This Is What Football Players Eat (And Don't Eat) In A Day

They eat TWO lunches.

25/09/2016 4:56 PM AEST | Updated 25/09/2016 4:56 PM AEST
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Ever wondered what these athletes eat to fuel them so well?

We all love seeing what other people eat (hence our huge obsession with #foodporn), especially when it comes to people we look up to, like athletes.

Because it's AFL and NRL grand final season, we thought what a better time than now to take a look at what footballers eat in a day.

To get the lowdown, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Hawthorn FC's sports dietitian, Simone Austin, who has been helping the AFL players with their diet and nutrition for eight years.

"I do various things to help the 46 players. We look at body composition, so I take their skin fold measurements which help us as one guide. We look at fluid and hydration, and then we look at their diet," Austin told HuffPost Australia.

Although the players' diet is extremely important, Austin said it's not militant or complex.

"It's quite simple. No one gets 'prescriptions' in terms of diet. I never say 'you must eat exactly this'. Some people do but I don't. That's not my philosophy.

It is about getting them to eat a healthy diet that they're aware of and really listening to their bodies.

"The boys learn about what sorts of things they should be having for each meal, and then how they can modify that if they're injured, on light training or on pre-season training (when they might need to eat more carbohydrates as they're using a lot of energy)."

Austin also teaches the younger AFL players how to cook and pick healthy foods at the supermarket.

"We also do cooking sessions with some of the players, particularly the younger boys. A couple times a year we'll take the younger players to the supermarket and look at label reading, what to buy and how to shop," Austin explained.

"Some of the players are 17 or 18 years old when they start. They might have moved interstate and don't have much of an idea on what to do.

"Like everyone, some of the players are really into nutrition, while others are learning because they haven't been brought up with it. They're just learning about how to be athletes."

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The players need lots of fuel -- but healthy fuel.

When it comes to the key components of the athletes' diet, Austin said the focus is on meal timing, macronutrients and hydration.

"Timing of when the players eat is really important, so making sure that they've eaten the main meal about an hour and half to two hours before they train or play a game to make sure they actually fuel themselves with carbohydrates and protein," Austin said. "This makes them more likely to build muscle and not to break it down.

"And then the timing straight after training, which is within 30 minutes after to get in fluid, carbohydrates to absorb and protein for muscle growth and repair."

For the meals and snacks itself, the importance lies in having the perfect balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

"We don't want to make the carbohydrate load too high. I think that's where people misunderstand, that the players need masses," Austin said.

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The volume of the players' food changes depending on the season and intensity of training.

"It's about getting the right amount, but not too much because the players have to be really lean. So, they've got to balance their carbohydrates to be enough for fuel, but not so much that it's going to be stored as body fat.

"This is why having enough protein in the diet is important to build muscle, repair the cells and fuel the hormones. And also a bit of fat to fill them a bit and give extra energy, otherwise they get too hungry and will overeat. A bit of olive oil, nuts, avocado are all great for good fats."

Other dietary aspects Austin pushes for the players is to up their intake of vegetables, which are great for their antioxidants, vitamins and minerals for repair, but also to fill them up with fibre and water content with not so many calories.

"My biggest thing is, instead of having just a ham and cheese toastie for lunch, I've been showing them roasted veggies to put in their sandwiches -- mushrooms, capsicum, eggplant, zucchini, lettuce, cucumber and roasted beetroot," Austin said.


Here's what the footballer's typically eat in a day:


"The volumes change depending on the players. One might be having a quieter week, one might be having a heavier training week," Austin said.

"In general, they'll start with breakfast having whole grain toast with eggs, avocado and tomatoes, or it might be porridge, or WeetBix with yoghurt and berries and milk.

"Those are the sort of breakfasts they might have. Always a protein, carb and preferably with fruit or vegetables."

This is a breakfast we can get on board with.

Morning snack

Just like our snacks should be, the athletes' morning snack isn't too large -- just enough to fill them up until lunch.

"Depending on what time they're training, they might have a snack of a handful of nuts, piece of fruit or a tub of yogurt. Nothing too heavy," Austin said.

First lunch

Yes, you read correctly. The Hawthorn AFL players have two lunches.

"Then when they get off the training tracks they'll often do what I call two lunches," Austin said.

"Rather than having lots of snacks, they're probably going to train and get off the track at around 11.30-ish, so quite an early lunch, and that would be -- on a heavier training day -- more of a meal. It might be some pasta, sushi rolls with extra salad and chicken, burrito or a wrap with salad and meat."

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Including lots of veggies is crucial.

Second lunch

After morning training and first lunch is second lunch, which is usually eaten in the early afternoon.

"Then later on in the afternoon at about 2-2.30p.m. which could be near their weight session or just after, they might come and have chunky soup and a sandwich, or those toasted veggie sandwiches I talked about, or rice cakes with tuna in olive oil and tomato and lettuce on top."

Afternoon snack

To tie the players over until dinner time, Austin said the team will have a small afternoon snack.

"Then just before dinner they might eat a few pieces of fruit," she told HuffPost Australia.

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Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit. Simple and tasty.


"Dinner is a main meal which, again, can't be too large as they can't eat until they're overfull," Austin said.

To make sure the players are getting the right macronutrient balance, they use the portion plate model of thirds.

"A third of their plate is usually protein, a third of carbohydrates and a third of vegetables," Austin said. "For fats, this meal could be cooked with olive oil or they might add cheese on top.

"This meal can also be mixed, so if that was a stir fry or curry the proportions would be the same -- the rice, veggies and protein like chicken, fish, kangaroo, pork and seafood for plenty of omega 3s, iron and zinc."

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Stir fry is the perfect mix of carbs, veggies and protein.


Yes, if the players are still hungry, or they're trying to gain weight, there's more food to be eaten after dinner.

"Some of the players might have dessert, particularly players who are needing to put on weight," Austin said.

"There are young boys who need to put on muscle mass, so they would have a smoothie with milk, yoghurt, fruit and seeds. Or they might have fruit toast with ricotta and banana.

"For a player who's not wanting to put on weight and to maintain where they're at or reduce skin folds, they might just stick to cutting up a bit of fruit with a dollop of yoghurt, or cut up carrots and cucumber with hummus. Or, for a treat, a few squares of dark chocolate once or twice in the week."


After games Austin pushes smart recovery options for the players like chicken wraps, fruit or toast to replenish and repair depleted muscles.

"The popular meal at the moment is burritos. Some of them will have avocado and Vegemite on toast or rice pudding post game," Austin said.

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Dairy-based smoothies are a good way for the players to get in extra calcium and protein.

Hydration and quality sleep are also key for the AFL players.

"They drink water, oral rehydration fluids and small amounts of sports drinks, but water is their biggest drink. A few will have a couple of cups of tea or coffee during the day, but not more than two as we don't want it to interfere with their sleep.

"Sleep is very important. They monitor their sleep quality, not just the length."

As for whether the Hawthorn players treat themselves to unhealthy food?

"Of course, but like any of us, when they're having it, it's just not too often or too large," Austin said.

"It's keeping it to one small bar of chocolate, not a block. Or a few lollies, not a whole packet is what we're encouraging. Or it might be one muesli bar as a sweet treat. Or if it's a cake or a muffin, just one piece like any of us would have. And minimal takeaway.

"It is about getting them to eat a healthy diet that they're aware of and really listening to their bodies: 'how full am I, how hungry am I, what portions am I eating, and know how to cook so I don't have to have takeaway'. So, they make a homemade pizza or burgers as a treat instead of buying it."

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