The team which travels with cactus

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Copy of PN flags AP A fan donning miniature national flags representing Italy, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil and Bosnia in her hair smiles before the World Cup soccer match between Brazil and Mexico in Brazil. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP Photo

Italy packed Parmesan, olive oil and prosciutto. The US brought oatmeal, Cheerios, peanut butter and A1 Steak Sauce, of course.

The Mexican team, required a little more spice. El Tri travelled with the ingredients for pozole, chile peppers, chipotle chiles and nopales – or cactus.

When it comes to World Cup food, teams aren’t willing to leave anything to chance.

 

For the Azzurri, attention to culinary detail is nothing new.

The Italians are particular about their pasta.

“Pasta is our preferred fuel, and before matches we play with the tricolour: pasta (white), tomato (red) and extra virgin olive oil (green),” said Italy team nutritionist Elisabetta Orsi, referring to the country’s flag colours.

For England, coach Roy Hodgson allowed tomato sauce on the menu again after predecessor Fabio Capello banned it.

Italy and the US have put a greater emphasis on nutrition under new coaches, each carefully planning meals with the guidance and direction of a dietitian or nutritionist and a chef, Claudio Silvestri, who has his own television adverts.

Everything is planned carefully based on the climate, availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, and other conditions.

“Generally, the nutritionist establishes a dietary plan for the squad based on the type of training necessary match by match,” Orsi said. “The physicians are responsible for pointing out problems with individual players so the nutritionist can formulate a specific diet.”

Long before the US team travelled to Brazil this month, chef Bryson Billapando and sports-performance dietitian Danielle LaFata visited the team’s hotels in Sao Paulo, Natal, Manaus and Recife to scour the kitchens and dining spaces and scout food options.

Avocados for this group are a must. The Americans go through an average of a case a day.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann loves a diet of fresh, organic vegetables – pesticide-free and flavoured with herbs and spices instead of fatty options such as butter and oil.

While the Americans had an on-site chef in South Africa four years ago, this is the first time one has been part of the lead-up to the tournament.

 

Each meal includes two cooked vegetables featuring two colours, then players are encouraged to add more variety from fruit and the salad bar.

In the land of flowing Caipirinha cocktails, LaFata even makes her version of “spa water” with herbs and fruit to cut down on the juice intake.

There’s an emphasis on hydration and the right number of calories at the right time.

LaFata makes pre-workout energy shooter drinks, then personally blends smoothies for each player after games.

 

The teams’ care with food is well founded. Last month, a Brazilian consumer defence agency said it discovered food past its expiration date in the hotels where Italy and England are staying during the World Cup. The Americans are glad they brought their own.

“It’s just been top notch,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “I think Jurgen’s really taken the US national team to another level.

“You just really trust in what you’re eating. You know that whatever you’re eating, it’s giving you the best thing to recover and to be at your top level.” – Sapa-AP

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