Maro Itoje maximuscle ()Maro Itoje maximuscle () © Copyright

Massive Maro is getting bigger and bigger

Saracens forward Maro Itoje has already won the Premiership, European Cup and Six Nations; not bad for someone who only just turned 22. FS had to find out more...

What kind of shape were you in as a 16-year-old?

Slim. tall... ‘Lanky’ was the term used to describe me quite often. I didn’t really agree! I was already quite strong and athletic.

At what point did you start putting on weight?

Probably from about then [16] onwards, there was an emphasis on me to start putting on weight, but it didn’t always happen quite naturally. There’s always been a pressure to do weights, and so to get the calorie intake that I’m looking to get each day. Once I left school, I started to fill out more dramatically.

So how quickly were you seeing results?

Initially not that quickly, I think that’s because I didn’t have such a holistic approach – I was going to the gym but I didn’t change my eating habits, once I started doing everything properly, I began to see more results.

Can you give us specifics of what the staff at Saracens were making you do at the gym to help your size?

The S&C team thought it was most important to teach technique for all of the compound lifts and Olympic lifts – cleans, snatches, deadlifts, squats. So I started lifting weights when I was 15 or 16, but the first couple of years were just making sure my technique was spot on, which built the foundation for me to go on and lift safely. Nowadays, I think compound lifts are important – total body lifts release the most testosterone into the body, so they trigger the most growth when you’re looking to put on weight.

Maro Itoje training ()

 

In what ways was Saracens a good place to develop as a junior player?

Going though the academy I was very lucky. The quality of academy coaches we had at that time was unbelievable. We had Richard Hill, Moses Rauluni, Kevin Sorrell, Joe Shaw, Matt Davies, and having that many coaches for an academy set-up is quite rare. But we also had a good physio team, an S&C team, so there was the whole holistic approach which allowed us to develop in a way that was most beneficial to us.

How do you strike a balance between size and strength, and high energy?

No matter what you weigh, you need to be able to move, you need to be able to work hard for your team. People can get too heavy and lose their mobility. There’s a balance for each individual – that weight is a bit different, so that’s a balance you need to find.

Do you feel that comes naturally in a sense, or is it something you have to constantly monitor and work on?

It’s something I have to monitor. I think I’m going through a phase where I feel like I need to put on a little bit more weight, but it’s about putting that weight on the right way. Sometimes I feel if I put it on too quickly, I feel like my mobility goes down, and I feel a bit more tired, a bit more fatigued; so it’s about putting the weight on gradually, but always maintaining your fitness levels.

How will you do that? And what’s the overall goal of that?

I’m about 117kg or 118kg now (18 and a half stone), but I probably want to get to about 120kg, I can see myself being 122kg in a couple of years – hopefully that’ll add a bit more force behind my collisions. When I make tackles, the opposition will feel me a bit more, and when I carry, I’ll just have that extra bit of weight around.

What’s a typical day like foodwise?

When I wake up, I start with a whey shake. Then I drive into the club and I’ll have breakfast around 7.30am, something like poached eggs, beans and some greens. I’ll go into the gym after that and after that I’ll have a shake. Lunch varies from day to day, yesterday we had chicken, some potato wedges and some greens.

Then we train and after training we have another shake and some snacks like chicken breasts and fruit. After that I drive home, then I had some rice, a little bit of fish and some vegetables. Then I had some more fish [laughs] some more vegetables, no carbs this time and a whey shake before I went to bed. So that’s about for main meals a day with snacks in between.

The England team underachieved in the World Cup in 2015 – what was the atmosphere like in the dressing room at the beginning of the year?

I joined a group of motivated players – not only that, but also a group of very motivated coaching staff and backroom staff – so I think that group of players were willing to do what they had to do to get where they needed to go. I think the World Cup made individuals in that team a lot stronger, and since then, they’ve been able to manage high pressure situations a lot better.

Maro Itoje lineout ()

 

You really hit the ground running in the England team. What were your early conversations with Eddie Jones like?

Well he’s an incredibly intelligent guy, he knows how to motivate the players. Each player, he has a special way of getting to them and triggering their emotions. He’s been in the game long enough to know what to do and know how to manage people. For me, he was really supportive, he gave me his backing, and told me what I needed to work on. He gave me his support and it was really helpful.

The lineout was strong throughout the Six Nations and against Australia – how much of a help was it having Saracens team-mate George Kruis with you in the early stages of an England career?

Yeah it was incredible to have him there, someone who I have grown to know quite well over the past few years, and to have that familiar face in an environment that was very unfamiliar. Obviously he’s a brilliant lineout forward. He understands it very well, he’s put a lot of effort into that part of the game, and I think you see the rewards for that in how well the lineouts have been going.

And you’ve been switching to the back row on occasion. Do you enjoy doing that?

Yeah, I always like playing a bit of both, it keeps the game more interesting for me. It’s a slightly different skill set required for both, but for me, I like the coach thinking I can play there, and I like to be a bit more loose at times, being able to run around, and getting my involvements in the game up.

Do you feel you’ll ultimately have to pick one and specialise?

I don’t think so, I think there’s a thing where people think you have to pick a position and specialise in it – I don’t see why I can’t specialise in two positions. I feel very comfortable when playing in the second row, and I also feel very comfortable playing at blindside, so I don’t think I’d have to pick.

This season people will be more familiar with you, so what do you need to do to raise your game? How do you keep going at a higher level required?

The aim for me this season individually is to get better, and get better in all aspects of my game, so it’s similar to what I said earlier – I want to get faster, I want to get stronger, I want to get fitter, I want my understanding of the game to improve, I want to know where I need to be and find the right places at the right time. I am fortunate enough to be part of a very special team with a group of players who are not prepared to stand still and keep on pushing forward. So hopefully if everyone does that, we’ll be in a good place.

So far you’re still early into what is already a decorated career. In what ways are you the unfinished article, and in what areas do you need to work?

I feel all areas need work. Most players, when you look at them, don’t hit their prime at the age of 21 or 22, so if I’ve already hit my prime, it’s my own fault because I think there are loads of improvements to come.

How much of that comes through playing more, and how much comes from conditioning and stuff like that?

There’s two sides to that. There’s a physical side that comes through conditioning and the work I do in the gym – that’s obviously very important – but on the flip side, the rugby part of it comes through training and playing games. The more experience you have, the more you can adapt to different situations, and the more games you play, the easier you’ll find it to adapt and improve.

Maro Itoje was speaking during the launch of Maximuscle’s new raw ingredient powders, available now at www.maximuscle.com

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