Christian Petraca: The AFL Training Diet

Christian Petraca: The AFL Training Diet

Norm Smith, medalist Christian Petraca He loves footy and food, and is more than happy to share his love for both. Melbourne FC midfielder Recently joined TikTok To share his exploits in the kitchen, he mixes up everything from slow-cooked lamb shoulder to upside-down pear bun. As he wrote succinctly in his bio on TikTok, he is a “professional athlete who loves to cook.”

While he has always been an accomplished midfielder, 2021 saw his game take his game to another level. Melbourne defeated the Western Bulldogs in the 2021 NFL Final, and Christian was named the best player of all time, taking home the Norm Smith Medal as part of Melbourne’s first major final win in 57 years. He set the tone for the day early on, scoring the first goal of the match, going on to collect 39 eliminations and kicking two goals. It’s a game Melbourne fans will never forget.

In a challenging season (the Grand Final has been moved from his spiritual home at Melbourne Cricket Ground to Optus Stadium in Perth), Christian’s understanding of his body and how different types of food can help him find an edge has put him in good standing. Read on to discover how he used food to help him get through a big day of training and how his Italian heritage sparked a long-standing love of cooking. In his words, “I find cooking like meditation. I find it very therapeutic.”

Christian Petraca in action.

© Red Bull Content Pool


When preparing for a training day, what do you eat? Talk to us about your breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals, as well as your snacks.

On a typical training day, I get up around 6 am. I’ll probably get to the club around 7:30 in the morning and maybe get out of there around 4:30-5 in the evening. For breakfast, because I’m a runaway, I usually have a little yogurt, one of those bags that you can squeeze in. I’ll take one of them with a little muesli and some fruit and coffee for a fast food cup. I like to have a small breakfast so I feel comfortable working out in the morning.

For lunch, our dietitian/chef usually serves a selection of handcrafted sandwiches and salads. I usually like to choose something with a little bit of protein and a little bit of carbs – like grilled chicken, rice, and salad. After the training is over, I will usually have the recovery jolt. I use a protein powder mixed with banana or peanut butter and milk as a smoothie. Alternatively, our dietitian might make us some protein-rich muffins. I also snack constantly throughout the day, so I like to have some high-salt snacks. I like to grab some pastries or popcorn to keep me hydrated.

I snack constantly throughout the day, so I like to have some high-salt snacks.

Dinner really depends on what is served the next day. I usually have a day off after our main training. I love eating seafood, so I will probably eat a lot of salmon, which is really good for its anti-inflammatory benefits, especially dealing with swelling and a little bit of shakiness. I also love to eat a lot of vegetables!


Are you someone who focuses on macros/calories?

I went through a phase for two years where I was using the My Fitness Pal app and counting calories. I think I’ve been using the app daily for at least 18 months to 2 years. Since then I’ve had a great understanding of my body and how many calories are in things. For example, I didn’t know olive oil had 100 calories per tablespoon. Little things like that help me when I’m cooking.

For me, it doesn’t really matter what I eat as long as it’s full of vegetables and good protein. That’s all I really care about. I used to be afraid of eating carbs because I had a big body and it made me gain weight, but I feel like I’ve gone in the opposite direction now. I have shifted my mind towards performance and how I feel rather than what I eat. If I’m feeling a little lazy, I know I have something high energy. I’m better at knowing how my body feels throughout the day.


What do you eat before/after the game?

The night before a game, I usually cook some kind of carbohydrate-rich meal, whether it’s rice or pasta. I’m not a big meat eater. I will most likely have spaghetti with sausage, but I will have a higher carbohydrate content of meat.

I like to have dessert before a game – something that has a bit of fruit in it. I like to eat the apples I make. The night before the match, I like to be a little heavier, because I’m nervous on match day. I don’t like to eat too much just because I don’t want to feel heavy when going to the game. I feel the worst feeling when you feel lethargic and tired because you ate too much food/too much water.

I’ll have a bowl of cereal the morning of the game. I have a bigger breakfast because if it’s a night game, the next few meals will probably be a little lighter. From there I’ll get a bowl of cereal, a piece of toast and maybe a glass of orange juice. To be honest, from there until 7am, I probably only have a few rolls of chicken. If I feel a little lighter during a bout, at least I know I can have a banana and a Red Bull—which is very easy on the stomach. I feel like if I overeat, it’s really hard to get back to feeling normal.


Were there any situations where you weren’t able to eat as usual as you headed off to a game? How did it affect your performance?

We travel all the time. Interstate flights are tough because sometimes you never know what you’re going to get from the buffet at the hotel. While flying as well, I find whenever I fly and get hyper in the water, I get very heavy and legs heavy. I feel like this is just flying in general. Whenever my legs feel heavy, I go for a good morning running session to get my legs moving.

We were at Alice Springs against Port Adelaide earlier this year and the buffet wasn’t great. It was funny – there was actually no pasta which is funny. The general manager of the place thinks rice and noodles are very similar. I mostly like to go for pasta instead of rice, but I had rice and it played well. Perhaps this is more than just a myth. In the morning, I think I had a few eggs too, which I’ve never done at home. Doesn’t seem to affect gameplay!

Christian Petraca drinks Red Bull in the locker room

© Photographer Credit: Samuel Costin / Red Bull Content Pool


Are there any meals you have out of season?

You may be less strict on yourself in the first week or so of the off-season. I go to the pub with my mates and I have a parma or something. It’s very funny because our off-season schedule is actually harder than our off-season schedule. I find that I can be a little indulgent in my diet because I train hard. I find in the off-season I probably still burn 2000-3000 calories a day. I don’t drink any alcohol, so if I feel like I want a cheat meal, I’m fine with that. I’m not really bothered about having a bowl of chips with my girlfriend because I know I’m just going to burn her.

I find in the off-season I probably still burn 2000-3000 calories a day.

The game of the season is all about the game so it’s all about recovery. Off-season is about getting ready for pre-season. We’ll continue to do three running sessions per week, three gym sessions and one off-leg session, whether it’s a bike, swim or box. You are doing well. My girlfriend and I love going out to dinner. We love our Asian food, so we love going places in town. I think the best thing about Melbourne is how multicultural it is. It is very good here in terms of different heritages. We have a lot of options.


Why did you decide to use TikTok to share cooking videos?

I decided to use TikTok because I like to show my personality and brand. Cooking is my biggest passion since I was a kid. Growing up in an Italian family, food is a strong part of our lives. Growing up seeing athletes showing off their sport, I loved it and loved seeing who the athlete really was. Especially in the world we live in today through social media, I love being able to connect with my fans through social media and show who I really am.


Finally, what cooking secret do you think will help people improve their skills?

If you ask any Italian, these are three things: cook with love, use lots of olive oil and salt. My girlfriend looks at me every time I put salt in the pan. Looks like she’s having a heart attack, probably in 20 years. I just think it’s cool. I love salt.

#Christian #Petraca #AFL #Training #Diet

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