What do professional footballers eat?
For athletes at any level, what they eat is essential to the way they are able to perform. For professional athletes, what you eat is even more important.
Some of the best athletes in the world are footballers, especially those playing at the elite level such as the Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain or the Bundesliga in Germany.
All football clubs in these leading divisions will have an in-house nutritionist along with a head chef and other support staff, specifically focussing on players’ diets and their overall health and wellbeing.
This helps to ensure professional footballers are eating the right types of food at the right time, ensuring they are in peak physical condition for maximum performance during matches.
What’s in a professional footballer’s diet?
When it comes to what to eat as a professional footballer, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every footballer will have different requirements depending on their weight, height, body fat percentage, muscle mass, as well as their position on the field.
A central midfielder like Jordan Henderson, for example, will have very different requirements to a central defender such as Virgil Van Dijk or a centre forward like Harry Kane. Players in these positions perform different roles with central midfielders running an average of 11.2km per game, central defenders 9.4km and centre forwards 9.5km.
Not only do the distances these players run differ, but the way they run those distances also differ with centre forwards and central defenders often carrying out more short sprints, rather than the constant motions of a central midfielder.
Whilst the individual diets of footballers will be tweaked by a nutritionist, the overall composition of what footballers eat doesn’t really change that much. Here are some of the primary components of a Premier League footballer’s diet:
Like any athlete, carbs are an important part of a footballer’s diet as it provides the fuel to keep them going, in training and in matches. Carbohydrates help to fill up a footballer’s glycogen stores, however, these are quickly depleted which means that footballers need to have a high percentage of carbs in their diet.
Non-refined carbs are a favourite amongst Premier League players and these include:
- Whole Grains – whole wheat bread, pasta, and rice
- Vegetables – broccoli, peppers, potatoes, and peas
- Fresh Fruit – apples, pears, bananas, and blueberries
- Beans – lentils. Black beans, and kidney beans
- Dairy – low-fat milk, and yoghurts
If you want to eat like a professional footballer, check out some of these whole grain vegan recipes that will tick off a number of those high carbohydrate boxes:
As you might expect, protein is another important element of a footballer’s diet. As well as helping to build muscle, protein is also great at repairing muscle following training and matches. Footballers need to consume a high volume of protein in order to stay fit and healthy and improve overall muscle strength and toning.
Foods that are high in protein include:
- Lean red meats
In addition to the protein footballers consume in their meals, most footballers will also use protein supplements to boost their protein intake. This is particularly common before and after both training and matches. A protein shake has a number of benefits, not least the fact that it is less bloating for players before a match or training.
Post-game, a protein shake is a quick and easy way to boost their protein intake and stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
If you are looking for inspiration for protein-rich recipes you can try today, check out these ideas featuring egg and chicken:
Whilst fat has a lot of negative connotations and is not something you would think about when discussing the ideal diet for a professional athlete, there are two distinct types of fat: healthy and unhealthy.
Healthy fats are an important part of any athlete’s diet as they help to increase nutrient absorption in the body. Like most foods, it is important to moderate the amount of fat you consume. Professional footballers don’t want to increase their fat mass which in turn, could slow them down on the pitch.
If you want to include healthy fats as part of a balanced diet, consider consuming more of the following:
- Nuts – walnuts, cashews, and almonds
- Seeds – sunflower, chia, and flax
- Oily fish – salmon, tuna, and trout
Eating these healthy fats, as a snack or as part of your main meal, can help to add balance to your diet and ensure you are maximising your nutrient intake from other sources.
As well as closely monitoring the food they consume, it is also important that Premier League footballers hydrate. Premier League footballers can sweat over a litre of fluids during the course of a 90-minute game, and this can increase in hot climates like those players are likely to face at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Premier League team Wolverhampton Wanderers use hydration specialists, Precision Fuel & Hydration, to help them to monitor the hydration levels of their players throughout the season, both in training and matches.
They work closely with the club’s Head of Nutrition, Dr Mayur Ranchordas and this focus on ensuring players are in peak physical condition throughout the season has reaped the benefits over the past 12 months. Wolves finished in 10th position in the Premier League in 2021-22, representing another solid season. They are currently 13.00 with Betway Sports to finish in the top six in 2022-23, improving on their best finish of seventh in 2019-20.
When it comes to hydration, footballers primarily drink water, supplemented with sports energy drinks that provide valuable carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Eat like a professional athlete
Whilst every athlete is different, following a balanced diet and keeping everything in moderation is a great way to manage the food you consume and the fuel you provide for your body.
Try some of the recipes above and try and eat a balance of the key food sources to develop muscle and ensure your body is fuelled, no matter what you are doing.