Kerry nutritionist Kevin Beasley on food planning, supplements and sneaky slices of pizza..
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice said his side has reaped the rewards of healthy eating. “Kevin has revolutionised the team’s nutrition in the past two years. He individualised each player’s eating habits to maximise their potential. The one size fits all strategy was disposed of and as a result players made massive strides in this critical area.”
Q: How would you describe your role with the Kerry team?
I would describe my role as being the first point of call for any nutrition-related issues with the squad. The types of jobs I typically do include:
Help the squad choose the right foods for the type of training that they’re doing.
Prepare menus for hotels when we’re playing away from home.
Work with our sports nutrition partners to ensure that the players get safe supplements relevant to their needs.
Arrange food for when we’re travelling to and from games.
Nutrition immediately before, at half-time and immediately after games.
Monitor weight, body composition and hydration.
Continuing education – sharing recipes, new meal ideas, food tasting, etc.
Answering any nutrition related queries at training.
Q: So how does the process work with individual players?
We continually monitor their weight at training and also periodically measure their body composition to see how much muscle and body fat they have. If any issues arise the players will keep a weekly food and training diary so that I can see what they’re currently doing, the types of foods they’re eating, when they’re eating them and the type of training they’re doing. Based on this information I can suggest changes to their diet and then follow up.
Q:What are the big must haves for an intercounty player in terms of diet?
I think the biggest must have is knowledge – to know why they need to eat certain types of foods at certain times. I only have limited access to the players and they make hundreds of decisions on what to eat every week. If a player knows why they need to eat a certain type of food at certain times then they are able to think for themselves and make better food choices. Players should choose natural, whole foods as much as possible. Fresh vegetables and fruit, red and white meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Eating a wide variety of foods is also very important.
Q: And the big no-nos?
Eating heavily processed and high sugar foods are a big no-no with me. I encourage them to eat high sugar foods at certain times but outside of this time-frame I would tell them to avoid. Eating takeaways is also a big no-no although they can have one as a treat (very occasionally!).
Q: How different in the diet of a Gaelic footballer from say a soccer or rugby player?
Gaelic footballers would be very similar in build to soccer players so I would say their diets would be very similar. Rugby players generally have more muscle mass and probably do more weight training so I would say that they would differ. I would guess that rugby players have to eat a higher amount of calories and more protein.
Q: Does the diet vary as the season progresses?
It would vary slightly depending on the training phase. If they’re trying to build muscle in pre-season then they would be eating more calories and more protein. If we’re going through a period of heavy training then they will need to eat more calories to cover increased energy expenditure. However, what they will eat day to day should vary slightly depending on whether they are doing weight training, pitch session, have a rest day or are preparing for a game.
Q: Does the diet of a midfielder vary massively from say a goalkeeper?
There probably would be differences alright! From a training perspective midfielders will cover a greater distance and at a higher intensity than goalkeepers so they will have to eat more to prepare for and recover from training. The same is true when preparing for a game.
Q: Like all diets are there break-out clauses?
Players are encouraged to eat nutritious natural foods as much as possible but they are allowed to indulge occasionally. Many players like pizza the evening after a game and we always have desserts available in our post-game meal. Some guys also like to have a biscuit with their tea. I don’t have any hard and fast rules – I think players realise the benefit a healthy diet has on their physique and performance so I hope they follow good dietary principles most of the time. The same attitude applies to alcohol consumption during the season. Players need some chance to let their hair down.
Q: Take a day like tomorrow’s league final, what would be the plan of action in terms of food consumption?
Players eat for a game the day before the match so they are encouraged to eat high carbohydrate foods so that their muscles will be well fuelled for the exertions of the game. Hydration is also important so they are encouraged to drink frequently. They would eat a normal breakfast on Sunday and have a pre-game meal approximately three hours before throw-in.
Q: Is it more difficult organising things with an away fixture?
It is more difficult than a home game but it has gotten easier with time as our routine is well developed. We pack supplements for the dressing room and that travels in the kit van. We also carry all our own water and sports drinks. We bring food on the bus so that players can eat – this is very important if on a long trip up to Derry or Donegal. We have a standard menu that we send to the hotel we’re staying in. That’s very important as you don’t want to be introducing foods that players haven’t tried before or that they dislike.
Q: Supplements get a lot of bad press - what is your viewpoint?
Certain supplements like creatine get a bad rap – the view is that they are very dangerous and can cause health issues. If you take the time to read the scientific literature you will find out that there is no problem taking these supplements once you follow the standard guidelines. The only problem is if you abuse these guidelines and take way more than recommended. This can happen if athletes take these supplements without getting proper advice or supervision.
I would advise people to take vitamin and mineral supplements but only as an insurance policy. They should take vitamin and mineral supplements to complement their diet but not because they don’t eat enough nutrient rich foods (e.g. fruit and vegetables) on a daily basis. Workout supplements also have their place due to the convenience factor – it might not be possible to eat a chicken breast after a gym session. Because players lead such a busy lifestyle, post workout shakes are very convenient. Whey protein can also be added to many meals and snacks to boost the protein content. However, I wouldn’t advise players to rely on protein shakes alone – they should get most of their protein from natural food sources.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing players with regards nutrition?
I think the biggest challenge facing inter-county footballers is that they are time poor. In order to eat healthy, you need the time to shop, cook and prepare your meals. I can’t speak for other counties but many of our players have to travel from Cork, Limerick and sometimes Dublin to get to training. When they get home at night they mightn’t have the time or energy to prepare a healthy lunch for the following day. Many guys spend a lot of time travelling for work so that poses additional problems in terms of packing healthy lunches and snacks. If you are playing an away game in the league then your whole weekend could be spent travelling so they won’t have the time to shop and have the right foods in their kitchen.
Q: At a broader level how worried should we be as a society by our diets?
Your diet can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I think people are eating more sugar and more highly processed foods and these are having a negative impact on people’s health. The statistics coming out about future obesity and diabetes rates are frightening. However, I think people are becoming more aware of the impact diet has on their health. Hopefully, we will see a trend of people buying healthier foods.
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