If I asked you to name the most famous ballet theatre/troupe/place in the World, you might shrug and shake your head, then you’d remember – “Ah, Bolshoi”. The words “Bolshoi” and “Ballet” seem to fit together naturally like “Ireland” and “Rain”, “Meath” and “Cheating” or even “Dundalk” and “El Paso”.
But what doesn’t fit together is the one thing that almost everywhere, outside of Russia, is now most important for ballet – “Training” and “Nutrition”.
Before anyone wonders if it’s the freezing cold and snow blindness that have finally done the trick and pushed me over the edge, not completely. In my day job my main current project revolves around Sports Nutrition, something of a bugbear of mine for a couple of decades.
Working in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, for most of the past 13 years, I’ve not seen any real advances in the science or application of new knowledge in Sports Nutrition. Comparing Dundalk FC and Spartak Moscow, and I would tilt slightly in favour of the Lilywhites in terms of maximising their resources in the field of Nutrition and Diet.
The biggest arguments I had with tennis players from Russia, especially, was eating healthy and making proper nutrition and supplement plans. When a player will do 4-6 hours of work, 2 hours physical, 2-4 hours on court, they need to have their nutrition plan work for them.
A glass of kefir (Russian fermented milk) and another of orange juice, plus a sausage, and cottage cheese is not exactly a breakfast of champions. And when lunch consists of a light salad and dinner of a couple of fish fingers and 2 spoonfuls of rice, your body is not going to hold up too long.
Likewise in football, Russian players (from Premier down) are generally not fed correctly. Forget going out drinking, or smoking or late nights, with no proper diet or nutrition plan, performances will degrade along with the body. I’d a pretty vocal argument with a physical trainer from one club we worked with.
At the time they were in the Premier and we’d brought in a nutritionist we trusted from the UK. He studied the first teamers for a week, then drew up a very simple plan that did nothing except alter the amounts of food dished out and added some multivitamin and mineral supplements.
Our disagreement came from the fact that he was getting a bung from a supplier who was buying the supplements online, so that when the team went down with a stomach bug from a contaminated batch, he tried to put the blame on our company.
It was not most memorable moment when the General Director of the club fired the man on the spot, especially as it was then up to me to hunt for a replacement. Though it was a good lesson that nutrition matters in Russian football were nowhere near sufficient.
It continues to present, unfortunately, and despite advances made in fitness and preparation by excellent local and foreign trainers, the knowledge has yet to filter down the leagues or be accepted. As mentioned in my previous article, I took part in a coaches workshop which covers a number of topics, including nutrition.
The knowledge of some and lack of knowledge of others both impressed and depressed me. One coach of a Premier Club Academy was shocked to hear that protein was important for muscle maintenance. He also feared any type of supplement due to doping and contamination.
A major global nutrition brand caught some flak locally when their market leading protein product fell foul of the authorities, though the producer was not to blame. The buyer, a regional sports ministry, had bought a job lot from a local distributor who themselves has bought a job lot from an importer, who was buying from an “agent” who was buying from a Chinese factory the ready packed product and simply sticking on fake labels.
The global brand caught it in the neck as one of their sales reps actually saw it on the shelves and took a hush payment from the distributor. It was a sports coach from the region who knocked over the first domino when he complained that his athletes were all suffering from symptoms that turned out to be from Hypervitaminosis.
Somehow the factory in Ningbo had added toxic amounts of Vitamin A containing ingredients. The case is continuing against the nutrition brand and the other parties involved.
So back to lads and lassies in tights and tutu’s, their nutrition plans or lack of nutrition plans. Prettily worded policy documents like this are almost like those offered by the tennis authorities, though at least the Royal Ballet in London are trying to make a start. In the most famous ballet in the world, dancers survive on a buffet and cigarettes.
Energy drinks, though not recommended, are quaffed along with espresso and nutrition plans are an irrelevance. Greg Retter’s introduction to the Royal Ballet set-up heralded a step forward for them, his take on how to make things easier for dancers is always worth a listen. Even a photo study of dancers reveals much about how out of touch much of the industry is, or isn’t.
If brutal hits in ice hockey, rugby and gridiron inspire squeals of delight from middle-aged men, and punching unconscious and prone opponents turns on teen and 20-something boys as in MMA, then ballet is the mid and upper class form of violence porn.
So with the thought of “ladies of substance” experiencing the same thrill that an obese 50-something from Pittsburgh does when his defensive line smash up the opposition, or when a 16-year-old watching a late night UFC fight from Las Vegas under his bed covers, we go back to nutrition.
In Brazil, where my friend has been training dancers, individual diet and nutrition plans are the norm. Performance nutrition is vital for dancers, footballers and any other sportsperson. Yet in the one country singled out and sanctioned for performance-enhancing activities, basic nutrition plans are not good enough or non-existent.
If one of Russia’s leading export brands, Bolshoi Ballet, can’t get their nutrition planning right, it’s tough to expect the same of a regional sports ministry who have less than 10% of the funds of the Bolshoi to cover 25 times as many people.
Nutrition matters, though sometimes the cost of product or knowledge is just not worth it.