What does it take to be a Lion? George North explains the diet, training, sleep and mentality needed

Exclusive: The Welsh giant reveals his day-to-day routine and how he manages to stay sane on tour

Jack Austin
Monday 05 June 2017 14:22 BST
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North is expected to start the Tests against New Zealand - his second Lions tour
North is expected to start the Tests against New Zealand - his second Lions tour

Almost seven years ago, an 18-year-old man mountain stepped onto an international field for the first time – and five minutes later he was celebrating his first international try.

George North scored twice on that day in November to properly announce himself as a Wales player and change the way wingers would be viewed in world rugby.

Previously, the prototype for a winger was a nippy, five-foot-something player in the mould of Shane Williams or Jason Robinson. North was a six-foot-four 17-stone giant playing in the same position.

Since then, the big winger has become the most desirable of the wingers and that is why North is one of the leading condenders to start the first Test against New Zealand later this month.

But what does it take to get to that level, where size doesn’t take away from your speed and agility? North talked The Independent through what it takes to make a Lion.

“If you do a normal training day – you wake up, normally at Northampton we like to get things done quite early so normally the first session starts at 7 or 8 o’clock then a bit of breakfast,” North said.

“Normally you first session is your weights or something like that so you can either grab some food at home quickly and then go to the club. You do your first weights session, then some rehab stuff and then get some more breakfast if you wish.

“Then you’ve got your skills. You have some you team meetings from the game before and then your forwards and backs split. The team will then come back together and then it depends on the day. If it’s a Monday, it’s more like recovery, but if it’s a Tuesday then you’re getting ready to build for the next game.

“Normally then, I’ll come back and walk the dogs. Then I’ll have some down time and that’s about it for a normal daily routine.”

Routine is one thing but recovery is what North lists as one of the most important aspects of his training, both with Northampton and Wales – where by his own admission, the intensity is even greater. The Lions tour even more so.

“Normally we will get one day off a week but Sunday is mainly recovery too. You do your recovery half yourself and half with the club. Post-game you have it set up – your ice baths, your contrasts, your spin, your soft tissue. Then personally I like to go out on the bike or walk the dogs, just to keep myself moving, even if it’s very, very slow. The biggest thing is sleep, so you recover physically, ready for another battering the next day.

Lions Video Diary: Day Two

“A lot of our stuff is team stuff – the only stuff I do is mobility and flexibility and rehab stuff at home but that’s just 20 minutes two times a day with the odd recovery ride in as well.

“Internationally, training intensity goes right up. We do a few more sessions and cram as much in as possible.”

Then there is the food. One of North’s favourite parts. A man his size takes quite the feeding to maintain or as he puts it “to stop me wasting away”.

Diet is key in any form of exercise but each player is different, something the 25-year-old is happy to point out, even at the expensive of his, ahem, slightly larger teammates.

“We have a full-time nutritionist – so I don’t waste away. She has a bit more hands on approach with some players, leaning heavily on the front row! I won’t say anymore on them!

North limped off during the first Test against New Zealand last summer
North limped off during the first Test against New Zealand last summer (Getty)

“The majority of the players get guidance and information about what to cook or what not to cook really. Preseason you just want to get in as many calories as possible but for the season itself it’s all about maintenance.”

Then there is the mental side and find things to do while filling the time on tour. North will be away for six weeks with the Lions without much access to friends or family.

Players such as Wales colleague Dan Biggar is known as being fairly reserved off the pitch, while Lions newcomer James Haskell is quite the opposite. North describes himself as a “people person” but admits his mentality changes when it comes to the hours leading up to game time.

“I’m a big coffee lover so I go and find a nice coffee shop,” he continued. “Some of the boys bring a Playstation but I’m rubbish so I go more for the tactic of hurling abuse at people while they play. I like to go out and walk around, I can’t sit still for too long.

“I’m quite a people person so I like doing things or going out but leaning towards a game I like to do my own thing in the hours leading to the game. That’s obviously down to each individual’s preparation though, really.”

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