The Foodie Footballer talks to LAPS

Here at LAPS, we’re huge fans of @TheFoodieFootballer on Instagram. It’s Marc Pugh, former AFC Bournemouth ace, now online health coach, who is one of a handful of people who have scored in every one of the top five divisions in the English football pyramid. We wanted to understand where his love of food started – and how he’s transformed it into his career post-football. You can access Marc’s course on health, mindset and wellbeing, Level Up, here. To access a salmon recipe that Marc has created for LAPS, head to Instagram!

“I couldn’t boil an egg at 26 years old. It all came from a desire to improve my football performance. I got released a few times when I was younger, from League Two and League One clubs where I was told I wasn’t good enough, and then I got promoted to the Championship with AFC Bournemouth.

“And I thought, how can I gain an edge in Championship football, at this new level where I’m playing against better, and more athletic players? I felt I needed to change something, so I looked into nutrition. I did an 18-module diploma about fuelling for performance recovery, overall health, and it took my game to the next level. I went from running about 11km per match to 13km, sometimes close to 14km. I was feeling better physically. Away from the game, I felt more present with my family. I was watching YouTube videos teaching myself how to cook, reading books and I just became obsessed with it. I focussed on the impact of what I was putting in my body.”

But you started to look at the impact of nutrition on your children as well? “My daughter was a very lively kid and around 3-4 years old we realised she was a little bit too lively and could be hard to contain at times. In soft plays, she was sometimes looking for fights!

“We reviewed what she ate and realised how much sugar she was consuming. We focused on including whole foods into her diet, how her routine was around sleep and hydration, and it helped her with the learning at school as she was feeling so much better. She wasn’t as hyper. She’s 12 now, and she’s come on so much! And it’s convinced me that sleep, nutrition and hydration is critical for health.”

Tell us about your football career. “I got released at 18 by Burnley, and I was fortunate to get a trial at Bury. After that, I spent time at Hereford, Shrewsbury Town, and then nine years at AFC Bournemouth during which we were promoted to the Championship and then to the Premier League. It’s been a roller coaster, and it’s so mentally challenging not only for me, but for my family as well.”

How did you decide to retire and move into what you do now? “I signed for Queens Park Rangers in the Championship, and I needed to play 26 games to get a new contract. I was on 25 games. On the Friday I was due to start the game on the Saturday but what happened? COVID shut the country down!

“When the league re-started, we had nine matches left and three days before we were due to start the games back up the manager told me the club can’t afford to keep me. That was the catalyst: I’d had 18 seasons which is a lot of time away from the family, so it seemed like it was time to move on, into my second passion which was lifestyle and especially food!”

With 55 000 followers on Instagram, you’re clearly doing something right. What’s your food philosophy? “I’m obsessed with everything I put in my body. It has to look nice, and taste nice. My wife’s a good cook, but she was always into her hearty warming dishes, lasagnas and pastas, and especially now I’ve retired you can’t eat heavy carbs all the time.

“We both now, in our cooking, focus on high protein, high fat, moderate carbs depending on your activity level. The less active you are the less you need carbohydrates. I eat loads of vegetables, fruit and what I try and teach everyone is just try and avoid the processed foods. It has such a negative effect on overall health, especially long term as we get older. The research shows links between diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers and it’s all linked, in my opinion to well marketed ultra-processed products that are detrimental towards health.”

Let’s focus on how you built up such a huge following. Where did those 55 000 followers come from? “I started my Instagram, The Foodie Footballer, when I was in the Championship with QPR. I wish I’d started it when I was in the Premier League with Bournemouth, and I might have had a bigger following!

“I always tried to offer real value to people, to give them real tips on how to improve their health. I wanted to add value with every post, whether it’s just a picture of a recipe, or the health benefits of a tomato. And gradually, my following just grew. Even now, companies approach me and I’m happy to work with brands that share my approach, if it adds value to my followers. I turn a lot of companies down because I don’t agree with their ethics.”

What is your philosophy – your approach? “Everyone’s body is different. I’ve never counted calories. I’m a big believer in getting the protein, fat, carbs, fibre, vitamins and minerals balance right, and drinking really well. It’s hard to generalise, because although the packaging might say there’s 130 calories in this avocado, in reality they come in all kinds of sizes, and everyone’s body metabolises food differently. But if I had to give one piece of advice that applies to everyone? Give up sugar! Weaning yourself off sugar is the best thing you can ever do.”