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Nutritional Therapist, Ian Craig talks about the training the Nedbank Keyona team goes trough and why is it important for a soccer player should live a healthy lifestyle!

SunSport Reporter: What is your role in Ring of steel?

Ian Craig: My focus is completely with the nutritional support of the players, helping them towards peak health and also improved performance in training and on the field. 

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring soccer players to stay healthy and in form?

IC: When it comes to food, look at what you can learn from your Granny…. Good nutrition starts with the basics - nature made food and not man-made food. Quality, preferably organic, local and seasonal meat, fish, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds and whole grains.

Contrary to the pitch of the food manufactures, there’s not too much more to it than that. Of course, the nutrition for each player needs to be individualised with regards to ratios of carbs and fats (such as in popular media discussion these days), but the basics for staying healthy are actually pretty straight forward.

SR: Can soccer players have a big meal a few hours before a game?

IC: This will depend very much on the player. Some people digest food really readily - I’ve worked with cyclists who can eat a full English breakfast one hour before embarking on a 200km race. But many people have a compromised digestion due to competition nerves, so since most football games are played in the afternoon, I would generally recommend a good breakfast and a light lunch. 

SR: There is a myth that says soccer players shouldn’t have sex the day before a game because it decreases their performance, is that true?

IC: That is one of these silly statements that really needs to be put into context. If a player is up all night, having wild passionate sex several times, yes there is a good chance that his performance is impeded the next day. But, if he has sex with his wife or girlfriend before his normal bedtime and it helps to relax him and have a good night’s sleep, then it’s definitely a good idea.

SR: Whats your opinion on junk food for players and for people in general?

IC: Junk food is junk; need I say more? Is that old adage of the type of fuel you would choose to put in a Ferrari?

SR: What are some of the important points you tell the players in the ring of steel?

IC: Beyond the basics of day-to-day food, they need to fuel their bodies properly for training and competition. This requires ensuring adequate calories to balance daily exercise expenditure - inadequate fuel intake means a depleted body over time and poor training returns. Protein, fat and carb needs have to be covered and there are guidelines that help here. However, beyond the general sports nutrition guidelines, we need a high priority approach on quality of food and not just quantities of these nutrients that some sports nutritionists tend to become lost in.

Additionally, as I’ve already noted, each player must be treated as an individual and the whole team should not be painted with the same brush - this individual approach should help to get the most out of each player. In addition to these points, specific sports nutrition is essential - what they consume before, during and after training and competition - i.e. pre, during and post-exercise nutrition. I favour the use of DIY healthy sports and recovery drinks over commercial brightly coloured products that have little health value. 

SR: What foods should people stay away from to be healthy?

IC: Junk food…. Sugar in general is a big no-no in general because it impedes health in many ways, including pro-inflammation, which will slow recovery. Having said that, during and immediately after exercise, sugar of some sort is important for performance and recovery - but I favour natural sources such as raw honey. The other big no-no for a player is processed oils such as vegetable oils (I prefer olive or coconut oil) and margarine (I prefer farm grade butter). Also, processed oils get into pretty much any processed (or man-made) foods.

SR: Which food is good for your health?

IC: Any food that comes from nature. Although, some players will do better on a low-grain diet and others will do better on a low-animal food diet - this is the importance of individuality. 

SR: Are there any food myths that you’ve come across in your career that made you laugh or ones that are just ridiculous?

IC: Probably the current ones that are floating around: either fat is extremely bad for your health or it is extremely good for your health. The same applies to carbs - either it is the elixir of healthy nutrition or it is the devil’s food. Nature made fats and carbs are good for us in the right quantities for the right person. Man-made fats and carbs must be strictly eliminated from a player’s Ferrari body.

SR: What do you want to achieve with the Ke Yona team graduates?

IC: Above aiming for health, vitality and peak performance, my role in life is to educate. That way the players can learn how to look after themselves while they are a footballer and also throughout their life, perhaps also empowering people around them along the way. 



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