Home / Interviews / Interview with James Haskell: England Rugby Player & Fitness Expert
Interview with James Haskell: England Rugby Player & Fitness Expert17/02/2019
We recently sat down with 6ft 4in, 265lb professional England rugby player James Haskell.
Having performed at an elite level for clubs based in France, Japan, New Zealand and of course, England, and with a career spanning two decades – James has worked with some of the top sports coaches, nutritionists and trainers in the world which has helped him stay at the top of his game.
With that said:
He also happens to know a thing or two about health and fitness too.
We hope you enjoy this interview.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!
For anyone who is not familiar with you, could you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is James Haskell, I’m a rugby player for Northampton Saints and when selected – England. I have played 78 times for my country and have also represented the British and Irish Lions.
I also have a fitness business called ‘James Haskell Health and Fitness‘ and currently have a book out called ‘Cooking for Fitness‘ which is my third book aimed at cooking to getting fitter and healthier using uncomplicated foods with real ingredients.
What does a typical week look like for James Haskell? How often do you train and what do you do to chill out/have fun?
A normal week for me is pretty full on.
If we played on a Saturday, Sunday will be a recovery day which will involve me working on one of my many projects and having a bit of down time with my wife.
On a Monday:
I’ll arrive at my rugby club at 8 o’clock in the morning with a mobility/rehab session first thing and then I’ll get some breakfast (although I probably would’ve eaten at home).
This will be followed by a lower body weight session in which I’ll then have a few meetings and a walk-through rugby session in the afternoon with any fitness top-ups.
Tuesday is a much more physical day.
Again, I have another training session in the morning.
I’ll then have another 2 sets of meetings focusing on forward play and ironing out scrums.
After this, I’ll break for lunch and then I’ll go out for a training session later in the afternoon which will be a combination of both units which is scrums and line-outs for forward play.
Wednesday is normally my day off.
This is where I do all of my work-related stuff: book promotions, DJ interviews or whatever it might be (I’m pretty much booked out on my rest days).
Thursday will be very similar to Tuesday in terms of physicality.
I’ll have one rugby session outside and a power training session in the gym. I’ll then stay afterwards and do some extra mobility work.
Friday will be a team run day which means we’ll go through all of our moves ahead of Saturday’s game. It will be quite a short session.
I’ll rest and recover and probably speak with my sports psychologist too.
And finally, it’s game time on Saturday and so it goes round and round.
Why rugby? What is it about the sport that you still love after all these years?
I never really wanted to be a rugby player in the beginning.
It was something through disappointment at England Under-16’s where I didn’t get selected and I was never that interested in doing it.
But when someone said I was never good enough to do it, I was very keen to prove myself.
I came back in a bit of a ‘Rocky’ montage where I got someone who trained with me that allowed me to train harder, I focused on my diet and everything else where I managed to break into England’s Under-18’s.
I got the opportunity to play for Wasps and essentially I decided I was going to give it a go for a year – 17 and a half seasons later I’m still going.
I cherish the sport because I enjoy the camaraderie that goes on and off the field.
I love the fact that I get to compete week in, week out in front of a crowd. I get to do something I’m passionate about and I just appreciate getting paid to train/being in shape and having fun with it all.
If you could narrow it down to one thing, in your experience, what is the most important consideration to take when trying to excel at a sport or get in better shape?
I think the most important thing is worrying about what you can control.
In other words:
Your dedication, your focus and how much hard work you want to put into things are all within your control.
It’s also about making sure you have a plan, sticking to it and executing it.
To achieve anything from body transformation to excelling at a sport, it requires sacrifice.
It’s not fun, it’s not for everyone. It’s about falling down and getting back up again.
These are all important things that help you achieve whatever your goal is.
What are the biggest mistakes you made as an up and coming professional athlete that you would otherwise take back (if possible)?
Probably spreading myself too thin.
Recovery and rest are hugely important.
Sometimes I’m guilty of trying to do too much which has been detrimental in some ways (not noticeably), but mentally trying to make sure I’m getting the work-life balance right.
Having stuff outside of rugby is really important, but it’s about getting a balance too.
I wouldn’t necessarily take it back, but I would tweak it to some degree, from a nutritional and diet point of view, I was probably under-eating for a while.
In the past,
I would try and go for that Men’s Health cover model physique without prioritising fuelling my training and recovery. Meeting my wife and working with different nutritionists has since helped me in this area.
What is your overall outlook when it comes to nutrition? Are you quite strict with what you consume? Or do you take an ‘everything in moderation’ point of view?
I track everything I put in my body using MyFitnessPal.
A lot of rugby players aren’t as a strict as that, but for me, it works really well.
I’m a mesomorph by nature so I can put on a lot of muscle but also put on a lot of fat easily as well if I’m not careful. Thus, I make sure that I maintain a certain size.
I really enjoy tracking and being quite anal about what I’m doing. I have a miniature pair of scales and I’ll weigh my foods out before eating them.
My wife is also a qualified nutritionist and she’s incredible at what she does so she’s really helped me to understand how to track.
She’s been able to change her body on a regular basis so I’m able to change mine quite quickly from out of shape to into shape, to building muscle and losing muscle and so on.
I do believe everything in moderation is important.
People need to understand that there’s no such thing as good or bad foods. Once you track and have an idea of how many calories you have left to play with, you have the freedom to be able to enjoy yourself within reason.
My point is:
There are foods with better nutritional value than others.
It doesn’t make them bad, but it just means that when you understand what your whole diet/weekly calorie count looks like, you can’t be eating doughnuts everything single day to get in better shape!
How has your approach to fitness, training and nutrition changed compared to how it was 5 years ago, if at all?
Anyone who’s into health, fitness and nutrition has to understand that their views are going to change constantly.
I think a sign of a good coach/nutritionist is someone who changes their opinion over time. There’s all sorts of information constantly put out on training and diet.
If you stick to your guns the whole time, and aren’t prepared to evolve, that’s when you’ll fall down.
5 years ago, I was probably under-eating and I wasn’t tracking what I was doing.
I thought I had a fantastic diet but I was actually under-eating on protein quite considerably and my fats were very high.
I’d eat a lot of pork pies and other processed meats not realising the high fat content and not realising that every protein source comes with fat.
I was training far too much. On my days off as well as working, I was doing wrestling, jiu-jitsu, extra sprint training and driving all around the place.
It was damaging. I was in great shape but these things were not helping me mentally.
What supplements do you currently have lined up in your cupboard?
My supplements are things that will supplement my needs such as: fish oils, multivitamins and probiotics.
I will also have a protein shake or a mass gainer just because of the amount of calories and protein I have to eat after training to try and top my stuff up.
I’m not a massive supplements man as food will generally come first in everything that I do.
I believe supplements should only supplement your ‘already good’ diet.
A lot of young male and female players (males especially) want to know about supplements. They become obsessed with them.
They think that by taking creatine or a protein powder they’ll get massive. However, they don’t understand that it’s down to your training, and most importantly your nutrition.
Most people are hugely under-eating. They think they’re eating 3 meals a day and they’re scoffing food, but they’re just not on the right playing field to build muscle.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen/done on the rugby pitch or at the gym?
The funniest thing I’ve ever done on a rugby pitch was to run into a post in England vs Wales at Millennium Stadium live on the BBC.
In the gym:
Making the mistake of loading up one side of the bar (forgetting you’ve taken off the weights on the other side), lifting it off and it all falling onto one side making a giant clatter and everyone looking at you like a tit.
Is there any ‘accepted wisdom’ out there regarding strength training/performance optimisation that you would, through experience, experimentation or otherwise, discredit?
One thing that is commonly seen as ‘accepted wisdom’ is more is better.
When building muscle or developing strength, you’re tearing muscle fibres so you’ve got to give your body time to recover, adapt and grow.
Smashing your body into the ground every single day is never a great idea.
For rugby players in general,
Most believe that being massive and really good in the gym is going to make you a good player. This is something that’s a perception for a lot of young players but it’s simply not true.
Some of the most powerful players, and those who’ve beaten the most defenders, are those who are terrible in the gym and who aren’t particularly big.
It all boils down to mastering the core skills and not necessarily what you can do in the gym.
What are your long-term goals for when you finally decide to hang up your rugby boots?
My ultimate dream at the moment is to DJ.
It’s a very fun hobby and I enjoy the performance element of it.
I think a lot of rugby players who finish their careers tend to struggle because they don’t get to perform in front of a crowd anymore.
When I DJ, I get the same sort of adrenaline rush when playing on the field which is great.
I also want to keep running my health and fitness business. I really enjoy presenting and writing. I’ve got a couple more book ideas I want to develop too.
So, I don’t have one set goal (which is kind of dangerous), as I’ve got lots of different passions.
Are there any final pearls of wisdom that you could offer our readers?
We live in the age of social media so a lot of people need to understand that what you see online is not necessarily the truth (and more often than not, it’s not).
Whatever you want to do, have a plan and follow people you actually believe in, who are legitimate and who are prepared to change their stance on things.
Don’t be bought into the image of celebrities, those who are constantly in shape 24 hours a day – it’s just not true.
Be realistic about your goals.
Understand that when you’re looking at someone online thinking, ‘I want a body like that’ that person has probably been training for 8 years and is doing all sorts of things they don’t tell anyone about.
Sharing your life on social media and following people – it’s not what life’s about.
It causes a lot of anxiety.
You spend your time looking at what other people are thinking of you and who are qualifying your life by likes, I think it’s bullshit.
But I think it’s great for inspiration, information-sharing and for positivity (and it should be seen as that).
If you’re spending a large proportion of your time on it, you need to re-evaluate yourself.
More about James Haskell
In addition to learning more about James Haskell on his website, you can also follow him across all major social media platforms including:
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Joseph is the Founder and Editor in Chief of CheckMeowt. When he is not sat at the computer guzzling down the nearest thing with protein in it, he can be found pulling up the world in the gym. Occasionally, he is best described as socially unreliable and easily distracte.