On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Maro Itoje may look like your average rugby player with his muscled physique and intense gaze on the field, but he’s anything but typical. The 27-year old English player defies stereotypes on a number of fronts: he doesn’t enjoy drinking beer, likes to collect art in his spare time, has a degree in politics, and is currently studying for his MBA.
Itoje even admitted once in an interview that if it wasn’t for his physical attributes, he’d most likely be a journalist or a politician. Fortunately for the Saracens Rugby Club and the England national team, he decided to play rugby.
Born in Camden, North London in 1994 to Nigerian parents, Efe and Florence, Itoje played a variety of sports growing up. Prior to him being introduced to rugby at the age of 11, the Englishman was a 200 metre runner, basketball player and shot-putter. He admits that he found the sport relatively late in life but thanks to his relentless work ethic, was able to progress rapidly.
“Speak to coaches from when I was 12 to 15, they would say I was tall, strong and athletic, but there were players far more talented than I was,” he revealed to Men’s Health. “But I surpassed them and had more success due to how much attention I paid to consistency, work ethic, my mental approach to the game.”
Since making his debut for Saracens in the 2013–14 season at 19 years old, Itoje has proven to be an immensely valuable player for the club, featuring in all four finals when they won the Premiership titles in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019. He has also had a strong presence in the national team, and has been nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year three times — in 2016, 2017 and 2021.
I want to be a very, very, very successful rugby player. I want to win. I want to be part of teams that are dominant and always competing for trophies. I want to experience the highs that rugby can give me. Competition, passion, and the ability to get better are what really motivate me.15 Minutes With… Maro Itoje | Men’s Fitness
Maro Itoje’s training routine & diet
On a typical training day, the rugby player is up at 6.30am. While he’s having his coffee and first meal of the day (typically a bowl of porridge and a whey protein shake), he’s on social media scanning the latest headlines. “Yes I’m a rugby player, but I have passionate beliefs about social issues and politics so I like to stay abreast of everything,” he told Sport Bible in 2019.
Once he arrives on the training ground at 7.30am, he’ll start to properly fuel up for his first workout session with what he calls his second breakfast. “I’m going to burn 1000-1400 calories so I need to load up. I’ll have four poached eggs on toast with a sausage or maybe some bacon and broccoli,” he said.
Itoje’s daily training schedule is usually broken up into three sessions: a gym workout, training on the field, and extra fitness work at the end of the day. For the gym, Itoje lifts three days a week with Monday focused on lower body, Tuesday on upper body and Thursday on total body. The priority is on building functional strength and explosive power so lifts like the trap bar deadlift and concentric squats with low rep ranges are usually the focus.
On the training field, the team runs through their game plan, reviews different plays and practices new moves. Then to finish off their workout, they perform a number of fitness tests for their conditioning levels.
“There’s one exercise called the yo-yo test, which involves repeated sprints,” Itoje revealed. “You have to beat the bleeps which get closer together as the test progresses. It’s horrible. After this, we might do extras – skill work or anything we individually need to work on.”
After training is done, Itoje will pick from a range of techniques to help his body recover, including stretching, soft tissue therapy, massage, swimming, cryotherapy and physio. “You can’t get lazy with this stuff, you have to take this as seriously as your training,” he explained. “You’re putting your body under extreme stress all day so you need to give it some TLC to help it recover.”
To make sure he’s fuelling his body with enough calories to sustain itself through the multiple training sessions, Itoje eats 6-7 meals a day. After his two breakfasts, he’ll usually drink a protein shake after the gym, and have a snack — grapes, clementine or beef jerky. Then it’s lunch at around midday. “I’ll usually go for chicken, green vegetables, couscous or sea bass, bulgur wheat, and fried vegetables,” he said in a 2019 interview.
He’ll have another protein shake in the mid-afternoon after training is wrapped up, before heading home for his two dinners. Yeap, that’s right, two dinners. For the first meal, he’ll have his usual carbs, protein and greens, then for the second meal he’ll “strip out the carbs and just have the protein and greens and maybe some fruit.”
Before going to sleep, Itoje will do some reading or browse social media to catch up on the news. The rugby player is strict about his rest time — he likes to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep — so it’s usually lights out by 9.30-10.30pm.
“A lot of people sacrifice sleep and think they can do without it,” Itoje said in an interview with GQ. “But sleep is so important. It makes you more alert; it makes you perform better. Not only from a physical point of view but a mental point of view.”
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