Over the next 12 months, LineoutCoach will feature monthly blogs on sports nutrition to help players gain an understanding of the benefits of a healthy diet and provide practical ways to make the small changes that can make a big difference.
As an introduction to this new series I would like to share my recent personal experience of how life changing making different eating choices can be.
Weight as a player = 228lbs (103kg/16.2 stone)
I was somewhat undersized as a hooker during my rugby playing days. Certainly by today’s standards I would be considered small for the professional game. The pressure was constant to reach a certain weight and then maintain that weight. I always struggled with putting on “good” weight while ensuring body fat was minimal. Front row forwards particularly struggle with this dilemma. Collectively known as “fatties” – front row players tend to love their food and I was no different.
Breakfast and lunch was served to us at Leicester Tigers. The players took shifts to come into work early and cook breakfast for the rest of the squad. This was an enjoyable and social experience and one that I continue to implement now as a head coach of Dartmouth.
Good nutrition advice was available at all times but I didn’t appreciate the contribution it was making to my performance. Better late then never!
Weight as a coach = 225lbs (102kg/16 stone)
One of the hardest parts of retiring from professional sports is adapting to the “new” lifestyle, particularly, eating less! Training with intensity, twice a day means you burn a lot of calories. Usually, players have a pretty high metabolism to boot. On average a player could burn approx. 2,000 – 4,000 calories a day. Once you hang up your boots, adjusting to less food is a challenge.
For this reason, as well as laziness, let’s be honest, I allowed myself to get completely out of shape and overweight. According to BMI, I was obese. There were two occasions during the summer when I became all too aware of my rotund physique.
At the Junior World Championship in France, the players weighed in every morning just before breakfast. Out of curiosity I jumped on the scales and was appalled to see the number thrown back at me, 225lbs! I tried to ignore it and put it down to a faulty scales but it weighed heavily (excuse the pun!) on my mind.
Following the JWC I attended my cousin’s wedding in Spain. I met a lot of friends and family I hadn’t seen in a while and was quickly made aware by some family members that I was looking out of shape. This bothered me but it wasn’t until a friend blatantly called me out for being fat that the message really hit home!
Goal – to lose 50lbs in 5 months
I arrived back home to New Hampshire on July 15th weighing in at 224lbs. There was simply no need whatsoever for me to be so heavy. I was determined to change my physique and sort myself out. Dartmouth preseason was around the corner and I could not possibly ask my players to dedicate themselves to our conditioning program, looking as I did.
At the same time, I was reading Sir Clive Woodward’s “Winning”. One of the best books I have ever read. There was one simple line from the book that jumped out of the pages and hit me between the eyes – “a coach should look the part”. How can a sports coach demand intense physical exertion from his players while being obese? I simply had to change.
I picked an arbitrary number – 50. That was my goal – to lose 50lbs and get myself into the best shape of my life. With the help, guidance and support of my wife Jessica, a dietitian, I immediately went about righting my dietary wrongs. No more fast food, no more processed junk, no more over indulging!
Making the Changes
The journey I have been on since July has been the most satisfying, gratifying, enjoyable and rewarding journey of my life to date. Everything I had read about nutrition started to make sense. All the clichés about food started to mean something to me. With the help of Jess, I educated myself on the impact food has on our bodies. I began to calorie count and measure servings. I downloaded MyFitnessPal app and recorded every morsel of food I consumed.
To my amazement, I did not feel hungry while limiting myself to 1600 calories a day. Armed with the education to make the right food choices, I found that I quickly adapted to my new diet. I say that word with caution as a “diet” implies a short-term restriction of food. That is not how I see it, I see my new way of consuming food as a lifestyle change. I refer to diet in it’s purest meaning.
It’s not just my eating routine that has changed, training has become a daily ritual I look forward to with anticipation.
My gym in the garage is where I spend a lot of my time these days. It is not elaborate, nothing more then floor mats, some dumbells and a jump rope. I have recently purchased a boxing heavy bag stand with a heavy bag and speed bag as I ramp up my conditioning and appreciation for the “sweet science”.
I usually train for about an hour a day and aim to burn 750-800 calories per session. All of this data is recorded in MyFitnessPal and reviewed each evening. We had food diaries as rugby players but an app such as MyFitnessPal, has made a big difference in my understanding of nutrition and diet.
Taking Control & Getting Results
Deciding what to fuel your body with is completely your choice. Seizing control of something that felt in free fall has been liberating. Giving away clothes that no longer fit has also been a pleasant by-product of weight loss.
The biggest surprise and most enjoyable element to this weight loss has been the small, yet noticeable changes. For the first time, I am listening to my body and it is giving me all the information I need to change.
It bothers me greatly that I could have been so lazy and allowed myself get so out of shape. Excuses are easy and they certainly were for me. I am the first to acknowledge that my job allows me a lot more freedom than other jobs to focus on my health and fitness and this undoubtedly has made the whole process easier.
For the record, I am no angel. I still drink too much coffee and eat pizza every now and then but the days of over indulgence and under exercising are gone.
Rugby is a competitive environment and it’s all about gaining an advantage over others. I didn’t write this blog to say “hey look at me” and shout about what I’ve done. I’m not trying to impress, the aim is to inspire.
I love being able to help people improve their rugby skills and understanding of the game through LineoutCoach and I’m looking forward to helping with other aspects of personal development through this nutrition series.
As a player, we function by setting ourselves goals and targets, whether that is in the gym, on the training field or even on match day. The goal setting of losing weight for me has simply been a case of transferring that targeted focus into my new life. Taking a skill from one environment and taking it into the next. The journey is not over…
I hope that by sharing my experience we can all have a healthy start to 2014!