A firm believer that a balanced diet leads to peak physical performance, James Haskell dutifully records his food intake via a smartphone app. In light of the release of his book, Cooking for Fitness, we caught up with the England rugby player to find out how he stays healthy.

1. Diet and nutrition are hugely important. As a performance athlete, I know that if I don’t eat right, I won’t fuel myself properly. I won’t perform well, sleep right, or be able to recover quickly. Our squad chef, Omar Meziane, who co-wrote Cooking for Fitness, taught me that eating healthily can actually taste really nice.  I think there’s a lot of complicated information out there and I wanted to create something that was simple to understand. Hopefully it shows people that they can achieve their goals with great-tasting food.

2. I understand that my body needs carbs; it’s important to understand that they are not the enemy. It’s not the carbohydrates that are making you fat; it’s the fact that you’re eating too many calories altogether. That’s the first thing: If you want to lose weight, you should be eating less calories than you’re burning.

James keeps a close eye on his diet in order to perform well on the fieldImage of James Haskell playing rugby

3. Tracking what I eat with MyFitnessPal. I’ve always eaten relatively well, but when I started tracking my food through the app MyFitnessPal, I realised that I was eating more fat than I thought I was. My protein count was also pretty low and I was under-eating for the amount of training that I was doing. Realising all of this made a massive difference, as I was able to adjust my diet for optimal performance. For this reason, I have included barcodes for each of the recipes in my book. You can scan them into the app, via your smartphone, in order to track your daily nutrition.

4. Stocking up on go-to meal staples. Uncle Ben’s microwaveable rice pouches are an easy carbohydrate source to keep in your kitchen cupboard. I’ll cook up a simple chicken-based dish to have with it. I also really love breakfast, so for me, something like scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is an easy and nutritious meal, providing both protein and fat.

Uncle Ben’s rice pouches are a cupboard staple for James

Uncle Ben's microwave rice pouch

5. Looking after myself mentally and physically. I’ve worked hard with my sport psychologist to make sure that I’m in the right mindset, no matter what’s happened on or off the field. During the week, I wake up at the same time and have a reasonable plan as to how to eat. At the moment I’m injured and I know I need to take the time to get better. Even if I’m not able to train normally, at least I can still look after what’s going into my body.

Cooking for Fitness by James Haskell & Omar Meziane, RRP £19.95, is out now.