With World Cup qualifying looming, the Azkals have brought in one of their own help give the team a nutritional edge.
Anto Gonzales, current UP mens and womens football coach, has been hired by the national team as their nutritional consultant for the entire duration of World Cup qualifying until next year.
“I’m excited to help the team by sharing what I know about eating right,” says Gonzales, a hard-nosed holding midfielder who played for the Azkals for many years, his last action being as recent as 2012.
Gonzales is known among footballing circles for his fastidious devotion to a healthy, almost ascetic diet heavy on fruits, vegetables, and esoterica like chia seeds and steel-cut oats. He thinks that he can make a difference in the team’s performance.
Gonzales will be contracted to plan the team’s meals during training camps and matches, coordinating with the hotels and restaurants where the team will stay and eat if necessary.
“Football these days is so intense. The physical demands are greater than ever. Fitness is the number one priority for teams,” explains Gonzales.
“And to be fit, it’s not just about conditioning, but making sure the players have the right fuel in their tanks,” continues the coach.
The first change Gonzales will make in the team’s meals will be a switch to a completely vegetarian diet. He says that this is needed to reduce the body fat of each player to about 7%, which should make them very quick on the park.
“Meat is the traditional source of protein, but it’s also loaded with saturated fat and other substances that can cause inflammation in the heart,” says Gonzales.
“So it’s better if elite athletes get their protein from healthier plant sources.”
According to Gonzales he will propose that the team uses a quinoa and amaranth blend as their staple in lieu of rice. Quinoa is a grain high in protein.
The coach is also an enthusiastic fan of tofu and other forms of plant-based protein, like avocado, sun-dried tomato hummus, and cashew nuts. He says he has at least two-dozen recipes of tofu, or bean curd, that he is willing to try on the players.
“These are really delicious dishes that I eat on a regular basis. I know the players will love them too,” adds Gonzales.
Azkals boss Dan Palami is a big proponent of the new addition to the team’s support staff.
“Anto was a great player for the Philippine team then, and now he is making a super contribution off the pitch. We are glad he has come on board to be our secret weapon,” said Palami.
In between meals Gonzales will concoct healthy, energy-packed smoothies made of purple sweet potato, and strawberry/blueberry mixes. Flaxseed and chia seeds will be a regular part of chef Anto’s meals. He is also a proponent of chocolate hemp milk, a healthy treat that is said to be a beloved refreshment of several former Kaya FC players. Hemp milk is high in protein, calcium, and omega 3 fats.
The coach is also a big fan of using kale in smoothies and meals. The leafy vegetable is very high in beta-carotene. Gonzales says it’s also a tribute to his former Claret and national team mate Kale Alvarez, one of the players who inspired him to eat healthy.
Gonzales said that the team may have a certain number of “cheat days” allotted where grilled fish will be served.
“I really think the players will respond to the new diet well,” affirms Gonzales. “We also have quite a few older players on the team, and the new regimen should help them play competitively in international games until their mid-to-late thirties.”
The Azkals hope to have Gonzales in all of the training camps leading up to the June World Cup qualifiers that continue on until 2016. The Azkals are trying to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Palami says he will encourage the youth squads, like the U19 team that will compete later in the year, to also take on Gonzales as their diet and nutrition guru. The SEA Games team that will play in Singapore in June will also likely follow the same vegetarian diet.
“Being a footballer isn’t about showing up at training and in games. It’s also about living a lifestyle committed to performing well on the pitch. I’m happy to be the facilitator for this,” said Coach Anto, in between gulps of a papaya/banana/cucumber smoothie.
“This is a great opportunity for me to have some fun with healthy food,” said Gonzales.
“Just like Bob is having fun with all of you with this April Fool’s Day blog post. Cheers!”