits, and if you listen to coconut oil fanatics, it cures everything from night sweats to shark attacks. But we take it because of its anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to add healthy fat calories to the diet.

You’ll notice that the oil is mostly saturated fat. Don’t be afraid. You aren’t going to drop dead of a heart attack from taking it. Remember that saturated fat is one way to increase natural testosterone levels. If you have a hard time finding quality, unrefined oil, simply get unsweetened shredded coconut. Most supermarkets have this in the freezer section or in the baking isle next to all the cool new chocolate chip variations. Add about a quarter cup to your protein shakes and you’re good to go.

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