How far do elite footballers need to push themselves to stay at the very top of the game? What obscure marginal gains do they employ to give them the tiniest advantage over their competitors?
Cristiano Ronaldo partially answered that question on Monday, when eagle-eyed fans spotted he paints his toenails black for practical reasons – to avoid fungi and bacteria affecting his foot.
The Portuguese superstar, now earning £175million-a-year in Saudi Arabia with Al-Nassr, is famously obsessive about his health and fitness routines.
But it clearly works – indeed, a test found the outrageously toned 38-year-old veteran had the body of an athlete 14 years his junior, with seven per cent body fat — (the average footballer’s is 11), and 50 per cent muscle mass.
Painting his toenails is far from the only unusual method Ronaldo employs to fuel his body – and below, Mail Sport looks at what else the forward does to stay in outstanding shape.
From ‘magical’ chicken, a strict napping schedule and at-home cryotherapy – Mail Sport examines the health hacks that could be helping Ronaldo stay in top form at 38 years old
SIX mini-meals throughout the day
Rather than sticking to the traditional three-meal structure of breakfast-lunch-dinner, Ronaldo prefers to refuel with six smaller ‘mini-meals’ throughout the day: Breakfast, brunch, lunch, snack, supper, dinner.
While scientists are still debating the merits of multiple smaller meals for the rest us, Ronaldo’s pattern of eating isn’t unusual for athletes.
That pattern is said to help meet the high nutritional demands of footballers, giving the energy they need for the range of training they do throughout the day. Diet is clearly very important to Ronaldo, reportedly having a personal nutritionist who has been following him since his Real Madrid days.
He loves nutrient-rich avocado, fresh fish and generally sticks to high-protein, low-fat foods like chicken, with Ronaldo once calling it ‘magical’ for its healthy properties. Salad, whole grains like quinoa, and fresh fruit are also piled onto his plate every day.
Fellow Portuguese players have said Ronaldo’s favourite dish is Bacalhau a Bras, a traditional dish combining scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and salted cod.
And one thing he seemingly won’t touch is sugary drinks. The footballer infamously caused a sponsorship headache at Euro 2020 when he pointedly removed Coca-Cola bottles from his seating area at a press conference before shouting in Portuguese: ‘Drink water!’.
Ronaldo is strict about what he eats, and has small meals on several occasions, often featuring fresh vegetables and avocado on toast, and chicken, which is high in protein and low in fat
Ronaldo removes Coca-Cola bottles before press conference
Plenty of little naps rather than one big sleep
Ronaldo does get seven-and-a-half hours of sleep, which most people should aim for, but gets it in an unusual way: with five 90-minute naps rather than one big sleep.
Known as polyphasic sleep, the basic concept is to break the normal sleep cycle up into a half-dozen naps, though the exact method can vary.
This is broadly the same pattern babies use to sleep, something that usually comes at the expense of their parents’ own sleep schedules.
The supposed benefits of the practise include increased productivity, alertness and the ability to learn and retain new information.
Some scientific studies have found taking a 90 minute nap during the day can improve reactions times for tasks. Other scientists say polyphasic sleep doesn’t have any proven benefits compared to a regular sleep schedule.
But Ronaldo has reportedly embraced the theory put forward by sport sleep expert Nick Littlehales, who he met while at Real Madrid.
‘Proper sleep is really important for getting the most out of training,’ he says. ‘Sleep helps muscles recover, which is really important.’
Ronaldo previously said sleeping is key to muscle recovery; he has five 90-minute naps a day
A £50,000 cryotherapy chamber
When he returned to Manchester United in 2021, Ronaldo reportedly had a £50,000 cryotherapy chamber brought to his home. Cryotherapy chambers use freezing liquid nitrogen to rapidly plunge the air within to -200C (-328F).
The therapy, which counts athletes like Usain Bolt and fellow footballer Erling Haaland as fans, is thought to help reduce inflammation and injury swelling by boosting blood circulation as the body responds to the extreme cold.
For these reasons, some athletes use it to relieve muscle pain and enhances recovery times between games and training. However, people can’t spend more than five minutes at a time exposed to the extreme cold as this could harm healthy tissue.
Ronaldo, a fan of cryotherapy for almost a decade, takes using it safely seriously. In a video posted to Instagram in February the star was seen carefully bundling up with a mask, headband, gloves, as well as a pair of socks and crocs as he used a cryo chamber after an intense training session in Dubai.
When using it at home the footballer favoured cryotherapy session lasting just three minutes at a relatively balmy -160C (-356F). Scientific consensus about cryotherapy is mixed, however.
Some experts say while the technique doesn’t have objective evidence that it works it may act as a positive placebo, making athletes feel better and that they are recovering faster.
Also known as cold therapy, cryotherapy uses extremely low temperatures to help recovery
Cristiano Ronaldo strips off for cryotherapy chamber ‘recovery’
Working out for up to four hours a day
In addition to training with his club, Ronaldo supplements squad sessions with a personal workout plan.
He swears by Pilates, regular swims and five trips to the gym a week.
These include 25-30 minutes of cardio, high-intensity sprinting and targeted weights to increase muscle strength.
In total, he works out for three to four hours a day.
And when the Portugal star is not kipping he’s either training or working out on his own
Painting his toenails black
In a recent social media post, fans noticed something unusual in that Ronaldo’s toenails were painted black, with one fan replying: ‘Did I miss something or everyone else missed it. Did Ronaldo paint his toe nails?’
There is a good reason why he does this and it’s for the same reason why many top athletes such as MMA fighters also paint their nails.
It’s said athletes paint their nails or cover them with a protective layer to defend their nails from fungi and bacteria.
They said: ‘Many top athletes do this to protect their nails from fungi and bacteria when they are stuck in sweaty shoes for hours. Even Mike Tyson.’
It’s not the first time that he has been pictured with his toenails painted black. Back in January, MMA fighter Francis Ngannou posted a picture with Ronaldo where they are seen embracing and the Portuguese star’s painted nails are visible.
Fighters such as former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski would do the same during when stepping into action. It’s another sign of a player who has always looked to go the extra mile in proving himself as one of the best of all time.
Cristiano Ronaldo is seen with black painted toenails as he enjoys some downtime in the sauna
Fans previously spotted his big toe was painted black in a photo with Francis Ngannou (left)
CRISTIANO RONALDO’S DIET, WORKOUTS, REST AND PHYSIQUE
His typical daily meals:
Breakfast: Cheese and ham, low-fat yoghurt
Brunch: Chicken and salad
Lunch: Tuna, olives, egg and tomato
Snack: Fresh fruit, avocado on toast
Supper: Fresh swordfish and salad
Dinner: Steak and calamari
Ronaldo supplements squad training sessions with a personal workout plan.
His five weekly trips to the gym include 25-30 minutes of cardio, high-intensity sprinting and targeted weights to increase muscle strength. In total, he works out for three to four hours a day.
The superstar naps five times a day. ‘Proper sleep is really important for getting the most out of training,’ he says.
‘Sleep helps muscles recover, which is really important.’
A test found he had the body of an athlete 14 years his junior, with seven per cent body fat — (the average footballer’s is 11).
He has 50 per cent muscle mass.