And never has diet been treated more seriously by sportsmen than it is today. Nutritionists are consulted as often as physiotherapists and games tacticians when it comes to preparing for a match.
The introduction of Continental players into the British game has also led to demands for better, more nutritious food.
"In my day you were lucky to get pie and beans," said former Glasgow Rangers footballer-turned-Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay. After being released by Rangers at 23, Ramsay decided to train as a chef in London under Marco Pierre White, and his Aubergine restaurant in Fulham, west London, has attracted the likes of Madonna and Sean Connery as customers.
Chef Anthony Worrall-Thompson is not surprised about why England have won the World Cup only once. "They have a much more balanced diet on the Continent," he argues. "The French eat a lot of rich food. The Italians have a naturally healthy diet with pasta. Brazilians eat rice and peas. Footballers here try to break the rules when no one is looking. They'd have a curry and lager if they could get away with it."
Today's footballers are more likely to be seen at a restaurant than a night-club. Recent visitors to Aubergine include Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola and TV presenter Des Lynam, while Worrall-Thompson has welcomed George Graham, Frank McLintock and Lee Chapman to Woz, his restaurant in Westbourne Grove, London.
They almost had the chance to put their recommendations into practice. "At one stage, I was asked to look after a team," says Worrall-Thompson. "I would like to sort out the food at the grounds, though. It's awful."
Ramsay was even closer. He offered his services to Scotland manager Craig Brown's squad during the World Cup but then realised it would take too much time. "I will be there in voice and spirit," he says. In France, as well as going backwards and forwards for Scotland's games, he will be preparing a huge dinner at the Palace of Versailles the night before the World Cup.
Ramsay is optimistic that Scotland may get as far as the quarter-finals. But, patriotic as he is, he has grounds to hope they get no further. "If they reach the semi-finals, I have promised the players and their wives a slap-up meal."
Fantasy menu for the match
CHEFS Anthony Worrall-Thompson and Gordon Ramsay have prepared healthy menus aimed at maximising Scotland's and England's performances on the day of a World Cup match, specially for the Independent on Sunday.
Pre-Match (at least three hours before kick-off):
Starter: olives, new potatoes, salad leaves, French beans, vine tomatoes, poached quails' eggs mixed with a very light vinaigrette with grilled Scottish tuna over the top.
Main course: poached Scottish salmon on a bed of tagliatelle. Sauteed mushrooms with basil and olive oil. No pudding.
Post-match supper: champagne reception with canapes.
Starter: ravioli with Scottish lobster and a light caviar sauce.
Main course: Scottish venison, braised cabbage, carrots, turnips in a red wine sauce.
Pudding: vanilla creme brulee with Granny Smith sauce. Coffee and petit-fours. Both meals would be accompanied by still Badoit mineral water, from France, and rustic French bread.
Gordon Ramsay's explanation: "Potatoes provide carbohydrates; French beans have protein. The creme brulee is something I served in a dinner at Ibrox [Rangers' ground] and people couldn't believe how healthy it was. UHT milk, instead of cream, is used, so it's not stodge. The Badoit is healthier than carbonated water. Gazza is the shape he is because of fizzy mineral water."
Pre-match starter: cold lovage vichyssoise, with lovage, leeks, potatoes, onions and a dash of cream.
Main course: porcini risotto with leaf salad with cold tomatoes, with basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. No pudding.
Health drink including banana, wheatgerm, mango, fresh orange juice, low-fat milk, lots of crushed ice. Shot of rum (Pina Colada).
Post-match supper: a couple of glasses of red wine. French asparagus rolls wrapped in smoked salmon and Mediterranean prawns and aioli. Leaf salad with a few tomatoes, with basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chargrilled rib streak with a poached egg on top.
Pudding: banana toffee pudding. Coffee
Throughout, the England players should drink cranberry juice and eat Italian bread with olive oil, not butter.
Anthony Worrall-Thompson's explanation: "The vichyssoise would be chilled, and in the middle of summer, that would be very good for footballers. The health drink would have bananas for potassium and wheatgerm for roughage. The players could even have a shot of rum before the game. After the game, the players could have a couple of glasses of red wine, which would be good for low cholesterol.
"I'd let them blow out a bit with the banana toffee pudding. They wouldn't be playing for a couple of days, and the pure butter sugar they could burn off training. The cranberry juice would be good for vitamins.
"A lot of English food is not that healthy," admits Worrall-Thompson, "but people have realised they're eating the wrong diet."
PRE-MATCH meal: Crumbly English cheese with grapes and dried figs. Wholegrain rolls with rocket and parmesan salad. Stewed rhubarb with ginger biscuits and custard. Tea made with mint leaves infused in boiling water. To drink: beaujolais nouveau.
During the game, German or Belgian beer or alcohol-free elderflower water.
Post-match meal: Champagne, tomato and basil risotto accompanied by chargrilled asparagus with olive oil. A bowl of mixed raspberries and strawberries in framboise with creme-fraiche. Camomile tea. During the meal, pinot noir.
Nutrition expert Jane Clarke explained: "The cheese is high in zinc which is good for the libido. The salad leaves would provide iron and the parmesan is high in zinc. The ginger, rhubarb and custard provide fibre and vitamin C.
"The beaujolais would be quite light to drink, and so you wouldn't feel too sleepy. It contains anthrozine, which fends off heart disease, in case the matches get too exciting.
"Belgian or German beers are reasonably low in alcohol, so you won't get too excited during the game, and they contain yeast, which is high in vitamin B. The risotto is good because you can discuss the game in about the 40 minutes it takes to make, and for drink, champagne because you are celebrating Scotland or England having won.
"Tomato and basil are quite light. The berries are refreshing, and pinot noir contains an anti-oxidant which has been used in studies of prevention of cancer and heart disease.
"You only need two courses, but you need food that still fills your stomach and doesn't clog up the arteries."
Jane Clarke is a cordon bleu cook turned consultant nutritionist, whose books include "Body Foods for Women" (Orion, pounds 6.99).Reuse content