Zeenat Simjee is the Springboks dietitian. Photo: Zeenat Simjee/Facebook

CAPE TOWN – “They taste so good ’cos they eat so good.” That was the tagline of an old TV ad for Farmer Brown chickens.

Fast forward to 2019, and it could be adapted for the Springboks to “They play so good ’cos they eat so good.”

South Africa physically dominated virtually all their opponents in their march to the Rugby World Cup title.

And not only is it because they were just more physical in their approach than other teams, but eating correctly also played a crucial part in maintaining their fitness over the 20-week journey to the Webb Ellis Cup.

Coach Rassie Erasmus has often said that this season was the first time that he had seen so few players sitting out of training due to injury niggles.

And the lady who made sure that they got their sufficient intake of nutrients and ate well is the very first full-time dietitian with the Springboks.

Zeenat Simjee does not believe in being a rigid, tough taskmaster. While the players must get the necessary nutrition required for elite athletes, she does give them some leeway.

And even a treat now and again. But Simjee – a Registered Dietitian who hails from Johannesburg – told Independent Media that hooker Schalk Brits sometimes tries to take her arm when she offers him a finger.

“They didn’t really make weird requests. I think they just like to press my buttons when it comes to what they can have,” she said.

Simjee said that each position would require a different nutritional guideline, but because she only joined the Bok set-up in May, she has had to look at the overall picture for now.

“In terms of the nutrition side, I’m not very strict with them. I do believe that nutrition is something that, if you believe the value in it, you will continue with it. If you had to apply a strict approach, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t even enjoy touring at all,” said Simjee.

“I do an 80-20 (policy) with the guys. Eighty percent of the time, we strive to make the best decisions, because at the end of the day, they are professional athletes. And 20 percent of the time, they can enjoy life – because they are humans too!

“There is no strict diet in place. We follow the guidelines in terms of evidence-based nutrition practices.”

So, did the Boks just live on sushi and ramen in Japan? Not quite. In fact, they even ate some chicken biryani.

“We said to the hotel staff, they are the most important people in the hotel because they are preparing the food,” Simjee said.

“They are open to learning when it comes to the western side. The menus were created to allow Japanese cuisine that fit into the team’s requirements.

“They tried dishes like ramen, shabu-shabu and sushi. The team has also enjoyed yakitori and gyoza, which are part of the post-match nutrition.”

For Simjee personally, it has been a whirlwind 2019. She has worked with local sports teams and individual athletes before, but said that being part of the Springbok team “was my ultimate goal”, and she loved it.

“For a really long time, I actually wanted to be part of SA Rugby. I studied full-time at Stellenbosch University, where we worked with SAS (Stellenbosch Academy of Sport), so a lot of the time, we would do our practicals with rugby players,” she said.

“That pretty much moulded me into this path. That’s where my passion for rugby started – I always used to be into football. They are both equally loved!

“I ended up doing my post-grad in sports nutrition, and I did my research in adolescent rugby, as I felt there was a gap there. I really wanted to end up in rugby for a long time, and it just happened to happen now.”

And now Simjee has a winners’ gold medal, and the Boks – who were in superb shape throughout the year – are the champions of the world.

@ashfakmohamed


Cape Times

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