England Rugby player, James Haskell on what he eats for breakfast and his new book, Cooking for Fitness
With 78 caps for the England Rugby team and 15 years under his belt as a professional athlete, James Haskell certainly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to fitness and nutrition. His new book, Cooking for Fitness, is jam-packed full of delicious, healthy, quick and easy recipes that are perfect for anyone with the desire to learn more about nutrition in order to fuel their body in a more healthy and efficient way. We caught up with James to find out what inspired him to write his third book, how we should be talking about food, and, most importantly, what he eats for breakfast.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVATION FOR WRITING COOKING FOR FITNESS?
I’ve discovered that a lot of people don’t know enough about nutrition and that so many feel that it’s a minefield. I wanted to bring out a book that was really simple and easy for people to understand and is applicable to absolutely anybody who wants to eat better and have a better understanding of nutrition.
I teamed up with Omar [Meziane] to create recipes that are really simple using ingredients that you can find in your local supermarket that are easy to use and would make really tasty meals.
WHAT COMMON FOOD MYTHS DID YOU WANT TO DISPEL?
In January a lot of people cut out carbs, alcohol, or sugar and then lose loads of weight. The thing is that it’s not these things that make you gain weight, it’s the overindulgence and imbalance of calorie input and output. What you’ve done by cutting these things out is simply reduced your calories, it’s not the source of the calories that are the problem, it’s not having them in moderation. You can still have sugar in your diet but it should be within reason and there are better sugars for you like slow release sugars rather than refined sugars that will make a massive difference. Everything comes down to the calories going in and the calories coming out. Within that, you can find the perfect balance.
DO YOU THINK THAT THE TERMS MICRONUTRIENTS AND MACRONUTRIENTS ARE A BETTER WAY TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND NUTRITION?
Yes! Definitely! I think that in schools we have to start talking about food using these terms and get rid of that old food pyramid stuff. There’s definitely still a lack of understanding when it comes to nutrition. Someone asked me if this book would be all about eating loads of protein. I mean, everyone should be eating a lot of protein, it’s essential to our diet, but it’s about more than just protein. We should be eating 3g of protein per kilo of body weight each day but you also need your carbs and veg alongside that. It’s all fuelling your body. You need to put in enough energy for what you’re going to expel through activity throughout the day. If your sitting on your bum all day and not moving, you don’t need as many calories. If you’re hitting the gym, you need to fuel yourself so that you have the energy to train and also recover afterwards.
When you look down at your plate you need to have a source of protein, a moderate amount of fat, vegetables and some carbs. You can easily begin to understand what you’re eating by tracking your nutrition through MyFitnessPal. Sometimes you’ll find you have an extra 200-300 calories to have at the end of the day. Then you can have that glass of wine or a pop tart because it fits into your meals for that day. There needs to be a shift in terms of how we talk about food. Calories do matter, they fuel our body, and we need to talk more using the terms micro and macro.
WHERE AND WHEN DID YOUR FOOD AND NUTRITION JOURNEY BEGIN?
I’ve made every mistake under the sun. I didn’t understand nutrition, I thought it was all about supplements, eating loads of protein, and eating two whole chickens and loads of food every day. I went on a really simple diet which consisted of either 200g of chicken or fish, 300g of brown rice, sweet potatoes or butternut squash, and as much green veg as I could eat five times a day. I did that for 4 months, carrying around boxes of food, and it profoundly changed my relationship with food. I became a really slow eater because it was just such a volume of food to be eating, just like Mary Poppins’ handbag it just seemed to keep appearing and never end. I just realised that this diet was not a balanced way to be living and I didn’t have enough variety. The food was so bland and I thought I was doing really well, but then when I started using my MyFitnessPal I realised that I was massively under eating protein and my fats were through the roof!
IT’S GREAT THAT YOU’RE SHARING YOUR OWN STRUGGLES TO HELP OTHERS
I think it’s so important. I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not a PT but I’ve lived and breathed it for a long time and have worked with some really good health and fitness trainers. I’ve made mistakes with food but I now know enough to be able to help steer people in the right direction. If you’re an elite athlete then you need to go to the experts but if your a normal person on the street then this book is for you.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND COOKING RECIPES IN BULK?
The idea with this book is that every single one of the meals is so easy and quick to cook. A lot of people make excuses about not having enough time but there’s enough time in anyone’s day to make these meals in 15-20 minutes. On a Sunday making a few of the grab and go yoghurt pots for the morning in a big batch is actually really good and you can do that with a lot of recipes in the book.
DO YOU AGREE WITH THE IDEA THAT BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
It’s definitely my favourite meal of the day and if I don’t have it, A) I’m p*ssed off, and, B) my whole day is planned around breakfast, so I won’t be set up for the day. You’ve ideally slept for around 8 hours and have fasted your body so you need to refuel for the day ahead. Especially if you’re going off to work, you need that focus in the morning for the clarity and the ability to concentrate, and also to fuel any physical training you’re doing. It’s the best meal of the day, you can have savoury and sweet things together, it’s just the perfect thing!
WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO BREAKFAST?
The jalapeno omelette is an absolute game changer and the grab and go yoghurt pots are so simple. Apart from looking unbelievable, the avocado, ham and chilli tarts are also really delicious. For me, the omelette is an absolute game changer, you’ve got your carbs in there, a great amount of fat, an awesome amount of protein and it’s a great calorie hit.
THIS IS YOUR THIRD BOOK BUT HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH OMAR MEZIANE?
It was great, we had a lot of fun. I’ve worked with him for years and he helped me with the recipes for Perfect Fit. He’s awesome at what he does, he’s been the chef for the England football team chef, the GB rowing team, and Harlequins, he fully understands how to feed people to get the best out of them with meals that are full of flavour and are super creative. He’s shown that healthy food can taste nice and it doesn’t have to be really complicated stuff.
JAMES’ GO-TO BREAKFAST: BACON, JALAPENO & BUTTER BEAN OMELETTE
- 2 slices streaky bacon
- 4 slices pickled jalapeno chilli or 1⁄2 fresh green chilli, finely chopped
- 3 large eggs
- 1 knob of butter
- 50g cooked butter beans
- Preheat the grill to high. Place the bacon on a tray and cook under the grill for 7-8 minutes or until cooked through. Allow to cool before slicing into strips 1⁄2cm thick and set aside. Stir in the jalapeno chilli.
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Whisk the eggs well. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter. Pour the eggs into the pan and cook the omelette for 2 minutes or until it has started to set on the bottom. Now sprinkle the bacon and jalapeno over the omelette and top with the butter beans. Pop under the grill for 30 seconds. Turn out onto a plate and serve immediately.
Cooking for Fitness by James Haskell and Omar Meziane is out now.