Even if you’re not a professional footballer, you can still eat like one. In fact, maybe you should – by the end of this article I’m going to challenge you to do it.
After all, the diet of a pro football player is designed with one goal in mind: to keep a player in top condition for football. So, whatever level you play, it’s only going to benefit your health and fitness to follow it too.
We’ve already covered the different elements that make up a footballer’s diet, but now it’s time to put down that pie and chips. You might not be a professional player, but in this article we’ll show you how easy it is to eat like one.
The pro footballer’s daily diet plan
The only way to make sure that we’re following the authentic diet of a pro footballer is to find out what one actually eats. That’s where the Secret Footballer comes in.
The secret who?
Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of the Secret Footballer. Who is he? Don’t ask me – that’s why he’s called the ‘secret footballer’ (though speculation will be entertained, even encouraged, in the comments below). He claims to have played the game at the top level in the Premier League, even going up against the likes of Ronaldo back in the day. The point is, he’s more than qualified to tell us how a pro player eats.
In his ‘Guide to the Modern Game*’ he takes us through his daily diet plan that has worked for him as a pro player. As soon as I read it, I thought it was worth looking at in more detail.
Any fool can re-type the content from his book. So I went one step further, I decided to live it for a day. Here’s our guide to what a pro player eats during the season (note: it’s not what they eat just before a game – that’s covered in this post on pre-match meals). I’ll show you what it’s like to follow as an amateur player; and my tips to make it easy for you to do it too.
Meal 1 – When you first wake up
Why eat it: This meal is about getting the body going, and boosting metabolism – the function of the body that breaks food down into energy. Actimel is a probiotic drink, which means it contains healthy bacteria to keep your digestion in tip-top condition (rather than nasty bacteria which will just hospitalise you).
The lemon juice also helps jolt your metabolism into life, and having the water lukewarm helps the body absorb it without using unnecessary energy. It also has a purging effect – clearing out the rubbish from the system. Finally, dark chocolate with a high cocoa content has now been found to be good for the body in moderation (just don’t eat the whole bar!)
Preparation: It doesn’t get much simpler than this – which is fortunate if you’re not at your best first thing in the morning. The only remotely tricky bit is squeezing the lemon, but that’s a doddle if you’ve got the sort of lemon squeezer pictured below. If not, go out and buy one – they’re an affordable must-have kitchen accessory.
What’s it like to eat? I had this as soon as I woke up, before showering and found this to be a pretty good start to the day, though I’m not used to drinking that quantity of water first thing in the morning. The lemon gave it enough of a kick to slap me out of my morning slumber and into life.
The only mistake I made was with the chocolate. Go for something much nearer to 70% cocoa rather than the 90% I rather optimistically thought I could stomach. 90% cocoa is quite bitter, and really only for hardcore chocolate addicts. I might as well have just spooned pure cocoa power into my mouth. On the positive side, all that water and Actimel had got things moving and I was taking an unscheduled bathroom pitstop sooner than expected (I’m sure you could’ve done without that info).).
Meal 2 – Breakfast (around 30 minutes after meal 1)
Why eat this: A footballer’s breakfast is the meal he’s going to eat before going to training and needs to pack him with enough energy to get him through the session. So it’s about getting carbohydrates, which are turned to glycogen, which directly fuels the muscles.
Brown bread is a great source of carbs, without the nasty additives that are pumped into white bread. And as the Secret Footballer says “nuts are a so-called ‘super food’ … a slow-releasing energy source.” Alternatively, if you go with the porridge option, that’s also a great source of carbs. Many sports people swear by oats in their diet: they’re cheap, filling, contain protein, and can help lower cholesterol.
Preparation: Although I’m partial to a bit of porridge, I went with toast this time round. It’s the easy option, and since I’ve still got to cook lunch and dinner, I’m keeping it simple here. So for now, it’s another easy meal – this one just being a case of putting some bread in the toaster and then spreading it with a generous helping of topping.
The only tricky bit was locating almond spread in my local supermarket. It was a task that defeated me, so instead I opted for the best, most natural (and predictably, most expensive) peanut butter I could find. It’s 97% nuts and has no added sugar so I’m getting nothing more than nutty goodness.
What it’s like to eat: After my wake-up meal, which largely consisted just of liquids, it’s good to get something to fill me up. Two slices of brown toast with spread does the job and I’m ready for the morning. I may not have the rigours of football training, but I’m still fuelled to attack the day-ahead.
Meal 3 – lunch
Why eat this: broccoli is another one of those on the shortlist of ‘superfoods’. It provides a huge amount of vitamins and minerals, which keep the immune system strong. The secret footballer suggests you eat 6-8 florets (or ‘mini trees’ in traditional kid’s terminology). Brown rice supplies carbs to both keep you full and give you energy – also, it’s generally better than pasta because a lot of people have food intolerance which can be aggravated by the egg in the pasta. Finally, the lean chicken makes it a balanced meal, providing protein which is essential for muscle growth.
Preparation: I’m not used to grilling chicken, but it’s actually a great method if you know what you’re doing (and I did, because I researched it first). First, put some foil on a baking tray and put it under the grill on high heat (the foil will make the washing up a lot easier). Second, butterfly the chicken so that it’s not one thick breast which will take ages to cook. Butterflying is a really easy technique that just means you thin it out – and I think it looks pretty good too (YouTube video on how to butterfly, if you have no idea). Third, season the chicken with some pepper (but not salt) and put it onto the heated oven tray. Turn it over mid-way through cooking until it looks like it’s starting to brown.
For the broccoli, you’re going to need a steamer. It’s worth investing in a decent steamer (with a lid) that sits on top of your saucepan as it’s a very healthy way of cooking. Boil some water in a kettle, then pour it into the pan and place on the hob. Add the broccoli and put the lid on the steamer. Within a couple of minutes you’ll have steaming-hot broccoli that’s delicious to eat. Make sure you don’t over-cook it otherwise you’ll be losing the nutrients. Keep it al dente – that’s a posh way of saying ‘firm to the bite’.
Finally: the rice. Call me lazy but I’ve got enough on my hands with the broccoli and the chicken so I bought microwave rice which only takes two minutes. Make sure that it’s boiled rather than fried brown rice that you’re buying, that it’s got no added sugar (yes, some do add it) and an absolute minimum of added salt.
What’s it like to eat: Not bad, but a bit plain. It feels like it needs some sauce, but ketchup is specifically banned from the diet according to the Secret Footballer because ‘it can cause sugar-spikes’. So, I decided to add some chopped cherry-tomatoes and a dash of olive oil. Tomatoes are extremely good for you as well as being full of flavor, and the olive oil (in moderation) is really good for the heart, and lubricated the rice nicely. A good lunch and one I can see myself packing in a lunchbox in future.
Meal 4 – dinner
Why eat this: Fish is an important source of omega-3. Good for the heart, good for the joints. Footballers will often take supplements to get additional amounts of this. It’s also another good source of protein. Notice that with this meal we’re not looking for lots of carbs. The reason, according to the Secret Footballer, is that you don’t want to be eating these too close to bed, for risk of them turning into fat.
Preparation: You can steam pretty much any fish you want, but as my steamer was going to busy with the vegetables, I decided to put my new-found grilling skills to use. According to my friendly fishmonger, not every fish is great for grilling, but oily fishes (the ones that tend to contain more Omega-3) work nicely. I went for Salmon and used the same grilling technique I used before, although this time I used a dash of olive oil on the fish so it didn’t stick to the baking tray. Steaming of the vegetables is exactly the same as above, though you might find you don’t want broccoli again – I went for mangetout and sugar snap peas. Again I included some tomatoes as an extra bonus, for some extra goodness.
The yogurt and berries is extremely easy to prepare. Just buy a big tub of yogurt, spoon out a sensible portion and add the berries – easy! I also added some pomegranate seeds – another item that’s on the ‘super food’ list.
What it’s like to eat: Honestly, delicious. A really nice meal. The only slight reservation was not having carbs with it, as that’s what I’m used to. It does make the meal feel fairly light, although that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be hungry, especially after having the yogurt and berries. A good finish to the day.
Snacks: what a pro footballer eats between meals
So, what happens if you’re hungry in between meals? A bag of crisps, a chocolate bar, a cheeky bag of sweets?
I’m afraid not, you’re eating like a pro now, and you won’t see them stuffing their face with that sort of rubbish. If you’re hungry then it’s raw vegetables for you – a bag of carrots is what the Secret Footballer recommends. You might also try fruit: a banana, an apple etc. Or a handful of nuts (unsalted).
You can eat something like this, but minus the hummus dip
Drinks: how a pro footballer hydrates
With this new balanced diet you’re following, you won’t need anything other than just plain water to keep your body hydrated, and you should have a glass with every meal, at least. No need for sports drinks – you’re getting all the energy you need from your meals.
And there’s certainly no time for sugary drinks – put down that can of Coca-cola – or caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee.
How did it feel to eat like a pro?
At first I looked at the menu and wondered if the whole day might feel a bit joyless, dining like a monk, it was actually pretty good. The meals were tasty, and there was something reassuring about preparing and eating proper food, free of all the additives that you find in the processed rubbish that sneaks into our diet. I’m not saying that I’m going to be eating like this every day (after all I’m not a pro footballer), but it has definitely made me think about what I eat. I’ll be making some of these meals more often.
The pro diet challenge
So, you’ve seen me do it, now it’s your turn. Can you live the footballer’s diet for a day? If you’re up for the challenge, let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to come back and share your experiences later – will you feel the same benefits that I did? Will it change the way you eat in future? Will you crumble just mid-way through the day and hit the crisps and chocolate instead?
It’s just one day and won’t cost a fortune – I highly recommend giving it a try. Let me know how it goes.
Credit for the above meal plan goes to the Secret Footballer and his Guide to the Modern Game. If you want to read more, his book is available on Amazon* by clicking on the below image.