Wednesday 26 October 2016

The extra percentage

The Dublin senior football team have enjoyed massive success in recent years - winning two All-Ireland titles in four years and three League titles in a row. Mark Corcoran spoke with defender Philip McMahon to discover the secret to the success.

While the team is filled with some of the best footballing talent in the country - players who train hard week-in and week-out - there is another factor driving the team forward - diet!

Dublin defender Philip McMahon says that when preparing for a big game it is important to fill the body with plenty of the right fuel.

"It is possible to eat healthy without getting enough 'good' food into your body. Just because you haven't had fast food or chocolate that week, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have the right fuel in your body to be ready for the match."

So what kinds of foods are fueling the Dublin team as they play a game? In truth, it can vary from player-to-player.


"On the morning of the game I like to have protein pancakes with a bowl of mixed berries and some coconut milk. Everybody needs to find a system that suits them. I have found a system that suits me and I have gotten into the best shape of my life. I know exactly what I am going to eat during the week before a game. I know my nutrition is right. That gives me an extra percentage going into the game."

When the game is over the team will sit down together and have a post match meal. Every food on the menu has a scientific reasoning for being there.

"After each game, about 20 minutes after we come off the field, we get some protein into our bodies. Then, within an hour or two, we sit down and have a meal with some carbohydrates - to help with recovery. While the meal we have after games can change from time to time, generally we have fish, vegetables and potatoes or pasta."

Dietary behaviour can vary from team-to-team and from sport-to-sport.

For example, when the Barcelona soccer team return to their dressing room at the end of a match at Camp Nou, the players can enjoy seemingly any food they like. Leo Messi opts for a cheese pizza with a bottle of Sprite!

This is not a practice that McMahon, who recently worked with Shamrock Rovers as a strength and conditioning coach, would recommend.


"The 'cheat meal' culture has grown in soccer. Players feel like they have trained well or worked hard in the game and they want this sort of food. I found this culture at Rovers. The players told me they normally had pizzas after games. I told them they weren't doing that anymore.

"My big worry was that the lads were playing late at night, they were taking in a lot of energy drinks before the game, the worst thing they could have done was have a high carb fatty pizza because that gives them more energy and as a result they were finding it hard to sleep. The players weren't recovering properly. They were coming into training the next day tired. I felt it had to change."

McMahon came up with the idea for his company FitFood - a meal delivery service that caters to healthy eaters - when he was finding it tough to get game time with Dublin.

His club Ballymun Kickhams were beaten in the All-Ireland club final on St Patrick's Day 2013. Dublin had a new manager in Jim Gavin and, as a result of Ballymun's run to the final, McMahon was missing out on the chance to make a big impression with his new coach.

"When I rejoined the Dublin panel I struggled to get back into the team. So I started to look after myself, train harder and improve my diet. Ultimately it was my diet that helped me the most.

"But with all of my commitments I was struggling to manage my nutrition. I paid a chef to cook my meals for me. That's when I got the idea for FitFood. It is a very convenient service to provide healthy food for people who can't cook because they haven't got the time or they simply don't know how to cook healthy.

"The food that we make would normally be associated with being 'bad food'. We make healthy options for a range of different products such as burgers and chips, cakes and muffins, and our own healthy version of popular bars like Snickers and Bounty."

As for the upcoming Championship, McMahon says he is eagerly anticipating Dublin's first game in Leinster.

"I'm not sure what the Championship will bring. It's definitely going to be exciting. When you are playing with Dublin, it's always in front of big crowds. You can't not enjoy that. If we can build on what we achieved in the League you never know what can happen."

McMahon also runs BK Strength and Conditioning (in Ballymun, Tallaght and Drimnagh) - which caters for elite performance athletes along with the general public. For more information about FitFood visit fitfood-ireland.myshopify.com

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