It wasn’t that long ago when a halftime orange and a few beers after the game was a footballer’s staple diet. As the game has modernized and become more professional, no top-level footballer can consistently perform at the high level required without following a strict fitness and diet regime.
There are no finer examples of the effects of the benefits of nutritional eating in the premier league than Romelu Lukaku, and Cristiano Ronaldo. In particular, Lukaku’s much-publicized body transformation since he moved to Italy to play for Inter Milan, has been transformational, not just in his physique but also his goal scoring and all-around play.
Such was the turnaround in his fortunes, that a man once considered overweight and unnecessary at Manchester United, has now clinched a £97 million transfer to his former club Chelsea, the current European champions. Thanks to his recruitment Chelsea’s misfiring front line now possesses a genuine goal threat and their premier league odds of winning stand at 3.6/1.
Lukaku claims to eliminate potatoes, fried food, and alcohol, all helped in his initial half a stone weight loss and subsequently revolutionized his physique and his on-field performances. A debut goal against Arsenal proved that premier league defenders had better beware this season.
The transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United is another example of strict attention to diet reaping rewards on the pitch. Last season’s top scorer in Serie A, Ronaldo is now 36, yet his fitness and performance levels are astonishing for a man still at the peak of his considerable powers.
Chicken is Ronaldo’s magic ingredient, thanks to its high protein and low-fat content, but swordfish, cod, tuna, avocado, salad, eggs, and olives are part of his healthy eating plan. Two goals on debut for Ronaldo have seen Manchester United tipped as possible title contenders too.
A Premier League Diet
All premier league clubs now employ nutritionists as they seek out those marginal gains, but what exactly is a premier league diet, and more importantly, why are players eating these foods and when?
There are 3 core principles when it comes to nutrition:
Protein is the building block that enables muscle growth, therefore with a higher protein intake, footballers are going to have a leaner physique and more importantly, improved muscle recovery. Player recovery is vital when games come thick and fast in a crowded premier league and international schedule so anything that helps avoid injuries is crucial.
The important factor when it comes to protein, however, is the quality, and the protein in a player’s diet must contain all the essential amino acids that aid muscle growth and repair. Meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, and beans are a staple of any athlete’s diet and are an effective way to consume quality protein.
Fats often get bad press but they are important for energy and vitality to any diet as long as the balance is correct. Nuts, Avocado, Fish, and Flaxseeds are all good sources of healthy fats and are a favorite of Ronaldo.
Complex carbohydrates are the basis of any player’s diet and are different from simple carbohydrates such as sugar. Complex carbohydrates do not cause blood sugar spikes and give long-lasting energy, they also have higher protein levels. Oats, cereal, brown rice, couscous, beans, yogurt, or fresh fruit are examples of foods containing complex carbohydrates.
Game day meal planner
The technology available to nutritionists has improved dramatically, with heart rate and body fat percentages monitored regularly. This allows individual players diets to be adapted should they be deficient in certain nutrients, vitamins or iron for example. However, a normal game day meal planner would look something like this:
Porridge is a very popular choice for most players especially as it’s a low-GI cereal. Made with semi-skimmed or whole milk this is a great way to start match day. An alternative to porridge is eggs, which contain lots of healthy protein. For variety, these can be served on a wholemeal wrap or rye bread. Chelsea midfielder and American international, Christian Pulisic often eats avocado on toast, with fried eggs on top. The key for players is to avoid eating a heavy breakfast as it will leave them feeling bloated.
For the traditional 3 pm, kick-off players will only have a light meal at lunchtime, with most eating at least three hours before their game starts. The aim of the pre-match meal is to top up players carbohydrate energy stores through a meal rich in carbohydrate. The meal will be low in fibre and fat and with moderate in protein in order to reduce the risk of bloating and stomach cramps during the game. This meal would normally include a low-GI carbohydrate such as whole wheat pasta, vegetables, couscous, wraps, fruit, and beans. Some players eat flapjack, granola bars, or bananas an hour before the game to top up their energy levels.
After a match it’s important for players to help their bodies as soon as possible. To do this, nutritionists adopt what is often referred to as the four R’s of recovery.
The Four R’s of Recovery
Refuel – After a hard game, players restock carbohydrate stores by eating carbs in their next meal.
Repair – High-quality protein snacks such as fruit, vegetables and nuts help aid muscle building and repair post-match.
Rehydrate – Replacing fluids lost during the game is vital. Options include milk or flavored milk, whey protein shake or an electrolyte tablet added to water.
Rest – Diet alone cannot repair the body; rest is essential to allow the body to recover fully from a game.
The Off Season
When the football season is over players are given strict fitness and diet plans to follow by their clubs, this ensures they return to pre-season training ready to go. Many premier league players employ their own chefs and liaise with the club’s nutritionist throughout the summer, in a bid to make sure they maintain their hard-earned fitness levels.
Eat like a premier league footballer
The benefits of nutrition are clear to see and its impact on athletes’ capabilities make it a vital component of a player’s life. While most of us will never be good enough to play football for a living, we are all capable of eating like one and reaping the benefits of a healthy diet.