You are what you eat, as they say. And no one knows this better than a professional footballer. Eating well is just as important as training well. In fact, the latter doesn’t happen without the former. If your diet is healthy and well-balanced, you have the platform required to kick on in your career. But that’s easier said than done in the real world. The average grassroots footballer doesn’t have access to nutritionists. And the cost of eating good food is prohibitive for people on a low income. Thankfully, the basics of football nutrition are relatively simple. If you look after your body and give it the right type of fuel, your body will look after you on the field of play.

Eat a balanced diet

This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many young footballers rely on convenience foods. You should be eating a healthy mix of carbohydrates (the good ones), proteins and vegetables every day. Start by ensuring you’re eating at least five portions of fruit or vegetables every day. If you’re worried about your protein intake, make some nutritious smoothies using protein powder as a key ingredient. And don’t deprive yourself of good fats. Low-fat cheeses and oily fish are just two of the foods that can give your body the fuel it needs.

Research superfoods

So-called superfoods are those that contain higher-than-average levels of key nutrients. If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough essential nutrients, adding some of these superfoods to your diet is a potential quick fix. Take avocados, for example. They’re packed with fibre, which is great for your digestive system. And they’re full of healthy fats, a great source of fuel just before a game or training session. Avocado is rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin B1 — along with many more essential nutrients. If you don’t like avocado, don’t worry. There are dozens of superfoods to choose from. Beetroot is good for reducing inflammation, for example. Quinoa is a great substitute for pasta. And blueberries are packed with antioxidants — essential for post-match recovery.

Bulk up on proteins when snacking

Ideally, you should get most of your carbs and healthy fats from your main meals. But as you’ll probably know, getting sufficient protein into your body isn’t always easy. Playing football three or four times a week takes a heavy toll on your muscles, and protein is pretty much the only thing that addresses this issue. When you’re feeling peckish, choose a snack that’s high in protein. Things like protein mousses, sports bars and flapjacks are perfect. Make them from scratch at the start of the week.

Eat more fish

Ask any elite footballer, and they’ll tell you that fish is a huge part of their diet. Not only is it rich in protein, it’s packed with the healthy oils and fats the body uses for energy and recovery. Sushi is served at most Premier League clubs these days. Sashimi, hand rolls, and temaki are particularly popular. They’re very easy to eat, light, and packed with goodness. And they don’t make players feel bloated before their afternoon training sessions. While all fish delivers the healthy fats your body needs, it’s the non-white fish that tends to be richest in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon and trout are very good examples. A simple way to eat more oily fish is to have kippers for breakfast, two or three times a week.

Always have a healthy supply of eggs and cereal

If you’re playing and training four times a week, your body needs far more calories than the average person needs — and more protein. But too many players go hungry because they simply don’t have the time to prepare food. But if you have some granola and eggs in your kitchen at all times, you’ll always have a convenient source of calories close by. A quick omelette or a plate of scrambled eggs is the perfect way to consume calories quickly. And sugar-free granola with Greek yoghurt is just as rewarding. Particularly after a big match or a heavy training session, a standard meal may not satisfy your appetite. As long as you have healthy options in the kitchen, you won’t need to turn to high-carb options — which the body craves in these situations.

Be realistic

Don’t get too hung up on your diet. Moderation and balance are key. And listen to what your body is saying. If you’re gaining weight, lethargic or feeling weak, what you’re eating now probably isn’t right. But this doesn’t mean you should dispense with all the foods you love. Living on clean foods alone will make you crave your treats more than ever. Work out the right balance, and your long-term fortunes on the football field should improve dramatically.