Zesh Rehman: You are what you eat

Former Pahang defender and Pakistan captain Zesh Rehman explains his eating habits and how he had to change his diet after moving to Asia from England

Balance carbohydrates and protein

"A footballers’ diet should consist mostly of carbohydrates – around 60 percent of the diet – together with 30 percent protein and 10 percent fats. The body needs all of these but the most important bit is the carbohydrates as they provide the energy needed to last a full game. These can be found in pasta, potatoes, rice and bread.

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"For protein, the best options are fresh grilled chicken, fish, sushi, nuts and eggs. For fats, it can be dairy products. It’s important to maintain a balance and treat yourself as well. The best time for this is usually after a game."

Be disciplined

"It’s vital to stick to a disciplined routine and maintain good habits because it will reflect in your performances on the pitch … what we eat as footballers is a massive part of the preparation for games along with training and sleep pattern. I try to eat my breakfast around 8am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 7.45-8pm and very little after that so I am not sleeping on a full stomach.

"The time between meals is important to have healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt and nuts and not go 5-6 hours without eating. Small regular meals are the best way for footballers to go about their diet."

Stick with meal times

"I try to maintain regular meals times but when we are travelling for away games, which can sometimes involve two flights and a coach journey, it’s not possible. There’s no need to be too hard on yourself because those circumstances are out of your control. The body gets used to whatever you train it to do.

"A classic example of this is the Ramadan month where after a few days the body adapts to the new sleep and eating patterns."

Acclimatise to your surroundings

"In England it’s absolutely freezing so you need to eat to keep warm! The main source of carbs there for me was potatoes but here in Asia I tend to eat more pasta. I like rice but not half as much as the locals!

"I learned my first lesson about adapting my diet in 2011 when I played for Muangthong United in Thailand. I pulled a muscle in my calf and could not figure out why because I ate the same and maintained my flexibility programme. The reason for the injury was I was not drinking enough electrolyte drinks to replenish the salt lost in the blistering heat which led to cramps and eventually a pulled muscle. Water was not enough because it just flushes out the system so it was a major lesson.

"Since then I made a conscious effort to drink 100Plus and other electrolyte drinks more. I also eat less on game days than in England because of the heat. I prefer to go into games not feeling too full. Here I use energy cells on the day of the game as opposed to solid food snacks like when in England. I also find myself drinking more cold milk and eating watermelons here to try and keep cool!"

Plan your meal

"Typically I will eat grilled chicken or salmon and occasionally beef to mix up the proteins. My body gets along with a big portion of salad and some soup followed by fruit to keep the fibre intake high. I do not eat carbohydrates every day, I tend to rotate the carb days so I am not overloaded with energy when there are two weeks gaps in the league for internationals and when the games are less frequent.

"I eat more energy foods and load up a few days before the game. This season I have played 40+ games in midfield, the most number of appearance in our team – made possible by the correct diet, rest and recovery. They all go hand in hand. The midfield position puts high demands on the energy system so fuel from the food is hugely important."

Enjoying local food

"I like nasi goreng (fried rice) and telur dada (omelette) which is healthy and does not mean I need extra training to burn it off. I love the local food courts here as there is so much variety and ridiculously cheap prices compared to the UK. My family and I eat out two to three times a week to give a wife a rest from my strict dietary demands!"

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