When Jonny Holland tore his hamstring, and was told he couldn’t play rugby for at least six months in November 2014, he was devastated.
“I could barely speak to the physio when he told me on the phone,” says the 26-year-old former Munster player. “I felt like bursting into tears.”
He was told he’d have to stay in bed for at least six weeks to recover and after that he’d be on crutches for a long time.
For an athlete who was at the peak of their career and who had devoted his whole life to rugby, it was quite a blow. “I couldn’t even imagine not moving for a day,” he says. “It was just awful.”
Unfortunately for Jonny, his injury took 13 months in total to heal.
It wasn’t just the fact that he couldn’t play rugby. Jonny’s whole life was affected by the injury. “I couldn’t socialise with my friends, I couldn’t dress myself and I couldn’t even cook my own meals,” he says. “Everything was difficult.”
Luckily for Jonny he was living with his parents at the time in Cork City and they did their best to accommodate him in whatever way that they could.
Determined to get better and back on the pitch as quickly as possible he became interested in nutrition. He began seeing a nutritionist – Catherine Norton - with a view to using food as a means of recovery.
“I’ve always eaten healthily and been aware of the effect that food has on the body,” he says. “But when this accident happened, I became even more particular. I used to come home with recipes and a list of ingredients which the nutritionist had given me and hand them to my mother. Everything had to be weighed out exactly,” he laughs.
As a result, all take-away or junk food was cut out of his diet. “People don’t realise that it can lead to more inflammation with an injury due to the presence of hydrogenated fats and trans-fats,” explains Johnny.
“I ate a lot of fruit and vegetables because of their antioxidant value and educated myself about herbs and spices too. Tumeric for example also has anti-inflammatory properties.”
A typical dinner for Johnny consisted of salmon which is high in omega 3 and cooked in olive oil instead of vegetable oil, sweet potato which contains Vitamin A and has antioxidant properties and broccoli which is particularly high in Vitamin B6.
“Protein is important too. I ate at least 20 to 30 grams per meal,” he says. “It’s necessary for muscle recovery given the high quality of glycine which drives the production of muscle tissue.”
After 13 months he was back on the pitch playing rugby, but he was still in a lot of pain as his hamstring had failed to attach to the muscle.
“I put the pain to the back of mind and just continued to play but it was there all the time and it was getting worse,” he says. “Sadly, after six months of trying to ignore it I had to admit defeat.”
He reluctantly retired from rugby in September 2016 just after his 25th birthday and found himself having to rethink his whole life. “Playing rugby was all I’d ever wanted to do,” says Johnny. “I had to start thinking about a whole new career.”
It was then his passion for food and health came to the fore and he enrolled in a year-long course in nutrition through Middlesex University. His aim was to become a nutrition, health and wellness expert.
Now qualified and having recently set up his own website, Johnny not only gives talks on health, wellness and recovery, he works as a nutritionist for people wanting to lose weight or get fit after an illness. And he works with athletes who want to improve their diet.
“I’m in a pretty unique position,” says the former rugby player. “Not every nutritionist has played the game and knows what’s involved. “I feel passionately that eating the right foods can aid recovery from any injury and I want to help others do it too.”
For more information visit: johnnyholland10.com
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