When AS Monaco vice-captain, Valere Germain, cooks at home, he’ll regularly take a picture of his meal and send it to team doctor Philippe Kuentz.
“It makes him proud to see that we’re actually doing it,” says the forward who came off the bench to seal victory in the last round of the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund.
Germain’s teammates do the same, often sharing their culinary creations on photo-sharing site Instagram.
“They (the players) say: ‘Hey, look at this. Not bad?'” Kuentz says of the images that regularly appear on his smartphone.
While the wider world gets a peek at what’s on the menu for one of Europe’s most exciting young teams, Kuentz is analyzing the quantities and quality of food on show and providing feedback.
It’s all part of an integrated approach to nutrition, diet and the science of sport that Kuentz believes has helped take Monaco from the doldrums of French football’s second tier to the cusp of a first Ligue 1 title in 17 years as well as the the Champions League semifinals. The club play Juventus on May 3 and May 9.
In the process, Kuentz and his team have sought to teach players about the joy of food and the benefits a healthy lifestyle can bring to their performance.
“It’s very important to give them an education … live daily with them and make them discover things they have never tasted,” Kuentz says.
“This is important to help them develop their taste which is the main philosophy.”
Recipe for success
The strategy has seen Monaco invest in nutritionists, sports scientists and attempt to create an attitude to food that is creative and accessible to players from a variety of backgrounds.
Chefs travel with the team everywhere, juice and salad bars have been installed at the training ground while player’s blood and hydration levels are regularly monitored to gauge what nutrients and vitamins their bodies need, in what quantities and when.
Diets and portions are tailored to individual player needs as a result of these tests.
“Here, we personalize a lot,” says Monaco nutritionist, Juan Morillas. “We know what quantity needs each player … (and) at dinner we do personal programs.”
Morillas adds this is “challenging” not only because individual measures have to be accounted for but tastes as well. “We have players from different cultures. You have to be used to them.”
While players can essentially be spoon fed at Monaco’s training ground or in transit for a match, ensuring they eat well away from the watchful eyes of the club’s medical staff is another matter.
Kuentz and his team have come up with some unique solutions to this problem, including giving the players and their spouses cooking classes.
It’s medical and nutritional team has even taken the trouble to create a cookbook called “Recipes for Champions” that players can refer to when at home.
They also have access to an app that shows explainer videos on how to cook the meals down to the smallest details.
“We see that a lot of other clubs are in this situation, not so far away,” Kuentz says.
“[They] lose a player for food when they (finish) the training camp. And then they go to a restaurant and don’t know exactly what to eat to … be healthy and continue to be powerful for good performance.”
According to players like Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva, the book has been an asset.
“At home, I use it a lot,” Silva says. “It’s a good way to keep us healthy and in good shape and to do good things for us.
“When you take care of your body you improve your game so it’s very, very important,” Silva adds.
Meal of champions
AS Monaco consultant and nutritional expert, Tara Ostrowe, says the recognition of nutrition as a way of improving performance in professional sport is not a new phenomenon in places like the US.
In European soccer, however, only the very top teams on the continent are at the cutting edge of this field, she adds.
Monaco is one but the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and many teams in England’s Premier League have also clocked the benefits a strict and tailored diet can provide, Ostrowe says.
It was reported that Leicester City players’ had a penchant for beetroot shots after it won England’s Premier League for the the first time in 2016.
At Liverpool, meanwhile, nutritionist Mona Nemmer was tempted away from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2016 to oversee all aspects of player nutrition.
Eating well can aid “recovery and [help players] to recover quicker from injury,” Ostrowe explains, adding that it also helps “in terms of muscle building, muscle strength, giving the right nutrition for bone health.”
At the top end of sports, where arguably small margins can make big differences, having a carefully planned diet can also provide an extra edge.
“I think the biggest thing is energy on the field in being able to last for the second half of a game, being able to recover, especially when you have three games in a week.
“With playing cup games and Champions League along with your regular league games you want to be sure you are recovering right away,” she says.
When CNN visited Monaco’s kitchen in April, the team’s chef was preparing a lunch meal of tuna and kale with chia seeds under the watchful eye of club nutritionist Morillas.
“Usually the day after the game we cook some blue fish because it has a lot of protein but also a lot of omega three” which is good for recovery,” Morillas explains.
In the build up to matches, however, he says there will be more of a focus on providing the fuel required to ensure players can last 90 minutes at full throttle.
For this, Ostrowe sings the praises of wholegrain wheats like quinoa which is packed with nutrients and proteins that will provide energy.
Beetroot juice is another item that will be factored into the team’s diet before the game as it full of vitamins and antioxidants that can help with circulation, endurance and stamina.
Other mainstays of the Monaco menu include kale, avocado, salmon, cherry juice, greek yogurt, cherry juice and blueberries, with each providing specific benefits for energy and recovery.
Chia seeds, which provide calcium, protein, fibre and omega 3 content will also be sprinkled across most meals, Ostrowe says.
Changing the menu
This attention to detail is very different from when Ostrowe arrived at the club.
“When I first started I noticed there was a lot of spaghetti, pasta and chicken on their plate or just pasta and steak,” she says.
While pasta is still on the menu, there is now a lot more variety and thought involved in the club’s gastronomic offerings.
“More players are reaching for the fish or getting the fruit for dessert and trying to have that colorful plate,” adds Ostrowe.
“If you make your plate colorful you’ll be getting all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body needs.”
Although Kuentz jokes that he often catches the odd player sneaking off to purchase a candy bar when on team trips, Ostrowe believes most players are now keen to learn about how diet can help them improve.
Among the most eager, Ostrowe says, has been Kylian Mbappe.
The 18-year-old has caught the eye in Monaco’s Champions League campaign this season, scoring in the last 16 ties against Manchester City and the quarterfinal win over Dortmund.
Others such as defender Ricardo Carvalho, who left to join Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League in January, have been key in setting an example, Ostrowe adds.
“They are top professional athletes so they want to do whatever they can to make the team perform well and then also to get to their individual goal.”
‘You need to repair your muscles’
Kuentz admits that it is difficult to quantify how much an impact the dietary regime at Monaco has had on performance.
Strength and conditioning as well individual and team coaching sessions are obviously equally important, with the medical, sport’s science and coaching departments all working together.
But Kuentz believes the proof of the pudding can be found in Monaco’s relatively short injury list.
“What is for sure is that it is part of the performance,” Kuentz says. “I must say that we have nobody with cramps, we have nobody … who finish(es) a game completely empty.”
In the future Kuentz sees the potential to become even more targeted with diet and nutrition.
He says an app that tells a player exactly what to eat and when is a development that could be on the horizon.
“That’s the future,” he says. “To be closer. To provide for the players more tools, easy tools. This is also important because they are young guys. You need to be with them. With phones and with apps it’s easier to do.”
Source: Eoghan Macguire and Christina Macfarlane, CNN