Food: Feminism, family, fads, favourites and fantasy – Q&A with Lynne Cantwell

‘Athletes often have to train their palette similar to how exercise trains your body’

Ireland’s outside centre, Lynne Cantwell, is one of Ireland’s most capped player in women’s rugby. She lives in London where she works as a physiotherapist.

Is food a feminist issue?
"Food to athletes, both male and female is fuel. It provides a specific function to enable them to perform and recover optimally. An athlete's body needs to have continuous access to readily available sources of fuel during training, playing and recovery to enable it to stay supplemented throughout."

What role does food play in your daily life? Functional or fun?
"Food fuels an athlete's body to train and play and recover optimally to be able to function physically and mentally at its best. It's not a choice or a preference in an athlete's body, it's a necessity. Understanding the right types of food to eat, and when, can optimise performance potential and recovery and minimise underperformance and injury risk. Often, the taste/preference of the food athletes eat is not a priority. And, athletes often have to train their palette similar to how exercise trains your body, to be able to tolerate certain foods whose function is to optimise recovery or maximise performance."

Have you ever been on a diet?
"I've never been on a calorie-restricting diet, but we will have had a lot of dietary advice in order to eat/drink the appropriate types of fuel during training, playing and recovery to make sure your body always stays in a supplemented and hydrated state. My understanding is that an athlete's body always wants to be in a supplemented state. In the absence of fuel, the body has to get this fuel from somewhere, so it feeds on its own muscles which we describe as a form of an energy leak. An energy leak to an athlete is anything that is inefficient. So like bad movement technique wastes energy, not eating the right foods has the same effect."


What food reminds you of your childhood?
"Mashed potatoes and beans….love them!!!"

Favourite meal?
"Bangers and mash."

Fantasy dinner guests?
"David Attenborough, Brendan Gleeson, Brian O'Driscoll, Conrad Smith and Jean de Villers (sorry for being greedy:)"

Your signature dish?
"I make a mean cheese and ham toastie."