Haskell reveals his recipe for success
It is easy to get the wrong impression of James Haskell. Take one look at the Incredible Hulk physique of the 6ft 5in, 18st 8lb England back row and, apart from a massive inferiority complex, the feeling you get is that he must be pumping iron in the gym 24/7.
Rugby's obsession with players being bigger, faster and stronger has led to a gym-rat culture that has percolated down to even the grass-roots level, where bulging biceps are more important than perfecting sidesteps.
Haskell, though, dispels any ideas that he must be doing bench presses in his sleep at England's Pennyhill Park base ahead of Saturday's Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Murrayfield, after being named in Eddie Jones's first starting line-up.
"It's a consistent criticism that is laid on me by loads of people that I spend more time in the gym than working on my skills on the rugby field," he said. "In truth, it's completely the other way round.
"I have a physique that I've worked hard at but I never do bodybuilding sessions, instead a maximum of two weights sessions a week. I normally just do one legs session a week, which will be short and sharp, working on strength and maintaining muscle mass.
"I don't lift weights to the volume required to build muscle any more. That's not my goal. I very rarely go to the gym and most of my workouts now are tailored to helping my performance on the field."f on February 6, with the participating team captains attending the tournament launch yesterday
And Haskell says that plates of nutritious food - rather than ones on the end of barbells - are key, as he and his England team-mates plot a new era of English rugby under hard-line Australian Jones.
"Diet is 65-70 per cent of everything you're trying to do," said Haskell, who wolfs down four to five meals a day in a bid to survive Jones's extreme training demands. "Obviously you have to get your training right but if you don't get your diet right, you'll get no results.
"More often than not, people do all the training and don't eat enough. To put on any sort of size, you have to eat a large volume of food. The problem is that it's human nature to look for shortcuts, so people see protein shakes as the answer. They don't realise they'd be far better off eating two chicken breasts and some starchy vegetables and carbs."
Haskell, 30, also did a bit of myth-busting when it comes to his pre-match meals. "Consistency is the key, I eat as I normally would, although depending on the kick-off time, I might cut down to two or three meals," he said.
"Gone are the days when I'd eat a massive carb-loading meal the night before a game. At school, we'd have a huge pasta cook-up then try to play rugby. It's a pretty horrific thing to do at all but we used to believe in it.
"In one of my meals now, I'd probably have 200g of a protein source, 300g of carbs, unlimited vegetables and a lot of water."
Surely, though, there must be times when Haskell kicks back with a meat supreme pizza and a few cold ones in the fridge?
"A 'cheat' meal isn't ideal but if you're then super religious with your diet the rest of the time, it's OK," he said.
"But I don't really believe in detoxes. Going on a juicing thing or drinking cayenne pepper, lemon and hot water will help you lose weight but you'll put your body through hell and end up putting on more weight afterwards.
"I do like a beer - but only when it fits in appropriately. The idea of players getting drunk after games is an old image and only really perpetuated by universities and colleges who embrace that.
"We put ourselves through so much in games and we have to be ready for the next one. Alcohol is an inflammatory substance and can affect your body for two or three days afterwards, so it's about choosing an appropriate time."
It would be hard to think of a more appropriate time than if Haskell and England can put the World Cup behind them and deliver a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003 in the coming weeks.
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