Nutrition Tips

How to eat healthy for AFL?

Posted on
September 21, 2021

It is always exciting for footy fans at finals time! With 17 AFL seasons under my belt, and the enjoyment of 3 premierships at Hawthorn AFL Football Club, I still love the feeling of finals time in September.

AFL is a long, gruelling game that needs peak energy levels for four quarters, on repeat, 22 matches, plus finals to finish a good season. Now that is challenging and nutrition is key to achieve this.

Players fuel their body with nourishing foods to get the most out of training, recover and sustain energy levels throughout the season with the help of an Accredited Sports Dietitian.  

Nutrition needs are individual, quantity will certainly vary with quality key for all.

So, what foods do AFL players need?


AFL like many aerobic sports need fuelling with quality carbohydrates. What is a quality carb? One that gives you carbohydrate and plenty of other vitamins, minerals or other nutrients too, not simply sugar. What does that mean in food? It means slowly released carbohydrate foods such as:

·        wholegrain bread

·        pasta

·        potatoes

·        barley

·        sweet potato

·        breakfast cereal

·        brown rice

·        yoghurt

·        milk

·        legumes.

Go easy on the carbs that only give you sugar with nothing much else. These are lollies, soft drinks, biscuits, cakes and even sports drinks. Sports drinks are useful sometimes, particularly on game day, but are not for sipping all day long, unless you want to visit your dentist regularly!

As a rough guide, a third of your plate should be the quality carbohydrates foods when you are training regularly and around a quarter of the plate for most of us who train a little, but sit most of the day.

The amount will also vary for example on a non training or light training day you may include only a ‘fist full’ or quarter of the plate carbohydrate, unless of course you are trying to gain weight and then you might increase this. You can take advantage of the lighter training day sparing excess kilojoules to the body to use for growth. You can see it is not the same, ‘recipe’ for all.


Protein keeps an AFL player’s body in good working condition, for muscle and cell growth, repair and maintenance, and supporting the immune system. It is best to spread protein out throughout the day, with some at each meal. Around 25-30grams of protein at each meal. To help you understand what that means in food?

·        100g chicken breast has ~30g protein

·        100g ln beef has ~28g protein

·        100g white fish has ~25g protein

·        100g yoghurt has ~10g protein

·        250ml milk has ~12g protein

·        1 cup legumes e.g. kidney beans has ~15g protein

·        30g almonds has 6g protein

Start your day with yoghurt, milk, cheese, baked beans, tuna or eggs. Breakfast can be the meal that lets us down on the protein front.


After a training session or match AFL players need a hearty meal. Look for a quality carbohydrate and a protein source, with plenty of veggies. Some popular post match meals that I have given out in MCG rooms that players enjoy are:

  • Burritos
  • Chili con carne & salad
  • Spaghetti bolognaise & salad
  • Curry with brown rice & green vegetables (e.g. beans, broccoli)
  • Grilled fish, baked potato and salad

Quality snacking is important too:

  • Fresh fruit and nuts
  • Yoghurt, with oats and berries
  • Hearty minestrone soup


Staying hydrated helps limit fatigue and keep concentration. Water is generally enough for both training and games for most of us. At the elite level an oral rehydration fluid and sports drink might be useful for the electrolytes and sugar for energy. However, water with old fashioned, half time oranges or bananas can top up energy levels and provide some electrolytes for most of us.   


As a spectator what will you eat to cheer on your team? A pie or hot dog is traditional. How about marinated chicken strips on the barbeque in a wholegrain roll with a shredded slaw? A homemade meat pie with slow cooked meat and veg or a cheese and fruit platter with freshly roasted nuts? After all you need your energy to barrack hard… ‘Who will you be cheering on?

Like some more sports nutrition information? Checkout my book- Eat Like An Athlete- it is packed with tips and tricks to suit you.