John Gloster knows a thing or two about fitness, nutrition and sports science. Having served as the physiotherapist for Surrey Country Cricket Club, the Bangladesh cricket team, the Indian cricket team and the Rajasthan Royals in a career spanning two decades, the Australian is now the head of sports science at the GoSports Foundation, where he is helping athletes across various sport understand the importance of fitness.
Scroll.in caught up with Gloster on the sidelines of an event organised by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming in association with the GoSports foundation in Mumbai on Wednesday. Gloster spoke about India batsman Prithvi Shaw’s freak injury in Australia, Virat Kohli’s vegan diet and more.
Excerpts from the conversation:
The Indian cricket team has been hit with a few freak injuries in the last year or so, the latest one being Prithvi Shaw’s ankle ligament tear ahead of the Australia tour. Is there any way such injuries can be prevented?
As you said, it was a freak injury. But can you better prepare a player to mitigate the risk of injuries? Absolutely. At the elite level of cricket, we know what are the major injuries that we see in certain disciplines of the game – whether it is a fast bowler, or a batsman, or in the field. We do have strategies in place that allow us to better manage the risk of those injuries occurring.
When players train and do all their preparation in India and then go to Australia, there is a risk immediately right there. How we mitigate that risk is by changing the environment, which involves not just the weather but also things like the nature of the grass they are playing on. If the grass is a bit thicker over there and softer, it means they could potentially develop hamstring and calf injuries, or they could fatigue a major muscle group that provides support to a joint which could then get injured.
Grounds in Australia are significantly bigger [than those in India]. We do a lot of throwing training on grounds in India, where the boundaries are 20-25 yards shorter than they are in Australia. So a lot of them go to Australia and develop shoulder injuries early on in the tour because they are suddenly throwing 25 yards more than what they trained for.
It’s about identifying what those risks are and implementing training strategies to mitigate those risks as much as possible, both internal and external.
What do you mean by internal...?
Internal is nutrition. I don’t think we have done that well enough in India in any sport up to this point. Your nutritional status determines your performance and your recovery status. We need to get a lot smarter around nutrition so that the internal environment is controlled. At Rajasthan Royals, all our athletes are blood-tested and we then base their nutrition on it.
You’ve been involved with Indian cricket and sport since 2005. How has fitness training evolved in India since then?
Things have changed a lot over the last five years or so. India are really up there now and I would never have said that 10 years ago. Are they still at the same level as players in Australia, New Zealand or South Africa? Probably not. But they have certainly bridged that gap enormously.
It is no coincidence that the results and performances of the Indian team over the last three or four years has been more consistent on the back of an emphasis on fitness training.
It’s only taken one Virat Kohli to put up his hand and say, ‘I don’t eat junk food any more. I don’t believe in having aerated drinks.’ And the whole of India stops doing it. That’s unbelievable. We need more messengers like Kohli. Love him or hate him, he is a messenger for kids.
Virat Kohli has also gone vegan, according to media reports. Would you recommend that for all athletes?
Definitely not. There is enough evidence out there that most people who turn vegan reverse that within one or two years because their bodies are not able to sustain a certain nutritional status. Vegans remove all animal products completely from their diets. Therefore, you are removing four of the most crucial vitamins for human life – Vitamin A, B group, D and K.
These are all fat-soluble vitamins, which are derived from and delivered to the cells by fat. So if you are removing all fats, which come from animal products such as dairy and eggs, then long-term you are going to struggle. Artificial sources aren’t as good as natural ones.
There is a lot of debate around it, but that’s good. There is also a number of positives, which is we are all questioning what we are reading. There are a lot of positives to take out of the vegan athletes in the sort of discipline and ethics they have. But as a complete nutritional picture, I’m not sure it’s the healthiest way to go. It’s not about jumping on the bandwagon of being vegan or going on a keto diet, but you need to go where the science and research is.
The Indian team management has emphasised on players passing the yo-yo test in order to play for the country. What’s your take on that?
I think it’s great because it has initiated a debate around fitness. What it tells me is that Indian cricket now realises that fitness has to underpin the sport.
The yo-yo test was designed by a guy called Jens Bangsbo, who is probably the world’s best exercise physiologist. He’s an ex-international footballer himself, an ex-assistant coach of Juventus. He’s a big guy in the football world and he built that test for football. Now, is that entirely relevant to something like Test cricket? Probably not. For ODIs, borderline. For T20 cricket, probably.
On the back of the data we collected from the GPS-based sports performance trackers we employed at the Rajasthan Royals, we noted that the efforts and exertions of a modern-day T20 cricketer are very similar to that of a modern-day footballer. When you look at total distance covered in a T20 match, the number of exertions in high-end speed bands is not dissimilar.
Cricket Australia has introduced the 2k time trial instead of the yo-yo test and that’s probably more relevant to the 50-over and longer formats of the game. But what it tells the player is that no longer will we tolerate an unfit player in a squad.
You also need to understand that every player has a physical limitation as well that may not meet the expectations of somebody else. People who are less physically abled to do these tests, it may be a bit unfair to set a benchmark that is beyond their reach. For those individuals, for me, it’s about improvement. Every time you do that test, you have to improve. Because if you don’t, you are not disciplined in the preparation for it.
Ultimately, it’s a skill-based sport but you can only execute that skill first of all if you are not fatigued and you’re not injured. So the best way to not be fatigued and injured is to have a good fitness base.
How does India compare with the rest of the world in adopting sports science?
It’s early days for us. Indian cricket is now in a place where they value the input of sports science, medicine and physiotherapy, and they’re seeing results. So why can’t that be filtered down into other sports around the country?
When we at GoSports interview a lot of these athletes, we ask them, ‘What is it that you miss? What is it that’s going to make you a better athlete?’ About 90% of them say, ‘We want good physio advice, we want good nutrition advice, we want good advice on sports science and medicine.’
It’s obviously lacking in the system somewhere, so we’re just in some small way trying to provide that ecosystem, that network that they can tap in to. We need to look at where it has worked, like cricket, and bring that back into other sports.