Sports Nutrition for the Football Athlete

Understanding an elite football player’s nutritional habits?

ISSPF Article

At the fine age of 36-years old arguably the greatest player of all time & legendary striker, Cristiano Ronaldo is back in the Premier League with giants Manchester United. Having confirmed the agreement to re-sign him from Juventus, everyone is wondering what the secret has been to keep the player healthy, fit & in fine record breaking form through his illustrious career.

Soccer player diet
Having scored scored 118 goals in 292 games during his initial period at Old Trafford before leaving for Real Madrid in 2009, he is returning over a decade later having won multiple trophies in both La Liga & Serie A – but he remains world-class, & still at the top of the game!

In order to succeed consistently at the highest level, Cristiano Ronaldo gives a snapshot into his eating habits & his focus on food which he has continued for many years. The legendary Portuguese international has a personal nutritionist who started working with him since his Real Madrid days. He is well known for eating 6x small meals a day which is spread out at a rate of around one meal every 3 to 4 hours. The importance placed on specific nutrition to aid preparation, performance & recovery of all soccer and other athletes around the world should not be underestimated.

“I eat a high protein diet, with lots of wholegrain carbs, fruit and vegetables, and avoid sugary foods…” says the Manchester United No9.

Ronaldo suggested meal examples:

Breakfast: Cheese & Ham, low-fat yoghurt

Lunch Number 1: Chicken & salad

Lunch Number 2: Tuna, olives egg & tomato

Snacks: Fresh fruit, avocado toast

Dinner Number 1: Fresh fish & salad

Dinner Number 2: Steak and sea-food mixture


nutrition for footballers

One of the vitally important & key principles of sound nutrition for footballers or soccer performance, involves understanding what a healthy diet looks like. Below we will look a little further into the carbohydrate & protein food types for the soccer players diet.

nutrition for footballers


Carbohydrate is the most important fuel for working muscles at high intensity activity such as football and is suggested to make up the bulk of your footballers diet. For most sports people, especially soccer players dietary wise, 60-70% of energy should come from carbohydrates to be able to perform to maximum levels.


Carbohydrate is stored in muscles and the liver as glycogen. It is stored with about 3x its own weight of water and 3x more glycogen is stored in muscles than in the liver.


nutrition for footballers

There is a limited supply of glycogen in the body – approximately 2000kcals. Though training can influence this figure depending upon the requirements of the sport involved.


Protein makes up part of the structure of every cell in the body. Proteins form the framework of the body and transporting materials around the body & inside cells. It is necessary for the growth and formation of new tissues and also to repair damaged tissues.

How much protein should a soccer player eat?

Protein is suggested to make up approximately 12-15% of a soccer players diet. Soccer of football players require around 1.3-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

    nutrition for footballers

    It is required to manufacture enzymes and hormones such as insulin and adrenaline. Protein is constantly being broken down and rebuilt in the body, therefore it is important that there is a regular supply of protein in the footballers diet in order to compensate for the continual loss that occurs in the body through vigorous training & competition.

    Protein is made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids, some of which manufactured by the body and some of which are essential amino acids and must be provided through the soccer players diet.



        • Quality poultry – chicken, turkey
        • Quality meat sources: steak, pork, venison (reduced fat)
        • Fish (tuna, salmon, cod)
        • Eggs

    New literature in this space has reported a new way of maximising nutritional intake through ‘nutritional periodisation’ strategies, however this is discussed in more depth within the ISSPF online sport nutrition courses. Furthermore, many experts in sport & soccer nutrition such as Dr. Eirini Manthou (ISSPF Faculty Member), Virginia Santesteban (ISSPF Faculty Member) CF Real Sociedad ‘Head of Performance Nutrition’ & Dr. Lloyd Parker (ISSPF Faculty Member) Everton FC ‘Head of Nutrition’ plus many more global experts, cover in detail the role of nutrition across all levels of the game within our ISSPF accredited sports nutrition online course.

    nutrition for footballers

    The demand for sport nutrition experts, performance & coaching specialists in football & team sports is growing year upon year. Thousands of students are leaving university with a sport science degree, however many of them asking the key question – What now? How do I get a job in football? What’s the next step? Which area of sport or football science do I want to specialise in?

    This is certainly an interesting question as progressing from completing a sport science or nutrition related degree to then working in professional football & trying to understanding all the key components, and soft skills that come with jobs in football or careers within sport.

    The bespoke courses developed by ISSPF Elite Faculty members are a way of further exposing sport science & nutritional related students, individuals working within the game & other football science enthusiasts with a thirst to develop further in this specific nutrition & performance area.

    The link below will take you to the hugely popular & expertly designed ISSPF endorsed & accredited Soccer & Sports Nutrition online sport science course, where you will be exposed to football science & specific sports nutrition coaching led research, practical examples used by leading practitioners.

    Why is this course important?

    • Understanding the key energy sources required to perform repeated high intensity & explosive movements within the intermittent nature of soccer is of paramount importance
    • Fueling to perform & recover from both training, competitive games is very specific across a range of levels of the game
    • All practitioners and coaches can only benefit themselves and their players even further by having a more in-depth knowledge of sports nutrition
    • May help us to reduce the risk for non-contact muscle injuries, through a better understanding of key timing of nutrients

    Who is this course for?

    • Individuals tasked with the responsibility for the training & coaching aspects of both individual athletes or team sports
    • Individuals with an interest in developing their knowledge in the nutritional preparation, training & development of individual athletes or team sports


    Outline of the accredited Sports Nutrition online course:

    Module 1: Energy balance & body composition: basics of soccer physiology
    Lecturer: Sam McHaffie (Science In Sport [SIS]) England
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 2: Understanding Macro & Micro-nutrients
    Lecturer: Dr. Eirini Manthou (Olympiakos) Greece
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 3: Soccer health & wellness (vitamins, minerals)
    Lecturer: Matthew Jones (West Ham United, Chelsea WFC) England
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 4: Fluid balance & soccer specific hydration 
    Lecturer: Virginia Santesteban (Real Sociedad CF) Spain
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 5: Training, Match & Recovery Fueling – Soccer Nutrition to Perform
    Lecturer: Dr. Adam Owen (Seattle Sounders FC) Wales
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 6: Maximising nutrition through injury
    Lecturer: Faisal Alshawa (Aspire, Qatar) Kuwait
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 7: The role of nutrition for the female soccer player
    Lecturer: Dr. Yasemin Batmaca (Besiktas) Turkey
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental

    Module 8: An introduction to nutritional supplementation and ergogenic aids
    Lecturer: Matthew Jones (West Ham United, Chelsea FC) England
    Topic: Sport Nutrition & Environmental



    ·         What is a healthy diet for a soccer player?

    ·         What foods should soccer players avoid?

    ·         Why is nutrition important for soccer players?

    ·         What nutrients does a footballer need?

    ·         How many calories should a soccer player eat a day

    ·         What should a soccer player eat for lunch

    ·         How much protein should a soccer player eat

    ·         What does a professional soccer player diet look like?

    ·         What nutrients do footballers need?

    ·         What is the best diet for a footballer?

    ·         What do soccer players eat in a day?

    ·         Can you study sports nutrition?

    ·         How long is a sports nutrition course?


    All these questions are covered within our ISSPF online sport nutrition courses – we look forward to you joining us.