- Graeme Close and Michael Naylor offer expert insight
- “They say eat fruit and veg if you want to be big and strong. It’s true” – Haskell
“Nutrition for us rugby players is huge. We’re not cover models and we never will be. We’re performance athletes and we have to fuel our bodies. You have to look at food first.”
James Haskell’s message is an uncompromising, honest one. Now into his 13th season as a professional, the Wasps and England back-rower has built up an acute understanding of his body’s requirements.
As Stuart Lancaster’s squad approach the Rugby World Cup, they are leaving no stone unturned during an exacting preparation schedule. And nutrition is a fundamental facet of their approach.
Graeme Close believes staunchly that a “research-informed” and “evidence-based” plan will translate into “match-day performance”. Naturally though – given the nature of the sport – individual needs are catered for.
“We tend to classify our players in three ways,” explains England’s expert nutrition consultant.
“There are maximisers, players trying to gain muscle mass, and then there are maintainers trying to keep their muscle mass. There are also minimisers, who are working on maybe losing a bit of body fat.
“Generally, their diet will be based around high quality proteins such as chicken, eggs and fish like salmon.
“We try to make sure they get those regularly throughout the day and on top of that, they will have a lot of high-quality vegetable produce. Carbohydrate comes in the form of sweet potato, rice quinoa – all of this is balanced to a player’s needs.”
Interestingly, Close and his team target self-sufficiency.
“We aim to educate the players and give them their own diet coach so they know what they’re putting into their body and more importantly why.
“That way, they’re more likely to be making better choices, not only here in camp but also while we’re away from camp.”
Michael Naylor, a colleague of Close, warned against portion size with the advice that “too much good can leave you with body fat.”
He also advocated “food-first” methods, suggesting that any supplements should only be taken on the say-so of a “fully-qualified practitioner.”
Haskell’s final sentiments centred upon what he would recommend to a youngster in the early stages of their development.
“Staying away from refined things like white bread, white pasta and ready meals and junk food – that’s a huge thing.
“Keep it very simple and try to build up. Have a good breakfast with a protein source or porridge rather than cereal.”
Clearly, the start of any given day is crucial. And a well-worn proverb rings true, even at the top.
“They say eat your fruit and veg if you want to be big and strong, and it’s true.”