Fresh from his Man of the Match display for Bristol Rugby against London Scottish, where he ran in three tries & reminded everyone why he is considered one of the best players in the league, The Performance Kitchen sat with Tom Varndell in the press room at Ashton Gate, to quiz him on how he fuels such electric performances.
Tom, that was a terrific performance, and I know the game only finished fifteen minutes ago, so thank you for coming & chatting with us. First of all, before a game like today, what sort of meals do you tend to eat, if at all?
“Well actually today as it was a half two kick off, it brings everything forward a little bit… normally it’s a three o’clock kick off, so I needed to eat a little bit earlier today. So I made my breakfast & brunch at the same sort of time today, that way it’d be a bigger meal [before the early kick off]. Normally I’d wake up early and have some breakfast, and then about 11 o’clock have my pre-match meal”.
What sort of meals are you having, things like protein pancakes or porridge?
“Yeah porridge of course, always porridge as you need to get your carbs in. It’s so important to get your carbs in early, as that’s your energy source, plus bit of protein… but normally the protein that I hit, I’ll have the day before. I don’t tend to have too much before a game, I keep it a bit lighter”
After a game like today, do you smash a protein shake, or do you eat straight after?
“Yeah when we come in, straight off the pitch, protein shakes are handed out to you and there are protein bar options too… and I get that in straight away for a recovery kick, and then we’ll got for a post-match meal. When I get home I tend to pig out on something very 'carb-y', maybe pizza... something that is a bit of a cheat meal, because you are in your recovery & you want to get your carb stores up".
When you’re playing, do you go for a lot of protein bars and protein shakes?
“Yeah, I’ll have protein shakes everyday, sometimes twice a day. Theres a lot of training, especially at the moment under Pat’s [Pat Lam, Director of Rugby at Bristol] regime, we’re training every single day. Obviously theres lots of weight training, so protein shakes are key as a muscle-building factor, and for your recovery as well”
So does diet change much between on & off season?
“No, not really… I’m very lucky in terms of my weight management, I don’t tend to put on too much ‘bad’ weight; I probably only change two or three of my meals between off and on-season”
So you’re not coming back into pre-season, being put into ‘fat camp’?
“[laughing] No I actually tend to lose of lot of muscle very quickly when I don’t train. So I try to keep everything ticking over, as I hate losing weight”
That’s interesting, Max Lahiff at Bath Rugby said exactly the same thing, if he doesn’t eat & train a lot, he’ll drop weight really quickly…
“Yeah I have to get it in, or my weight does drop off. In the past I’ve gone on holidays and I’ve lost about two stone [laughing] it just drops off me so quickly. My playing weight is about 110kg, when I come back from off-season, where I won’t have done as much weight training, I can go down to around 98kg… I’m lucky that I can put it all on again quite quickly, but it does drop off me very quickly as well”
What is your cheat meal, if you have one?
“Normally Dominos (pizza take-away); where I live they’ve just opened a new domino's and I’m absolutely loving it… yeah a Meat Feast from there is my cheat meal, but only after a game. Oh, and an Apple Crumble…”
How important is hydration at this level?
“Oh, just massively. I’ve got a little tub of electrolytes that I have, probably, daily, and again because of the amount of training we’re doing, you just have to keep it in… you get the fitness team running around with drinks bottles during training, but I’m always drinking, I’ve always got a bottle of water with me because it’s key. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll start cramping, get muscle tears, so it is really important”.
Are there any foods that you actively avoid?
“Anything that is really high in sugar, I don’t tend to eat rubbish… sweets I stay away from. If it’s in the build up to a game, like the latter part of the week, I build up my carb stores, but I do it through pasta’s, nothing too bad. I tend to stay away from crap & rubbish as it’s just wasted carbs that are not good for you”
Do you have any game day rituals, or superstitions?
“No not at all, I don’t like to get bogged down with that, I just like to focus on my game and go out & perform. Especially when you've been in the game a bit longer… it’s game of rugby, you’re going out there to have some fun… the chances you get to play at this level... as you get older, and you get less & less chances, you just want to enjoy it, and enjoy them as they come, and I would never want to get bogged down in superstions, like, putting my left boot on before my right and stuff like that, I just want to go out and perform”
A lot of the athletes that TPK has worked with, have become famous by accident… they’re doing a sport they love, and because of that, & because they are good at it, they get a lot of attention. As a successful rugby player, how do you cope with the attention you receive?
“You get your followers on social media, and you have to be really careful with what you put on there, you can’t just put anything out there, as it does come back to bite you. I try and be positive on social media… you do get the odd supporter that chucks abuse at you, and you can either just ignore it, or reply in a nice, polite way.
There’s always something negative… but some of the stuff I have been lucky to do because of rugby, and because of getting the attention… I recently went to India to see and experience some of the poverty that exists out there [which you don;t normally see], and I loved going out there [and meeting new people], and I’ll go back there in the summer… there are the negative aspects, but you've just got to learn to deal with both”