Food is one of the most important aspects of a sportsperson’s life. Alongside training and sleep, eating a balanced diet is crucial to optimising performance. With the right balance of nutrients, athletes are able to stay stronger, healthier, more energised and hydrated – all vital in the quest to outperform their rivals.
Of course, the sport determines the goal. An NFL player may require thousands of calories to bulk up, whereas a tennis player needs endurance, agility and leanness alongside strength and power.
Sometimes, a radical dietary change can be a prelude for success. When Arsene Wenger became Arsenal manager in 1996, he promptly set about changing the players’ excesses, which included a lot of sugar, fat and – notoriously – alcohol, though it took some players a while to give that up. It can also be a slight change in search of marginal gains – Wenger’s successor, Unai Emery, has enforced his own dietary discipline by banning fruit juice from the training ground.
For Andy Murray, the past year has arguably been the hardest of his career. Since January, he has undergone hip surgery, lost his place as British number one for the first time since 2006, and dropped outside the top 800 in the world rankings.
Now on the mend, he managed to play at the year’s final grand slam, the US Open, after missing the previous four majors. He only reached the second round, but he revealed a particularly odd aspect of his recovery: sushi for breakfast. While some dishes are often enjoyed as a guilty pleasure the morning after – pizza, curry or Chinese spring to mind – raw fish isn’t the most appetising way to start the day.
“I actually had sushi at 8.30am on Monday – that was odd,” Murray said. “I eat whatever is recommended to me.” The recommendations include more normal things, like breakfasts of porridge, eggs, bacon and gluten-free toast. The three-time grand slam winner, encouraged by his team of dedicated specialists, also drinks two litres of water per hour when it’s hot and humid; has an energy gel every 20 minutes; and, back to the raw fish, eats three boxes before or after his post-match media obligations.