May 31, 2017

From pork pies and beer to quinoa and cherry juice

First, cricketers had plain nosh. Now they have nutritionists
21

"Those look good, Heals, but what's their nutritional value?" © Getty Images

In the good old days, cricketers could drink a couple of pints before a game, and scoff down a plate of sandwiches, pork pies and cakes at lunchtime (make that plates, if you happened to be a certain bearded former Middlesex and England captain). It would be the same again at tea, and then in the evening it was off to a local restaurant for a blowout.

Garry Sobers' surname indicated anything other than his physical state when he returned to the match day hotel, in the middle of the night, after a bottle of whiskey and a game of cards.

Cricket, after all, was a sport made popular by the English establishment. A day's play was structured in the same way as a day at the manor house in the late-19th century. Breakfast, luncheon, tea, dinner, and in the evening, maybe a few rounds on the table or at the bar. For players and spectators ever since, food and drink has been part of cricket's culture.

One cake or four made little difference to a portly batsman's ability to stretch out a cursory foot at mid-off as the ball sped towards the boundary. He could soon make that up, willow in hand, with a few sublime cover drives of his own. And so what, if a fast bowler was a bit dehydrated after a night on the tiles. He could hang around at fine leg in between spells with nothing much to do except wait for the crowd to throw the ball back from the square leg boundary.

These days, cricket is big business. Diving over the ball and grazing in the outfield is no longer acceptable. Players have to be athletes, not just batsmen and bowlers. And if anyone puts in a below-par performance that might have been influenced by something they ate or drank, the healthy-eating mafia are all over them before you can say Jesse Ryder or Samit Patel.

Alec Stewart with processed and packaged food - cheese, crisps, baked beans, chocolates, cookies, croutons and more - on England's tour to the subcontinent for the 1996 World Cup © PA Photos/Getty Images

Today's international teams employ nutritional experts to give players advice on what to eat and drink. According to England's performance nutritionist, Chris Rosimus, that means making nutritional choices, not wolfing down sausage rolls and cakes. "That sort of food has no performance value whatsoever," he says.

Rosimus explains that without expert nutritional advice, players could easily get confused by all the information that's out there about what to eat, why and when.

Believe the sales pitches and medical endorsements, and there's compelling evidence for high-carb diets, low-fat choices, or even the need to eat what's good for your blood type. Some experts say no sugar because it makes us anxious and hyper. Others say that too much wheat or dairy is hard to digest. These days, fish caught in the sea are full of plastic, whereas fish bred in farms are full of toxins.

A few years back, Australian team doctor Peter Brukner had the Australians on a high-fat, low-carb diet that he believed would reduce hunger cravings and enable players to maintain more consistent energy levels. Today, according to Cricket Australia's Lead Sports Performance Dietician, Michelle Cort, players' diets change according to their training or match-day needs. "This means adjusting all nutrients to help achieve optimal performance and recovery," she says.

Rosimus, too, thinks elite cricketers are better off with a varied and balanced diet. So the lunchtime menu at England's international venues would contain carbohydrates from low to moderate glycaemic index sources - quinoa, cous cous, basmati rice and sweet potatoes - to provide players with sustainable fuel over a period of time. Also, lean, easily digestible proteins, like chicken and fish to deal with muscle breakdown. There will be good-quality fats, like avocados, nuts or full-fat yoghurt and antioxidants from berries, vegetables and salads to help the immune system and prevent fatigue.

Then and now: Fred Trueman enjoys a beer; David Warner drinks an energy drink © PA Photos, Getty Images

This sort of food will be found in the lunch room at an Australian ground, during a Test or one-dayer too. But Cort adds that there should also be lighter options available - smoothies or sandwiches - for players with heavy workloads, or who are performing at a higher intensity on a particular day.

Both Rosimus and Cort oversee nutrition requirements for their respective boards' men's and women's teams and also the performance and development squads. But these are not full-time roles. Rosimus also works for Premier League football team, Leicester City. Cort has also advised Australia Sailing and the Geelong Cats AFL team during her time with Cricket Australia.

Neither nutritionist travels with the teams, although Rosimus did travel with England and the England Lions when he first got the job, six years ago.

"Nutrition wasn't a high priority and we were trying to raise standards," Rosimus says. "Now I don't need to be there all the time because we've got such a good system in place both in the England setup and around the counties."

A lot of the day-to-day dietary work is carried out by strength and conditioning coaches, who do travel with the team.

It's not always easy to find healthy food when touring since players often have to rely on the organisers for meals at the ground © AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand's strength and conditioning coach, Chris Donaldson, a former Olympic sprinter, monitors what the Black Caps eat and drink on the road.

When Donaldson started with the side six years ago, the team had no expert nutritional advice.

"It was down to myself and others to try and educate the guys with what we knew," he says. Today, New Zealand's nutritionist works with the players, mainly in training camps, with a few subsequent catch-ups with each player during the year, maybe over Skype, email or phone.

Donaldson thinks that today's elite players don't need too much micromanaging. "Most of them accept that they need to be careful with what they eat and drink. They aren't craving stupid food all the time."

But even with players being well-informed and willing to stick to prescribed diets, a cricket nutritionist has the challenge of juggling several different plans.

A player with lower energy requirements, a spin bowler perhaps, may need less carbohydrate and more quality protein, vegetables and salads. Fast bowlers might need to take additional low-calorie sports drinks to provide the energy that they need to keep bowling at high intensity for long periods.

Cort says that all the elite Australian players have individual diet plans. Roismus says some England players need that level of prescription, others just a bit of education.

Marcus Trescothick looks at a display of fried food in a market in Karachi © Getty Images

When it comes to nutrition, there are almost as many variables as there are players. Donaldson gives the example of one New Zealander whose performance suffers not just if he gains weight, but also if he loses weight too quickly. "If the player drops weight too fast, he also loses muscle mass and, as a result, strength, so when he needs to lose some weight, we gradually reduce the portion size or the type of food." . Another Black Cap who Donaldson has worked with actually needs to gain weight at times. "He's a bit too lean and sometimes gets sick when the environment is different, or there's lots of flying, training, playing different formats. He needs more recovery drinks and post-training meals so he doesn't burn too much fuel and get muscle breakdown. Then he's better able to keep clear of viruses."

Sometimes players don't want any food at all. When Brendon McCullum scored 302 against India in 2014, he didn't eat for two days, he was so focussed and in the zone, his strength and conditioning coach recalls.

Players also need to adjust their nutritional routines depending on the format of the game and the overhead conditions. In hot weather, this means more fluids and electrolytes. It can be difficult to get a quality meal, late at night after a T20 game, so the nutritionist might have to arrange a buffet in the players' area, containing the proteins and antioxidants they need to trigger recovery.

Rosimus, Cort and Donaldson all admit that it can be a challenge to make sure players eat right on overseas tours, or when they are playing in T20 leagues around the world. Nutritionists can liaise with local chefs, even send over their own menus, but they don't have any control over what ends up on the lunch table in matches outside the home board's jurisdiction.

Virat Kohli tucks into some Nando's takeaway, 2014 © Getty Images

Keeping track of the supplements players are offered away from home isn't easy either.

"Supplements are not that well-regulated," Donaldson says. He explains that the problem isn't always the actual supplement, but that it could have been made with a banned substance in the factory. As this wouldn't necessarily appear on the list of ingredients, a trainer or coach might not be aware of it.

Donaldson says that before giving players supplements, New Zealand's performance nutritionist will visit the companies that made the supplements, find out what they were being made with, check that they were clean.

"Supplements should be evidence-based, not gimmick, and specific to the players' needs," Rosimus says. He uses protein bars and shakes to help players increase protein intake and muscle mass. Also, concentrated cherry juice, which is full of antioxidants for recovery after activity and high in melatonin, which helps you sleep.

Most modern players are aware of what to do and not to do when it comes to supplements and nutrition. Some, however, know more than others. England and Middlesex batsman Fran Wilson has a Master's in Sports and Exercise nutrition.

"Regularly eat the wrong food and over time and it will have an adverse effect on your body composition," Wilson says. But she is not all about abstinence and denial. "The social side of the sport is part of what makes cricket a great game," Wilson says. "People enjoy food and drink. It's about developing good habits over a prolonged period of time. Working out what's good for you in general, not just for your sport."

Bananas are a natural source of sugar, potassium and vitamin C © AFP/Getty Images

But there's an additional dilemma in all of this. Cricket is actually one of the few sports in which a player can still be very successful without being in the greatest shape - Shane Warne, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina, to name a recent few. Before that, every international team had its share of Billy Bunters. Former Australian batsman Gary Cosier played in the same Australian Test team as Gary Gilmour, in the mid-'70s. Gilmour was never the slimmest and was once told by Don Bradman that he ate too many potatoes to play for Australia.

Cosier says that players back then didn't give much thought to what they were eating. "Adelaide Oval had the best sausage rolls ever, served by Bob the room attendant, and at the Gabba, it was fish and chips for lunch. Greg Chappell was always careful with his diet and Dennis Lillee got into a routine when he was recovering from his back injury, but apart from that we never had any input about what to eat and drink. Most players had whatever they wanted. Maybe there would be some salad with the fish and chips."

It's not like modern players can't indulge their cravings at all. "They've still got to enjoy themselves and modern players know what they should and shouldn't do in regards to eating and drinking. As long as they work hard in training, play the game as hard as they can and are actually capable of performing at their best. A beer after dinner isn't going to affect these guys. It needs to be an enjoyable and sustainable lifestyle," Donaldson says.

In a letter to his 16-year-old self in 2015, tennis champion Pete Sampras wrote: "Don't forget to take care of your most important weapon: your body. Be aware of what you're eating. There will be times when you wake up in the middle of the night before a match, craving crazy things like hamburgers and pizza. It's because your body is missing something. If you ignore those cravings and don't figure out what your body needs (and it's definitely not burgers or pizza), you'll get on the court the next day and fall flat."

During the 2014 England tour, some of the Indian team were seen tucking into takeaway McDonald's and Nando's during their net session before the Headingley one-dayer. India were 3-0 up against England, with one game to play. They had previously thrashed the hosts by six wickets, nine wickets and 133 runs. But in this last game, Shikhar Dhawan, Raina and Virat Kohli (who has transformed into a fitness role model over the last two years and advises sports enthusiasts to avoid junk food) managed just 62 runs from 88 balls as India struggled to chase down England's 294 for 7.

Was it dead-rubber syndrome or a fast-food craving gone wrong?

Either way, England, their players munching on pine nut salads, quinoa bajis and swigging protein shakes and cherry juice, won the match by 41 runs.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on June 3, 2017, 12:13 GMT

    Personally, I always wanted to bat like Colin Milburn. Can somebody send me his diet sheets?

  • Peter on June 2, 2017, 19:12 GMT

    Yes it is becoming robot's game. I don't think any batsman from modern age can survive just two overs against wasim akram, dennis lilly or Muralidharan. Modern batsmen with a bunch of coaches, physios, nutritionist, analysts have become show boys without any particular skills. Bowlers should be kept out of this discussion. I don't think there will be any specialist bowlers after 10 years. Anyone will be able to bowl as sole purpose will be to complete the quota.

  • Rimtu on June 2, 2017, 14:26 GMT

    In that pic of Fred Trueman and David Warner, David is not drinking an energy drink. He's drinking electrolyte supplement aka thirst quencher aka ****ade. These are common and necessary in all on-field under-the-sun sports as well as any sports causing extreme depletion of vital electrolytes through profuse sweating etc. These are however unnecessary and bad for people with little to no activity causing physical exhaustion.

    I think a little bit of indulgence is always good. The main problem with human's food intake is the lack of control. People seem to lose control when it comes to food, quite easily. Generally adult population have the ability to eat and continue eating even after they are full. When a human is born, initially they do not overeat. They only eat until they are full, and when full, they stop eating. Something that Adults are doing to the infants/toddlers to destroy the good eating habbits that all animals are naturally born with.

    Cricketers are human and no different

  • Mashudu on June 1, 2017, 13:46 GMT

    Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis are proof that you don't necessarily need to be ultra fit in order to become a successful cricketer. At their peak none of these two men could be described by any definition as being athletic yet they went on to have successful careers spanning more than a decade at the top level of competitive cricket.

  • Girik on June 1, 2017, 9:50 GMT

    It's not a coincidence that cricketers get injured more frequently when sports nutritionists have been telling them to eat low fat, low carb, low salt, low sugar, paleo, raw vegan and other fad diets. And instead of playing cricket to practise and train for match time, they're in the gym doing cardio or strength training. Not surprisingly, they're as fit as Oprah.

  • Agney on June 1, 2017, 8:23 GMT

    SRT,Kallis,KP,Ponting,Hayden--These were great batsmen

  • Agney on June 1, 2017, 8:18 GMT

    SRT,Kallis,Ponting,Hayden,Sanga,Hussey,KP,Amla--

  • Patrick on June 1, 2017, 6:18 GMT

    Funny far more injuries players than was before after all this healthy fad or whatever you call it. Just take a look at the Aussie fast boys..Lost track or count on the no of injured. Hv we every seen a Kapil or a Walsh or a Amrose or Donald let alone McGraw...Thommo..all legendary stories... Nowadays no doubt its heavier schedules but the kids are just damn sizzies..smaller grounds, highway pitches, bigger bats,,,restricted bowlers n what not...Just to pull in more crowds...yeah...the fairer ones and couch potatoes....The real game is going pear shaped...all the players are alike...bunch of robots...

  • nichol9773424 on June 1, 2017, 5:54 GMT

    Interesting that F.S. was selected for the photo displaying negative connotations. How many times, I wonder did he break down compared to the modern show ponies like Wood. Oh, he also bowled a 1,000 overs a year, totals made up from playing county games as well as internationals. He was never mollycoddled like our current prima donnas. Nutritionists are yet another solution looking for a problem to gain employment by pulling the wool over our credulous eyes.

  • Tony on June 1, 2017, 4:41 GMT

    Quite an enjoyable article except for the last few paragraphs. It is silly to even suggest that one bad sporting performance may have been affected by eating one serve of takeaway food.

    Going by that rationale I expect that your next article will be suggesting that all cricketers get drunk the night before the game, because that way they will play like Doug Walters or Gary Gilmour and put on a 217 run partnership against the likes of Richard Hadlee whilst still being under the influence.

    Then you can blame the New Zealanders for NOT drinking the night before. I have the ending already completed:

    "For New Zealand was it first-match nerves, or a water and juice craving gone wrong?

    Either way, Australia, their players intoxicated on beer, wine, and various spirits, scored 552 runs".

  • No featured comments at the moment.