By E-Perform | Fueling | May 31, 2022
Footballers Diet: Free 7 Day Meal Plan PDF & Ultimate Guide
If you were to ask any sports fan to list who they think are the top athletes in the world, it would come as no surprise to hear Cristiano Ronaldo’s name at the top of the list.
Beyond his talent on the pitch, Cristiano’s longevity at the top level of the sport has been credited to his strict footballers diet regime.
He has been said to eat a high protein diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables, whilst avoiding all sugary foods or drinks.
Remember back to the Euros earlier this year where he removed two bottles of Coca-Cola from the table in front of him during a press conference. “Drink water!”
Quite the statement, particularly considering the reported $4 billion that Coca-Cola would soon after lose in market value.
Nonetheless, a true representation of Cristiano’s dedication to becoming the best by leaving no stone unturned when it comes to his nutrition and professionalism.
Whilst we wouldn’t necessarily recommend eliminating everything pleasurable from your diet, there are things you can take from the Portuguese International’s stringent eating habits.
If your goal is to progress to the next level of your footballing career, ensuring you are fuelling correctly is essential.
So, what does a footballers diet look like? What should you eat and drink throughout the week to maximise your performance on and off the pitch?
In this article we will break everything you need to know about a professional footballers diet so you can put the knowledge straight into your game.
We will cover
- The Food first approach
- The 3 T’s of nutrition (Type / Timing & Total) and how it applies to the footballers diet.
- Understanding Carbohydrates / proteins and fats for football performance
- Micronutrients: What they are and why they are important
- Hydration & performance
- How to fuel for training
- How to fuel for match days
- Energy deficiency and football
- Alcohol & its affect on performance
- Supplements in football
The footballers diet: Food first
The supplement industry has taken over the world of nutrition over the last decade, and for good reason – there is an ever-increasing demand for sports nutrition supplements.
In fact, the global sports nutrition market and supplements is expected to increase from $16.45 billion in 2020 to $35.35 billion by 2026 – an exponential 114.9% rise.
It comes as no surprise then that there is a lot of false information that athletes, including footballers, become exposed to about supplements that ‘can make you run faster’ or ‘recover better from training’.
The reality is, there is no magic pill, capsule or shake that will drastically improve your football performance.
The benefits you could see from supplements are marginal – you will see far greater performance benefits from eating the right foods, the right amount, at the right time, on a consistent basis.
This is the thought behind the food first philosophy.
In our opinion having spent decades in professional football and working with professional athletes throughout our careers, The use of supplements should only be considered once you have built these foundations.
So what are the foundations to get right and to start eating like a professional football player? In this article we will walk you through EVERYTHING you need to know to maximise your footballers diet.
The 3 T’s: Type, Timing and Total
When it comes to fueling for football, the type, total and timing of what you eat is one of the most crucial concepts to understand when looking to maximising your performance on the pitch.
When planning your meals, think about how what you eat influences your performance or recovery, which we will discuss in this article.
Understanding Macronutrients within the footballers diet
To get maximising your football diet there are 3 main food groups you should understand.
A bit of basic knowledge can be the difference between eating brilliantly every day or making poor choices.
Therefore we will now break down the 3 main food groups for your understanding.
The three groups are; carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Let’s tackle each of these separately:
Carbohydrates in a footballers diet
Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source during high-intensity exercise, so it comes as no surprise that they play a key role in football performance.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose to be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, which can be used later during training or games.
Think of your carbohydrate stores as a fuel gauge.
You will sprint, tackle, jump and strike the ball at your best when you are fully fuelled, and your fuel gauge is not creeping into that red zone!
Some of the best sources of carbohydrates for footballers are foods such as pasta, sweet potatoes, rice, noodles and bread.
Protein in a footballers diet
Protein is your body’s main fuel to repair and build muscle.
Once eaten, protein is broken down into building blocks, called amino acids, which are transported to your damaged muscles to start the repair process.
You need to ensure you are consuming essential amino acids from high-quality animal products or a wide variety of plant-based protein sources to ensure maximal muscle repair and growth each day.
Think of amino acids as individual Lego bricks, building a protein brick wall (your muscles).
You need all the amino acids to build the strongest wall. It will stand without all the amino acids (Eg. low quality and quantity of protein in the diet), but it will not be as strong or last as long as a wall made out of all of them (Eg. high quality and quantity of protein in the diet).
Below we have given you a simple infographic of what foods make up complete vs incomplete proteins.
As often as you can choose complete proteins.
The best sources for complete protein are chicken, turkey, eggs, milk, tofu.
The truth about Fats in a footballers diet
Why are fats important within a footballers diet? Dietary fat has many functions in the body and is the third essential part of a footballers diet.
Fat is your body’s second fuel source to carbohydrates.
Whilst carbohydrates are used predominantly for high-intensity bursts of exercise during a match, such as sprints, fat will be used predominantly for the bits in between, such as walking or jogging back and forth up the pitch.
You also need fat to absorb vitamins, produce hormones, protect your cells, and maintain optimal brain function, which each have an important role in your football performance.
There are three main types of dietary fats:
Trans fats – AVOID
Trans fats are found mainly in processed foods, such as processed vegetable oils in fast foods.
These are the worst type of fats for a footballer and should make up no more than 2% of total calorie intake per day.
Saturated fats – REDUCE
Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products such as butter, lard, cheese and meat fat, and processed foods made from these fats.
Saturated fats are not bad for you like Trans fats but they should be moderated. So no more than 11% of total calorie intake should be made up from saturated fats in a footballers diet.
Unsaturated fats – CONSUME/GOOD
Unsaturated fats are considered to have lots of beneficial effects on the body and are therefore the most important fats to make sure are in your footballers diet.
Found predominantly from plant foods, such as unprocessed vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is essential in the diet. Omega-3 is found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, or trout. It can also be found in plant foods such as walnuts or chia seeds.
Below we have put together a basic infographic to show you the 3 types of fats and the sources of them
What are the best sources of fat in the diet of a footballer?
The best sources of fats for football are: olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds.
Micronutrient: Vitamins and Minerals
Fruits and vegetables in a footballers diet
Maintaining good health and preventing or minimising the risk of illness is crucial for football players.
If a player becomes ill, there is an increased chance of them underperforming or missing a training session(s) or matches.
Fruits and vegetables provide different amounts of vitamins and minerals.
High intakes of vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables are associated with reduced infection risk in physically active individuals.
Therefore, as a physically active football player, including a wide range of fruits and vegetables in your diet is essential for health and physical performance.
Hydration in a footballers diet
As a football player, staying hydrated is important to support health and performance.
Exercise leads to body water losses, predominantly through sweat, which is exacerbated in hot conditions.
Where body water losses are not replaced during a game, players could become dehydrated and experience drops in performance. But how can you monitor your hydration to prevent this?
Research has indicated that drinking according to thirst may not be a reliable method of staying hydrated in football.
An easy practical solution is to monitor your urine colour using the chart below.
Players should target urine that is pale yellow in colour. The darker your urine, the more likely you are dehydrated.
If this is the case, increase your fluid intake and retest your urine colour to determine hydration.
Below is a simple guide you can save to your phone to help you access your hydration status before training or a match.
The complete footballers diet:
How to fuel for training
Carbohydrates recommendations for football training
The amount of carbohydrates you require depends on the amount of energy you are expending.
When building your food plate, you should aim to fuel for the work required.
This is known as periodising your fueling. Food periodisation basically means eating different types and amounts of foods that match your football training.
As your football training will vary from easy days to hard days – your carbohydrate consumption should match.
This means adjusting your carbohydrate intake throughout the week to match the energy you will need for different training sessions or match days.
Below we have put together an infographic to outline of the typical carbohydrate demands for a professional player during different points of the season:
So how much should a footballer eat to fuel for maximum performance?
The most important two days to make sure you get right is fueling is the day before a match and on match day. To get a simple plan for the day before a game and game day, check out the pre football meal article.
The daily carbohydrate requirements for training should operate on a sliding scale of 3-8g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass per day dependent on:
- Specific training scenario – High-intensity or multiple sessions in a day may demand an increased carbohydrate intake.
- Fixture schedule – Multiple matches in a week would increase carbohydrate demands.
- Player-specific training goals – For example, if a player was looking to increase muscle mass or lose fat mass in pre-season, greater/reduced carbohydrate intake may be necessary to increase/decrease total calorie intake, respectively.
Protein recommendations for a footballers diet
Unlike carbohydrates, Protein intake should generally remain constant throughout the week.
Protein requirements for athletes is a topic that can be pretty confusing due to different types of athletes requiring different amounts of protein, based on the kind of exercise they perform.
The professional football player mixes endurance and resistance training, so their protein needs are relatively high.
Aim to consume 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of body mass per day.
While meeting total protein needs each day is a priority, it is equally important to space out your protein evenly in a day.
Aim to achieve intakes of 20-25g of high quality (complete) protein every 3-4 hours.
We have put together an infographic below to help simplify what we are recommending when it comes to protein and footballers diets.
There is emerging evidence that consuming 30-60g of casein protein prior to sleep can enhance overnight protein synthesis.
In other words, consuming dairy foods such as milk or cottage cheese in your final meal of the day before bed could improve muscle repair and growth overnight.
Footballers diet and Fat recommendations for training
Fat intake should remain constant throughout the week.
Although there are no specific recommendations for fat intake, footballers should aim to keep fat ≥20% of total calories to prevent adverse health effects.
There are no dietary reference intake recommendations for omega-3 in athletes, but it is generally advised to consume between 250-500mg per day of omega-3 in adults or about 2 servings of oily fish (100g each) per week.
If you are not a fan of fish, consider ingesting a wide range of plant sources of omega-3. However, research suggests that plant-based omega-3 is not as well absorbed by the body as omega-3 from oily fish (<3% in males, <10% in females).
Therefore, you may want to consider using an omega-3 supplement to meet your daily requirement.
Fruits and Vegetable recommendations for football training
We recommend that players ‘eat the rainbow’ by consuming different colours of fruit and vegetables each day.
Aim for five different colours of fruit or vegetables across a day, with two different colours at each meal.
For elite footballers, the demands of both training and match play may also increase the requirements for certain micronutrients to support health, growth, and development of the body:
Vitamin D recommendations for footballers
- Many athletes, including football players, present with vitamin D deficiency, especially in the winter months, which has been shown to have adverse effects on muscle and immune function.
- Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin via sunlight exposure, with <20% of daily needs coming from the diet. However, during the winter months, UV radiation from the sun is insufficient to produce vitamin D in the body at high latitudes (Eg. in countries far from the equator).
- If a deficiency is observed, supplementing with 2000 IU per day of vitamin D is recommended.
Iron for footballers
- Iron assists in the transport of oxygen to the muscles and energy metabolism. Thus, iron is especially important to football players due to the high work demands placed on their muscles during training and match play.
- Iron deficiency can reduce aerobic performance, which could impact a player’s ability to train appropriately and produce competitive performances. Thus, it is important to monitor your iron status, to avoid deficiency.
- Deficiency is most common in female athletes (~15–35%); however, male athletes also present with deficiency (~5–11%).
- Dietary sources of iron include red meats, pulses, legumes, dark green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, and broccoli), nuts and seeds.
Calcium for footballers
- Calcium is important for the maintenance of bone tissues, muscles, and nerve function.
- Calcium may be lost through sweat and urine loss. Thus, particular attention should be given to football players training or competing in hot environments.
- Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and soya beans (Eg. tofu).
The complete footballers diet: Fuelling for match day
Pre Match fueling
For a detailed look into the pre match meal – please check out our article on pre football meal here
In summary however Carbohydrates should take priority before match day.
High carbohydrate intakes can delay fatigue and enhance your ability to perform intermittent high-intensity bursts of exercise, such as sprints, during match play. Fuelling should start in the day(s) leading up to match day.
On the day prior to a match (match day -1), training is usually light, but carbohydrates should be increased to at least 6-8g per kg of body mass to increase your energy stores available for the match.
On match day, carbohydrate intake should remain high.
The pre football meal is particularly important. Aim to consume a carbohydrate-rich meal containing 1-3g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass 3-4 hours before kick-off.
Nerves and excitement before a game can often reduce your appetite, so ensuring this meal is low in fat and fibre to make it easily digestible is important to allow you to fuel up and to minimise the risk of stomach discomfort before/during the game.
Just as you want to be optimally fuelled for a game with adequate carbohydrates, you want to be well hydrated with adequate fluid intake before kick-off. Aim to ingest 5-7ml per kg of body mass of fluid in the 2-4 hours prior to kick-off, ensuring your urine is pale yellow in colour.
In game football fuelling
Use the time just before kick-off and the halftime window as opportunities to fuel and refuel with carbohydrates and fluids.
Aim to consume ~30-60g of carbohydrates after your warmup before the game and at half time. A brilliant way to do this is using energy gels for football.
The best energy gels for football are
Supplement for football link
Halftime should also be used as an opportunity to rehydrate with fluids.
Sweat rates differ from player to player, so some forward planning is required to understand your individual sweat rate during games.
Sweat rates are also influenced by the intensity of the game and environmental conditions. Aim to drink sufficient fluids to prevent a deficit of >2-3% of pre-exercise body mass during match play while avoiding gains in body mass.
Players can consume carbohydrates alongside water or within a sports drink, based on individual preference.
Test each refuelling strategy during pre-season games or high-intensity training sessions to determine your preference based on digestibility and feelings of gut discomfort.
Post-game football fuelling
Recovery is the primary focus following match play and can be split into three stages:
With your post-match meals and snacks, aim to consume:
- 1g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass per hour for 4 hours
- 20-25g of (high quality) protein every 3–4 hours
Consuming fluids with sodium or sodium-containing snacks/foods helps replace sweat sodium losses, stimulate thirst, and retain the ingested fluids.
Flavoured milk is a great post-game drink that ticks each of these boxes, is easy to consume and provides you with carbohydrates and protein to refuel and start repairing damaged muscle immediately following a game.
Refuelling should continue into the day after a match (match day +1), maintaining intakes of 6-8g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass.
During congested fixture schedules where you have two or more games in a week, this intake should be extended to 48-72 hours after the match to replenish and ensure adequate fuel levels for the following game(s).
For an insight into the types of meals a footballer could consume throughout the week, check out our posts on the 7 best football recipes to improve your game and an example 7-day meal plan to maximise your football performance!
Energy Deficiency in a footballers diet (RED-S)
Many footballers tend to avoid or heavily restrict food intake of certain foods such as carbohydrates or dietary fats to improve their body shape or because they think it is “healthy” and will keep their body fat down.
In reality, this could have a number of detrimental effects on your health and performance. These effects are characterised in the Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) model:
Ensuring you are eating and drinking adequately to fuel performance by following the recommendations for carbohydrates, protein and fats outlined earlier in this article will help you avoid these adverse effects.
Alcohol and a footballers diet
Hopefully, it comes as no surprise that alcohol should be avoided before a game if you want to perform at your best. But what about when that final whistle blows? What damage, if any, will a few pints do to your recovery?
Whilst occasional intake of small amounts of alcohol (no more than 2 units/day) is not harmful, it can interfere with recovery by impairing:
- Liver and glycogen resynthesis (refuelling of energy)
- Myofibrillar protein synthesis (repairing of muscle)
- Retention of body water (rehydration)
Drinking large doses of alcohol could lead to impaired motor function and unwanted body fat gains due to excessive intake of calories.
Therefore, our recommendation is that players should avoid alcohol during key periods of training and match play when recovery is a priority.
Supplements within a footballers diet
As mentioned earlier in this article, your diet should be centred around the ‘food first’ philosophy to meet your nutritional needs. However, supplements can be used to meet specific health and/or performance objectives in certain instances.
Check out our blog on supplements for football players for a complete breakdown.
Best Footballers diet: The Conclusion
In this guide we have tried to give you as much general knowledge and insight about footballers diets as we can showing you exactly all the things premiership footballers diet plan would consist of.
We have learnt what carbohydrates, protein and fats are. What role they play in your game and the best sources for each. We have looked into periodising your food to match your training demands, hydration, alcohol and supplements in football.
If you would now like to take this knowledge into how to build your ultimate pre match football meal and fuel like the pros in the 24 hours leading into a game – check out the article here or click on the image above.
Please feel free to download and share the images and infographics within this article your teammates to get your whole team fueling brilliantly for every training session and match.
If you have enjoyed or learnt anything from this article we would hugely appreciate tagging / liking and sharing on social channels, sharing this article with a friend or recommending us to your team mate, as it will help us grow and allow us to then bring even more value to you!
If you would like to get some simple actionable advice and tips check out the below articles
We have put together an example of the type of meals professional players we work with might consume in a typical match week – Download it here.
To combine your footballers diet and training program check out the fitness guide here
Lacking inspiration with what to cook? We’ve got you covered with our FREE 7 best football recipes. Pair this with the 7-day meal plan to start planning to make a proper impact and improve your nutrition.
Leave no doubt in your game