James Haskell On Food, Fitness And Ignoring Diet Fads
Rugby star James Haskell tells Luke Rix-Standing why we should all keep things simple when it comes to healthy-eating goals
14 January 2019
All Credits: PA
An England flanker and all round Rugby Union tough guy, James Haskell is not one to keep his cards close to his monstrously large chest.
“I think the media talk a load of crap about diets,” he declares, “and doctors don’t know a lot about nutrition.”
We’re discussing his new book, Cooking For Fitness, which he co-wrote with chef Omar Meziane. In a market saturated with so-called superfoods and fad diet, Haskell aims to cut through the noise with a refreshingly straightforward message: Healthy eating is simple, and yes, of course everyone can do it.
‘It’s Not Rocket Science’
Listening to 33-year-old Haskell speak, it’s hard not to be swayed by his conviction. “Every time you go online and ask about diet, suddenly there’s 17 different ways to skin a cat. It’s just not the case. You just have to understand a few rules – calories in, calories out, and to look at your plate as a pie chart,” he says.
Healthy eating – minus the nonsense (Neil Cooper/PA)
Alongside sleep and hydration, it is this ‘pie chart’ that sustains Haskell’s punishing gym routine, and his famously big hits on the rugby field. So what does a pie chart contain?
First, there’s the protein (“You don’t mess around with your protein”). Second is an energy source (“If you do a lot of training, you need a lot of carbohydrates”). And thirdly, “decent fats and vegetables”. Three meals, three basic food groups: In the gospel of Haskell, it needn’t be much more complicated than that.
With arms the size of Tube trains, Haskell has practised eating by numbers for most of his career (3,800 calories a day, to be exact), but he resists the temptation to see food purely as fuel. “To get results, there is going to be a bit of sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself sometimes,” he says.
Haskell has 77 caps for the England national side (Steven Paston/PA)
There is something agreeably grounded in Haskell’s approach to, well, everything, but particularly cooking. Ask him what his food ‘guilty pleasure’ is, and his response is instant: “Pizza.”
A Winning Team
Even if you question Haskell’s credentials as a nutrition expert, there’s no doubting the know-how of his collaborator, sporting chef-to-the-stars, Omar Meziane.
Meziane knows a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two. After working with Haskell at Wasps, he catered for the British Rowing Team, and then spent the summer in Russia cooking for Gareth Southgate’s England squad. “He understood how to fuel us but in a really tasty way,” says Haskell. “He kept things very simple. You don’t have to see a witch doctor to get any of the foods.”
Omar Meziane and James Haskell teamed up for the book (Neil Cooper/PA)
Haskell is never far from the headlines, be it for rugby or his perfectly tossed beetroot and Stilton salad. And, of course, he’s now married to fellow celeb Chloe Madeley, daughter of Richard and Judy, herself a published fitness guru.
Both in quite terrifying physical condition, she’s the perfect partner-in-crime for Haskell’s routine. “There’s scientific and anecdotal evidence that if you go to training with a partner or someone who knows nutrition, you’re more often than not going to be successful. Chloe’s diet and training are very, very different to mine, but having someone who understands the importance of nutrition has really taught me things.”
Haskell and Madeley at Prince Harry’s wedding (Gareth Fuller/PA)