The summer is once again upon us, and for competitive footballers, it's time to relax, unwind and recover from the rigours of last season. But if you want to be anywhere near best when the new season kicks off, you'll need to start thinking about your summer health and fitness regime now.

1. Stay football fit

It is one thing to stay fit during the close season, but staying football fit is a different proposition entirely. If you’ve ever returned to the field of play after a long spell away from competitive action, you have probably experienced stiffness and aching muscles afterwards. In order to remain as close to match fitness as possible, your body needs to experience ‘football-like’ movements regularly throughout the summer break.

Instead of relying on gym work and jogging, perform interval sprinting sessions throughout the close season. The constant stop-start of shuttle runs and dribbling with the use of slalom training poles will replicate the type of movements your body undertakes during the course of the average match - and this should allow you to hit the ground running when the start of the season finally arrives.

2. Continue to play football

Of course, the best way to stay ‘football fit’ is to play football throughout the summer. While it is not necessary to replicate the cut and thrust of a competitive game, keeping your body acclimatised to match conditions is often the best way to remain fit and conditioned between seasons. Take part in lots of recreational football with friends and teammates, but be careful not to overdo things - so sliding tackles and unnecessary physical feats are out of the question.

3. Eat a mixed, high-quality diet

Too many footballers - professionals included - tend to over-indulge after the rigours of a full football season. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a few treats that you can’t have during a season, you can’t afford to let yourself go by eating anything you like.

You should aim to restrict your fat intake to no more than 20 percent of your daily calorie allowance, and you should restrict your consumption of carbohydrates to whole grains and whole wheat. However, load up on carbs before periods of high-intensity activity, and try to fill up on proteins afterwards. Vegetables and fresh fruit should feature prominently in your close season diet too. As long as you’re sticking to the principles of a healthy diet, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy a few close season treats.

4. Stay well hydrated at all times

Staying hydrated at all times is essential if you’re going to stay healthy, fit and conditioned throughout the summer break. It is almost impossible to continue with a regime of regular exercise and resistance training if your body isn’t getting the water it needs. While there is nothing wrong with the occasional sports energy drink, you should get most of your hydration from water. Some of the leading energy drinks on the market are known to contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar, so they should be consumed in moderation.

5. Stay strong but take a break from the gym

Maintaining your body’s muscle mass is important for a number of reasons. A strong upper and lower body will help you to burn calories more readily, and it will protect you from certain injuries. However, it is also a good idea to give yourself a rest from the gym when the opportunity presents itself. Consider investing in some dumbbells, resistance trainers, ab wheels and leg toners in order to keep your strength levels up without having to waste your summer break in the gym.

6. Think to yourself: Would I be ready for a game tomorrow?

The easiest way to gauge how well you’re looking after yourself during the close season is to ask yourself if you’d be ready to complete 90 minutes of match action tomorrow. While it is inevitable that your fitness levels will dip during the summer break, there is no reason why you can’t maintain a good level of fitness while enjoying a few indulgences along the way. You don’t need to be at the peak of your powers during the summer, but remaining somewhere close will help you to take the upcoming season in your stride.