Sunday 18 March 2018

Revealed! The Liverpool diet plan that has fuelled their rise to the top of the table

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have been full of energy this season
Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have been full of energy this season

Chris Bascombe

Jürgen Klopp is doing more than oversee a football transformation at Liverpool as he leads this season’s Premier League challenge. The club are in the midst of a food revolution.

Last summer the club appointed their first full-time nutritionist, Mona Nemmer, who was lured from Bayern Munich – much to the despair of the German champions.

Since then the changes on the training pitch have been replicated in the club’s canteen. Players have been enrolled on food education courses and provided with tailor-made nutrition programmes. The canteen itself has been revamped with different food ‘stations’ – for hydration, bread, salad and fresh pasta. Tomato sauce is off the menu because of its sugar content and the club also have ‘no egg days’ ahead of games.

This is far from unique among top-flight English clubs – many have food stations at their training grounds and Manchester City boast two nutritionists on their back-room staff – but Klopp’s conditioning team, led by another summer recruit from Bayern, Andreas Kornmayer, are setting the bar higher.

Since last summer the club have entered a partnership with nutrition company Science in Sport, who list Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray, Team Sky and 34 of Team GB’s Olympic medallists from Rio among their clients.

The timing was appropriate – not only as Klopp sought the right fuel for this year’s title bid, but because Liverpool were still reeling from the failed drugs test of Mamadou Sakho at the end of last season. Although Sakho was later exonerated, his subsequent exile from first-team duties demonstrates that Klopp took a dim a view of the circumstances surrounding that controversy.

Klopp’s background is in sports science and he expects Liverpool players to be as well prepared as any in the country not just tactically, but physically. For that they must all assume more responsibility about what they consume.

“It makes a massive difference,” says Ted Munson, a performance nutritionist at SiS who is working closely with Liverpool. “In my experience when I was working in a previous job at Hull City we had a nutritionist who met the players one day a week. If you have a highly paid young player who thinks of the game solely in terms of skill and technical ability, how do you motivate them to eat well? That’s the challenge. It is pure education.”

The SiS partnership is essentially about providing Liverpool with elite grade supplements such as isotonic gels, energy bars, powders and hydration tablets. But in individualising nutrition programmes Liverpool are going further than they have previously – with players urged to reassess their diet to suit their role in the side.

“There are positional differences that will make a different to a diet,” said Munson. “With GPS tracking you can now highlight differences in the metabolic needs of a player. A full-back will use more energy than a player in another position, for example. It’s a completely different role and needs a different type of athlete. Full-backs who are sprinting up and down more than others will burn most energy.

“Strikers might need more power to challenge centre-halves, so you would increase their protein intake to strengthen muscles to hold the ball up. Those who cover more of the pitch, like midfielders, might take more carbohydrates.

“That kind of data takes time to collect and a huge buy-in from the club. Nutrition is marginal gains. Players can coast by without thinking about nutrition – I’ve seen that – but they’re missing out in particular on maybe five to 10 per cent, particularly at a time where a game could be won or lost in the last 10 minutes.

“A lot of clubs have now gone into creating food stations – protein stations, hydration stations, etc. Psychologically, when you’re hungry you will pile on your plate more of what you see first. A day before a game you will see more carbs available.”

But why would you ban eggs? “Broadly, research suggests protein and fat takes a lot of time digest and you don’t want too much volume in a player before a match day,” Munson said. “It’s about educating players as to the decisions they take ahead of games. Mona is currently working with the first team but beyond that she will be going down the academy route.”

As the Sakho case demonstrated, there are more serious considerations when monitoring a player’s intake and the defence of ignorance, so often cited when a prohibited substance is identified, is starting to wear thin.

“Informed-Sport [the certification programme for sports supplements] did a study with 150 supplements from the supermarkets and high-street health food stores and found one in 10 contained a banned supplement,” said Munson. “Wada [the World Anti-doping Agency] have an online search facility which can tell you if a substance is banned. It is the player’s responsibility to know exactly what they are taking.”

So far, Liverpool’s players have responded with enthusiasm to the changes which mean that the training-ground canteen is now as integral to the collection of Premier League points as the boot room.


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