A healthy and focussed diet can be the difference between success and failure at the top level of professional sports, according to Laois' AFL and International Rules star Zach Tuohy.
A disciplined approach to lifestyle is vital to cope with the physical exertions of one of the world’s toughest games, and the Aussie Rules recruit believes that he would struggle to finish a single game if he wasn’t consuming the right food in the lead up to matches.
“Right now I wouldn’t even be able to make it through one game if I didn’t eat the same thing I always eat before, especially as the games over here are two hours long,” says Tuohy.
Having won a Leinster minor football championship medal with Laois in 2010, Portlaoise native Tuohy opted to exchange the royal blue of the O'Moore county for a darker pallor when he headed Down Under to sign for Carlton blues in 2010.
Aged just 20, he was following in the footsteps of former Cork hurler a Setanta Ó Hailpín who was at the club at the time and, like Ó Hailpín, has gone on to represent Ireland in International Rules test matches against Australia, as well as performing with distinction in the top echelons of the AFL.
Ranked as one of the toughest team sports on the planet as regards endurance, the average AFL player can expect to run 12 kilometres during a game. Given that most players spend over five minutes running at speeds upwards of 18km/h over the course of the match, it is even more impressive that Tuohy spent the twelfth most amount of time on the field in the league over the course of last season.
And he believes this to be no accident considering the rigorous fitness regime to which such players are now exposed.
“It was a bit of a shock the training loads and the scrutiny the players get put under here compared to back home… We have regular scans and tests to make sure we’re not putting on too much fat, so it’s very closely monitored. We’re also weighed before and after every game, it’s pretty full on.”
Although the skill element comes naturally to most Irish players, Tuohy believes the dietary and lifestyle constraints imposed upon him as a professional player are of a totally different level from what he experienced as a young player back home.
“If I’d copped on a little bit earlier to my diet it would’ve been hugely helpful. I distinctly remember having a big fry up the morning before games but looking back now I would’ve liked to have gotten into the swing of a good diet earlier before having come here.
“I sometimes have to force myself to eat the right things, to get up early if we’re playing a game and make a big breakfast. It sounds a small and easy thing to do, and for a lot of people it would be.”
That said, he doesn’t think our foremost senior club and county players in Ireland are that far behind their Aussie Rules counterparts in terms of professionalism and application in training given the high standards they are now being set.
“Even just at club level I’ve been impressed with the style of training. I’ve been involved with the Irish team for the last couple of International Rules series and the detail that they go into, it’s really not far off what we have [in Australia].
“I was taken aback a little bit by the setup at club level when I went home, then going into the international team with dieticians, coaches and trainers, it’s all very impressive,” says Tuohy, who was named man of the match in Ireland’s first international rules test against Australia last November after helping local team Portlaoise to a county title during the AFL off season.
“I think that’s only right, it’s a sport that’s adored by everyone who plays it as well as the country as a whole so it should be taken seriously. I think it’s fantastic that there’s more financial support going into county setups and it’s certainly all heading in the right direction.”