Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Caveman McClenaghan

Mitchell McClenaghan drinks little alcohol but is tempted by ice cream. Photo / Getty Images
Mitchell McClenaghan drinks little alcohol but is tempted by ice cream. Photo / Getty Images

The paleo diet and CrossFit training have revolutionised Mitchell McClenaghan's world almost as much as he has improved the New Zealand cricket team's limited overs performances in the past year.

The fast bowler believes the combination has contributed to a lifestyle change which sees him on the cusp of becoming the second fastest one-day international bowler to take 50 wickets. McClenaghan ended last night's match on 48 ODI wickets from 20 games. Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis achieved it fastest in 19, with Ajit Agarkar next best on 23.

CrossFit is a mix of aerobic work, gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting disciplines founded in the United States at the turn of the century. It involves a swathe of exercises from climbing ropes to flipping tyres in the quest for flexibility, strength and explosive power. The paleo diet works by asking: what would people have eaten in the paleolithic era or Stone Age? Put simply, you have to channel your inner caveman.

The theory is human genetics haven't changed much from 10,000 years ago. The diet advocates eating fish, grass-fed stock, eggs, vegetables, fruit and nuts but excludes grains, dairy products, spuds and refined sugar.

McClenaghan was so taken with the concept he and business partner Ryan Kamins started a business called CleanPaleo which sells products such as cereal, biltong and free-range egg protein powder made through the paleo diet principles.

The business has been running nine months, the products are in more than 20 gourmet stores and it has been endorsed by athletes such as netballer Katrina Grant, cyclist Myron Simpson and hockey player Shay Neal. There has already been demand from the United States, Britain, India, Hong Kong and Singapore. As a result, the pair have set up an account seeking US$100,000 capital at the business fundraising site indiegogo.com. They want investment to develop supply channels, cover their overheads and get an export licence. US$1242 has been raised so far.

"I prefer to think of it as a lifestyle change rather than a diet," McClenaghan says. "Diets put pressure on you to follow them strictly and that's when people give up. This is a natural route for people who can't have dairy or gluten products.

"I found the roof of my mouth was always itchy from consuming bread and I would feel quite bloated - so I cut those elements out of my diet and started to feel lighter with more energy. I try to do the paleo diet 80 per cent of the time, which can be difficult if you're on the road, but it has helped me lose weight and get back to health when I was injured."

McClenaghan's not militant about it: "If you're going out with friends for a nice meal or dessert, don't let paleo get in the way. We advocate putting your social health first; it's important to be well-rounded. I find the hardest thing to stay away from is ice cream."

However, he's cut out almost all alcohol: "In the last year I've probably had six bottles of beer. I'll stick around with the boys to celebrate a win but I've found my body doesn't respond well to alcohol if I want to perform at the highest level. That's a personal preference, people can do what they like. A lot of guys need a beer before a game to relax but I find it doesn't work. That ties in with paleo where I tend to stay away from grain and yeast which can give me digestive and bowel problems."

McClenaghan's diet is complemented by CrossFit, giving him bowling explosiveness. He also uses it as a weight loss/muscle building tool. McClenaghan started the season at 110kg, has dropped to 106kg now and expects to be 102kg once he reaches Bangladesh for the World T20 in March.

"I got into it through my brother because I love the high intensity nature of the training. Most sessions are quite short - about an hour. They allow you to lift weights quicker, while building strength and endurance.

"The guys are doing a lot more gym sessions these days; they're lifting more and getting stronger, fitter and faster. A guy like Corey [Anderson] has picked it up quickly. He started when he joined us in England [for the Champions Trophy] and just look at the power he's got. I can only think it's doing wonders for his cricket.

"Before CrossFit, I was potentially mentally weak but this encourages you to keep going by working hard and cheering on your team-mates until the clock stops. It has helped me when the going gets tough."

- Herald on Sunday

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