As the new season approaches, one man will have been working hard behind the scenes at Old Trafford, a man whose name might not be well known to many.
Mark Ellison is the club’s nutrition consultant, a key figure in Erik ten Hag’s plans. His tireless work ensures the players remain in good shape, ready to perhaps finally challenge seriously for the Premier League. He’s the man who makes sure that new signings are in peak physical condition as they seek to put down the noisy neighbours.
The days of fat footballers are long gone, but it wasn’t uncommon to see rounded players in the Premier League once upon a time. Jan Molby appeared for Liverpool on a regular basis, 25 times in the Premier League era, and he was regarded as portly at best. What Neil Ruddock lacked in mobility, he made up for in bulk, whilst Tomas Brolin once terrorized England but struggled to shed pounds after a move to Crystal Palace. In today’s game, few footballers can be described as out of shape, and certainly none in the top flight.
Ellison, who is also nutritionist to former two-time heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua, has worked for United for a decade, and when it comes to keeping players in shape, he has some key tips that work wonders. If you’re interested in exactly how the players look to be in such good shape, or you’re an amateur player hoping to channel your inner Bruno Fernandes on the local pitches, you might find his advice interesting.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an elite athlete or a Sunday League player, hydration is going to affect you. It’s driving that thirst and making sure you turn up to training session and games well hydrated, especially if you’re playing in the peak of summer. It’s quite funny as we talk about the heat and sweating more in the summer but, in the Sunday League, everyone is wrapped up in long leg-ins, hats and thick tops.”
Ellison is a huge believer in making sure players are fuelled up and hydrated before games, not just during or after. That means taking on board enough fluids for the training session or game to ensure they’re hitting the right energy levels. For elite players, this might not necessarily mean just water, but also energy drinks, such as Pre-90. They allow players to hit performance levels and add an extra kick of energy when they need it, whether chasing a long ball into the channel or putting in the work at Carrington during pre-season.
“The kitchen is set up so the protein is the first thing you see – chicken, fish, meat. Start with the protein, the first thing on your plate, and then vegetables. Fill up on the veg, put plenty on your plate and take a large section of veggies, and the final bit is carbohydrates. Depending how hard you’ve worked. If you have done 10,000 metres of work in that session, you need decent carbs.”
Diet will vary depending on whether the players have a match the next day or the intensity of their training regime, but there are no chips after a session and no afternoon visits to a local drinking establishment either. The kitchen area at Carrington is designed to ensure players see the items they need to eat, thus introducing a psychological element to their diet. Eating sensibly is not such a challenge when a chef is prepping food, but if you’re looking to eat the Manchester United way, including fish, chicken and veg in any diet is the way forward.
Everyone is Different
“Physiologically, there are no major differences, and there is no difference in requirements other than size and stature and the amount of workload they do. The different thing is tastes. We have a fantastic catering team here that are really accommodating of all of the guys’ different tastes. There are different dishes and different themes in the canteen so they’re very fortunate to have a broad menu that covers a lot of different tastes.”
The key thing to remember in any fitness regime is that everyone is different. Ellison explains how box-to-box midfielders may well have a different requirement in terms of diet and fitness than a mobile wingback. That’s also key when you consider your personal fitness – a good weight loss plan focuses on the individual, tailoring a diet not only to nutritional requirements but also balancing likes and dislikes. It’s easier to stay healthy and get the right foods if they’re enjoyable, and a key to that is playing to the individual, a bit like setting the team up differently when facing Liverpool than Luton Town.
Mark Ellison’s job is critical to the success of Manchester United. If the club do challenge for honours again this season, then they’ll need the new signings in peak fitness, and he’s there to ensure that’s achieved. If you follow the advice, who knows, you might end up fitter and able to perform to levels on the field you’ve never managed before.