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18st 2lbs. 6ft 5in. Fast, strong, agile, intelligent and super fit. If The Pearl wasn't an elite rugby player, you'd half expect to see him crushing skulls in Game of Thrones.
While England international Maro Itoje admits he's "90% bigger than most backs" he wouldn't fancy his chances against The Mountain. "He popped that guy's eyes out his head (Prince Oberyn)," he says. "I don't think he'd pop my eyes out my head, but he'd definitely beat me up."
Itoje won't be so quick to concede defeat when he takes to the field against Tonga at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday. He'll be looking to drive England forward as they hope to win their opening game of the rugby World Cup. The islanders will impose their physicality on England and try to win via a war of attrition.
"Tonga have a lot of big, strong, powerful men and when we run into each other it's like a car crash," the Saracens player tells SPORTbible. "Rugby is all about physicality, so when you hit someone in the sweet spot it definitely feels nice."
How do you prepare your body for these epic battles? We joined Itoje for a day of lifting metal and eating, eating and more eating...
6.30AM RISE AND SHINE
No one likes to hear the alarm in the morning, but once I wake-up I get my kit on, have a coffee and take a look at social media to see what's going on in the world. I'll have a small bowl of porridge and a whey protein shake. Yes I'm a rugby player, but I have passionate beliefs about social issues and politics so I like to stay abreast of everything.
7.00AM HIT THE ROAD
On the way into training, I like to listen to Ed Miliband's podcast, Reasons to be Cheerful, where he talks to smart thinkers from around the world. It tackles a range of topics and really challenges you to think about issues that affect the world, not just the ones that exist in your bubble. I also like to listen to Boyz II Men
7.30AM LOAD UP
Once I get into training ground it's time to eat and fuel my first training session. I'm going to burn 1000-1400 calories so I need to load up. I'll have four poached eggs on toast with a sausage or maybe some bacon and broccoli. During pre-season I could be eating up to 5000 calories a day, which can be hard going. Players normally sit down together on tables of 6-10 - we'll talk about everything from rugby to current affairs.
7.45AM GET LOOSE
You need to get the body loose for training so I like to have a massage and stretch off. This is also a good opportunity to switch off and relax the mind.
9.30AM THROW SOME METAL AROUND
Obviously, rugby is a physical sport so you need to be big, strong and powerful. But most importantly you need to be robust. It's really important to do your gym work so you're able to dish out the hits and take them.
I don't squat because it's not too good for my back, but I bench and I've got a one-rep max of 165 kilos. For a deadlift, I can lift well over 200 kilos. It gets competitive in the gym, we keep an eye on the strength scores and power scores, but at the end of the day we're rugby players not weight lifters, so everything is within reason. Billy Vunipola is the biggest monster in the gym.
10.30AM SHAKE 'N' SNACK
I'll grab a chocolate flavoured protein shake after the gym to help recovery. Protein helps build and repair your muscles so you can continue to train throughout the day. I might have a snack too - grapes, clementines or beef jerky. Something that's easy to have on the go.
10.45AM KNOW YOUR ROLE
This is where we work on our jobs as a unit, likes scrums and line-outs. Everyone has to understand their role and what's expected of them. Concentration and communication are key. Everything has to be slick, you can't afford to make a mistake on game day otherwise you'll get punished.
Time to eat. As an athlete we need to have a balanced mix of protein, carbohydrates and fats to meet our energy demands. I'll usually go for chicken, green vegetables, couscous or sea bass, bulgur wheat, and fried vegetables. I have another protein shake and make sure I stay hydrated - I try to drink 4-5 litres of water per day.
1.00PM TEAM MEETING
This is where we get together to go through our game plan and review the opposition. This is where you need to focus and concentrate because you don't want to be the person to let the team down. It can be hard because you've already trained twice and eaten so you're ready for a nap, but you can't nod off in the team meeting. We'll get sent a downloadable link which gives us access to a detailed report and footage to review. The coaches will sometimes ask us to report back on what we've seen and how we interpreted different plays.
1.30PM TEAM RUGBY SESSION
This is where we'll work on what we've discussed in the team meeting - how we want to play, the moves we want to run, the strike plays, etc. If you weren't listening in the team meeting this is where you'll get found out. Thankfully at elite level everyone is switched on and the training sessions are sharp and challenging.
2.30PM FINE TUNE THE ENGINE
To give us that physical edge, we finish the day with some extra fitness. Previously we've done judo and wrestling. These are great disciplines that teach have benefits in certain contact situations i.e. getting your body in the right position to contest or protect the ball. This is the fun stuff... the fitness tests are not. There's one exercise called the yo-yo test, which involves repeated sprints. You have to beat the bleeps which get closer together as the test progresses. It's horrible. After this, we might do extras - skill work or anything we individually need to work on.
3.30PM TIME FOR SOME TLC
After a brutal day of training, we're finally finished and we get to rest. First thing I do is get a protein shake onboard and a snack and then I pick from a range of recovery protocols: stretch, soft tissue therapy, massage, swimming cryotherapy and physio. You can't get lazy with this stuff, you have to take this as seriously as your training. You're putting your body under extreme stress all day so you need to give it some TLC to help it recover. You need to be able to go again the next day, the day after that and so on. I do find the recovery stuff quite challenging because I don't think my body responds too well to rest - I think I need to keep pushing it, maintaining my fitness and strength.
4.00PM SWITCH OFF
This is when I like to switch off from rugby so I listen to a podcast or some music, maybe call friends and family and catch up or speak to my commercial agent about my weekly appearance schedule and commitments.
6PM TIME FOR ANOTHER FEED
Time for another feed. I'll have carbs, protein and greens for my main meal. I'm not a whiz in the kitchen, but I do like to cook. I find it relaxing. My signature dish is a Thai prawn curry I very rarely have cheat days, but if I was going to have a cheat meal I'd go for Chinese or Thai food.
7PM WATCH THE BOX
This is when I'll normally catches up on TV series - I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones and I enjoy watching Love Island. I'll always watch the 10pm BBC news before going to bed. Sometimes I'll read - usually books about African or identity politics and social sciences.
8PM DINNER. YES, THAT'S RIGHT. DINNER NUMBER TWO
For the second meal I will strip out the carbs and just have the protein and greens and maybe some fruit. Got to keep feeding my body to help build and repair muscle. It can be hard eating this much, but now it's part of my routine and it's important I commit to the process.
10PM SHUT DOWN
Before I go to bed I'll maybe read a bit more, flick through social media and catch up with the news. I like to get at least 8-9 hours sleep so I can go hard again tomorrow. It makes me more alert. I'm able to perform better the next day - not only from a physical point of view but a mental point of view.
Maro Itoje wears the adidas Kakari X-Kevlar 2 boots available from https://www.adidas.co.uk/rugby
Topics: rugby world cup
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