NUTRITION is more important now in sport than it ever has been. With the right nutrition; players are prolonging their careers well into the mid to late 30s.
At 33, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski is the best number nine in football, and it was recently revealed that his unique ‘backwards eating’ routine has helped him achieve such high levels of performance.
It is believed that the Poland international starts his meals by having dessert which is followed by rounding out the meal with a starter-type option like a soup or rice to accompany his meat or fish.
Football is continuing to change and evolve, and Lewandowski’s strict diet is a far cry from former Republic of Ireland striker Tony Cascarino who revealed that a ham and cheese baguette dipped in hot chocolate is what he used to have to prepare for games during his playing days in France. Of course, superstars like Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo will have their private chefs that will prepare their meals but for the majority of players; they will just eat whatever the club provides for them.
Throughout my career, I was always surprised that at every club I was at, that none of them set out a diet plan for players. Yes, they gave suggestions of what a player should eat, particularly for the meal the night before and day of a game, but other than that, players had to create their own diet plan.
I found that strange, especially for the players that clubs would constantly be complaining to them about their weight. It would be the same conversation with the player every week, yet the club was never giving these players a proper diet plan.
The only club I’ve been at where they tried to restrict a player’s diet was Preston North End.
Some of the players had clearly enjoyed the off-season but the fitness coach did punish them for this. He was extremely strict about what they were allowed to eat and would take the food off the players' plates during meals.
This caused a debate in the club because although players were losing weight, their lack of energy was evident in training because they weren’t allowed to have any carbohydrates. Every club I played for, believed in different diets for the players. What I always loved about staying in a hotel the night before a game, was the meal that would be provided for us in hotel that evening. The meal was different in different countries.
In England, we would always have soup as a starter. There was always a good selection for our main, usually, there would be salmon, chicken, mince, lasagna, rice, pasta, potatoes and vegetables on the buffet menu.
You might not think it, but players were always given dessert as well which was apple crumble, ice cream and custard. I always remember that players used to rush to finish their main course because the first players finished, would just go and scrape off the crumble and leave just the apple for the rest of the squad, which caused a little conflict at times.
When I played in Scotland and returned to play in Ireland, I was surprised to see that dessert was yogurt and fruit.
I noticed a big change in my own diet from the start of my career to the end. I used to have a fry when I began playing and rather than have Jaffa Cakes or jellies before and at half-time in games, I relied on a having a Snickers bar before and at half-time in matches. That didn’t go down well with Preston.
When asked what type of food I wanted during games, my reply was a Snickers. It led to my professionalism being questioned and also the professionalism of the league I had just come from. Of course, I had to make a few adjustments to my diet after that but my best spell throughout my footballing career, was with my ‘unprofessional diet’ so maybe I should have stuck to eating Snickers and I would have had a more successful career.
In a few years, I’m sure nutritionists will highlight something wrong with current players’ diets and there will be a new trend. For me, the player themselves know what gets the best results for them and should eat what suits them best.
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