Fry to pasta: what sports­peo­ple now have on their plate

The di­etary re­quire­ments and habits of elite ath­letes have changed rad­i­cally

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - RUAIDHRÍ CROKE

It was the night be­fore the 2018 All-Ire­land se­nior hurl­ing fi­nal, and a re­al­i­sa­tion dawned on Lim­er­ick’s Aaron Gil­lane: his mother would not be around to cook him his usual pre-match break­fast.

She and his fa­ther, brother and sis­ter had trav­elled up to Dublin to stay in a ho­tel the night be­fore the Croke Park show­down with Gal­way, and Gil­lane was at a loss be­cause his rou­tine of a life­time was thrown out of kil­ter. Some 24 hours later the 22-year-old would be cel­e­brat­ing Lim­er­ick’s first All-Ire­land ti­tle in 45 years, and, de­spite it all, his rou­tine had not been bro­ken. “My mother drove back down on the Satur­day night so she could make my break­fast the next morn­ing. Just to keep the rou­tine. She makes my break­fast be­fore ev­ery match; three poached eggs and three rash­ers. I shouldn’t be telling Joe O’Con­nor that, but it did the trick for me. Rou­tine is im­por­tant, tick­ing the boxes.”


That’s cer­tainly ded­i­ca­tion from Mrs Gil­lane, and it shows just how cru­cial rou­tine is for sports­peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to food. A six-time All-Ire­land win­ner with Kerry, Dar­ragh Ó Sé saw plenty of changes in how in­ter­county teams dealt with nu­tri­tion from the start of his ca­reer in 1993 un­til re­tire­ment in 2010. “If you had a home game you’d have your own break­fast in the morn­ing which, back in the day, would con­sist of a fry or what­ever. it also de­pended on the time of the game.

“Whether you wanted to or not you were told to eat at a cer­tain time. I re­mem­ber an hour be­fore the game hav­ing tea and sand­wiches – the worst thing you could be hav­ing with all that white bread in your tummy when you’re play­ing. I re­mem­ber be­fore the Mun­ster fi­nal in 1997 in Lim­er­ick we had sand­wiches be­fore and sure af­ter­wards half the team was sick. The only fella that didn’t get sick was the fella who drank too much af­ter the game be­cause that must have killed the bug!”

One of the big­gest con­tro­ver­sies to come out of the Manch­ester United camp shortly af­ter David Moyes took over as man­ager in 2013 was that he had banned chips at the Car­ring­ton train­ing ground can­teen. It ran­kled so much with Rio Fer­di­nand he still seemed ag­grieved when he wrote about it in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy years later. “It’s not some­thing to go to the bar­ri­cades over [the chips]. But all the lads were p **** d off,” Fer­di­nand wrote.

And guess what hap­pened af­ter Moyes left and Ryan Giggs took over? “Moyes has been gone about 20 min­utes, we’re on the bikes warm­ing up for the first train­ing ses­sion and one of the lads says: ‘You know what? We’ve got to get on to Gig­gsy. We’ve got to get him to get us our f ***** g chips back’.”

Chips were a long-time sta­ple of pro­fes­sional soc­cer teams, with steak and chips or egg and chips be­ing two of the pre-match meals of choice through­out the 20th cen­tury. Steak was thought to pro­vide the en­ergy needed.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Jimmy Greaves de­scribes “head­ing off to Moody’s cafe in Can­ning Town where we would or­der our pre-match meal of roast beef and York­shire with all the trim­mings or pie and mash fol­lowed by black­cur­rant crum­ble and cus­tard”.

Red meat

The lik­ing for red meat went across all sports, with the 1949 US Ry­der Cup team turn­ing up in Eng­land armed with 600 steaks, six hams, 12 sides of beef and four boxes of ba­con to sus­tain them­selves and their wives for the month that they would spend on this side of the At­lantic. It was quickly daubed “Meat­gate” by the Bri­tish press, and be­came the main news story in the build-up to the event.

Over the years red meat be­fore matches has turned to white, with chicken along­side pasta or rice be­com­ing the trusted forms of slow-re­leas­ing en­ergy.

“There were def­i­nitely huge changes over the years, even just in the in­take of water to stop de­hy­dra­tion,” Ó Sé says. “That was rel­a­tively ig­nored when I started off in 1993. You were told to drink water but it wasn’t over­seen. It be­came more pro­tein-based with rice and pasta and things like that.”

Salty rash­ers don’t ex­actly come un­der the cat­e­gory of pro­tein-based, and are far from the ideal food to be eat­ing to stay hy­drated, but, as Gil­lane showed in Au­gust, ba­con is a per­fectly ac­cept­able way to start the day when you’re end­ing 45 years of hurt.

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