Highlights - Leinster vs La RochelleMay 28
Food For Sport with Bournemouth's Lewis Cook: "A weird one was bone broth... it was actually quite nice!"
In the second edition of our Food For Sport series, Cherries and England midfielder Lewis Cook discusses how he’s learned about the relationship between nutrition and performance, lifting the lid on his game day routine and his battle back from injury.
‘Marginal gains’ will be a phrase familiar to most sports fans in the modern age.
The concept describes the pursuit of relatively minor individual innovations and improvements that, when combined, provide a notable advantage over your rivals.
- Born in York on February 3 1997
- Graduated through Leeds United's youth academy
- Two-time winner of Leeds' Young Player of the Year award
- Made 85 appearances for the first team before joining Bournemouth in 2016
- Capped at every level for England
- His grandfather won £17,000 William Hill bet after Cook made his senior England debut in 2018
Most notably championed by former British Cycling chief Sir Dave Brailsford, the discovery of marginal gains were credited with Britain’s transformation into the world’s most successful cycling nations as athletes like Sir Chris Hoy, Laura Kenny, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome helped usher in an enduring legacy of unprecedented success.
Nowadays, the search for marginal gains permeates across the sporting world and, in football, has led to something of a revolution in the use of sports science and analytics.
Individual training plans can now be tailored for specific players’ needs, every movement can be recorded and analysed by a team of data scientists, every aspect of physical performance studied in the hope of continuous improvement.
In the increasingly competitive melee of Premier League football, these breakthroughs can mean the difference between silverware or second place, Europe or mid-table obscurity – and even relegation or survival.
With diet and nutrition an increasingly vital part of that picture, BTSport.com sat down with Bournemouth and England playmaker Lewis Cook to find out how food now plays such a vital role in football.
Over a Zoom video call, we began with the most important question of the day – which player does the most damage at the AFC Bournemouth canteen?
“Andrew Surman without a doubt,” Cook, 23, replied without a moment’s hesitation.
Sometimes, I just blend up some greens in the NutriBullet and just drink it
- Lewis Cook
“He can put some away. I don’t know how he can do it but he’s really fit. He really can tuck it away. And Simon Francis, too, to be honest.”
And who is the fussiest?
“It would be Steve Cook,” the former Leeds man added. “He’s not a massive fan of sauces on stuff. He likes his food plain.
“I’m quite fussy myself to be fair, I only like certain stuff. I try to eat everything now but before, I know it’s bad, I was quite fussy on veg.
“I only liked certain veg so that’s something I’ve had to change and improve because it’s so important for your diet. Sometimes, I blend up some greens in the NutriBullet and just drink it.
“Say we’re having a Sunday lunch – that’s one of my favourite meals – I have to eat my veg first and get it all out of the way and then tuck into my Yorkshires. That’s my technique. I’ve got to get my missus to make the Yorkshires down here because they’re not up to scratch otherwise!”
Born in York, Cook was one of a number of talented youngsters to graduate through the Leeds United academy, joining the likes of Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor in breaking into the first team during the 2014/15 season.
He quickly established himself as a key member of the dressing room and, after a couple of impressive seasons in the Championship, was snapped up on a four-year deal by Bournemouth in 2016.
“Coming through at Leeds, when you’re a scholar and even younger, I don’t think you focus too much about food at all,” Cook explained.
“Obviously I wasn’t going out drinking or partying at all. It was just all purely about football. When you’re a scholar you do a BTEC in sports science and that’s got a lot of stuff about food and things like that but you don’t really pay attention to it.
“Once I got into the first team at Leeds I started to think a little bit about it but the Championship was just so intense, it was just playing games, playing games, playing games.
“It was ever since I went to Bournemouth I started taking it seriously to be honest. Taking that step up to the Premier League, you see these stars, these massive names, doing the right thing. You think ‘I’m going to have to try and get these one percents now’.
“I try and eat right and make sure I’m sleeping right because that is so important. You realise how massive those one percents can be because you’ve got to be on your A-game to play in this league and that was when it really hit me about the food and my sleep and things.
“I’ve always been kind of aware but since I came to Bournemouth, that’s when I really started trying to focus on my nutrition because that is when I saw all the other players who were eating better than me. It gave me something to work on.”
Has his understanding of the physical aspects of training developed similarly?
“When you’re a scholar, that’s when you’re full time for the first time. It’s a lot of work,” Cook continued.
“You’re at the ground doing double session every day, training hard, doing jobs, all this kind of stuff which is fine. You did a lot more training back then.
“Now in the first team, you’re basically gearing up for the Saturday and making sure that you’re physically ready for the game, feeling the best you can feel.
“Other people have got different routines, some people try not to train three days in a row and some people can. Some people do more gym work than others. People just do what makes them feel the best.
“In my situation where I’ve had an injury, prevention is very important in making sure everything is going okay and smooth. Food is massive in that. I realised that when I was injured, making sure you’re getting all the right nutrition is key to making sure your joints are healing well and functioning.”
Stories of managers banning certain food items from their club’s canteen are well known in footballing circles, from Antonio Conte’s ketchup prohibition to David Moyes’ crusade against chips.
At Bournemouth, Cook noted, manager Eddie Howe empowers the sports science and catering departments to work together autonomously to provide the team with all they need.
“It’s been quite tough since lockdown but they’ve made sure we’ve had everything so the manager puts his faith in them to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Cook said.
Food for Sport
- Brian O'Driscoll - How pilates and intermittent fasting help Ireland legend retain his competitive edge
“At the training ground, we’ve got a kind of buffet system. Luckily enough, for breakfast, the chef can make whatever you want to be honest. There’s a buffet section or you can grab an omelette section or whatever.
“The chefs are really good and we’re really lucky to get the food we get because it’s top quality and gives us what we need.”
With Bournemouth flying high in the table during the 2017/18 season, Cook found his good form rewarded with a debut England cap, coming on as a second-half substitute during the Three Lions’ 1-1 draw with Italy at Wembley Stadium in March 2018.
But later that year, the young star would be dealt a cruel injury blow, rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and subsequently spending the best part of 12 months on the sidelines.
Now match fit once again and keen to make up for lost time, Cook shared some of the lessons he learned about how his diet contributed towards recovery.
“A lot of lean proteins,” he said. “The main thing I really eat is chicken, I don’t eat much red meat to be honest.
“I might have it once a week to try and boost my iron levels but I pretty much eat a lot of chicken. There are little things too, like trying to eat more collagen. You can have it as a shot or sometimes we have these collagen jellies on a morning.
“A weird one was bone broth. I had an operation and I was trying to get those bones healed so that was something I had to try and eat which was different but it was actually quite nice.”
With the season now officially back underway once more, Bournemouth find themselves in the midst of a relegation dogfight in one of the tightest races for survival in years.
After defeat to Crystal Palace in their first game back, The Cherries face a crucial run of games that could make or break their hopes of staying in the Premier League.
Despite the pressure mounting with so much riding on the final quarter of the season, Cook revealed his excitement at returning back to his old match day routine.
“I pretty much have the same pre-match meal that I have done for ages: pesto pasta with some chicken and some greens - if I can get them down me!” he said.
“I’ve started having some peanut butter and jam on toast too, maybe two slices. And then that fills me up.
“Hydration is also important. At half-time, we get a hydro drink with a tablet in and then an energy gel. The staff know what each player needs and they always have it on hand.
“After the game, there is always food there ready to eat. You have to have a protein shake as soon as possible but I can never really eat straight away. I always eat at home.
“When I was at Leeds, I used to have a Chinese after the match – that’s my favourite!”
A 0-0 draw between Sheffield United and Aston Villa ended 100 days without Premier League football last week, signalling an end to the uncertainty surrounding ‘Project Restart’.
It was a game unlikely to live long in the memory with both sides looking understandably short of rhythm and match sharpness – but for Cook, the return has come at just the right time.
“It’s massive, everyone is so excited,” he said.
“Just being around the pitch again and kicking a ball around, it’s great, it’s what we love and it’s our job.
“We’ve got to give it our all and come out fighting.”
If you’re not yet a BT Sport subscriber, click here to find out how we can get you set up in just 15 minutes.