Slam dunk


Rosie McGlade delves into the nutritional demands of the Newcastle Eagles basketball team

Fabulous Flournoy was born in New York. “Just off the Coast Road by Tesco,” he jokes, but he’s not fooling anyone. Born and bred in the Big Apple, he’s now player-coach with Newcastle Eagles, the most successful professional sporting outfit in the region and one of the best basketball teams in Britain.

Smiling alongside him are Darius Defoe, Drew Lasker and Rahmon Fletcher (Fletch). Darius is 6ft 8ins, Fletch is only 5ft 9ins, but he has a ‘wingspan’ of 6ft 3ins. It’s not all about being tall, apparently. They are lean, mean, slam-dunking machines, the handsome, head-turning, and very charming party in the restaurant tonight.

Various combinations of team members eat out two or three times a week, and once a month the whole team eats together. Fabulous (Fab) says meals bring a team together; time to communicate, heal rifts, and relax. They’re part of his training culture.

We’re at Dabbawal Indian street food kitchen off Brentwood Avenue, Jesmond, and we’re talking eating habits, or rather Fab is. The others are secretly playing dominoes with one another on their phones under the table and downloading pictures from the weekend’s match, which they won.

Fab shows me the fixtures list, not of matches, but of schools they’re visiting during the coming week. They visit 132 schools in the North East each year through their Hoops for Health scheme.

42aThey love the food here, starting with a lassi; the Indian yoghurt drink mixed at Dabbawal with rose water, coconut and lime, mango, and pistachio. Having tried all the flavours, there’s a general consensus for the mango and two jugs are ordered.

Every 10 minutes or so the waiter, who appears tiny compared to his guests, delivers different flavoursome Indian tapas, each easily dealt with in three or four large mouthfuls and accompanied with a triangle or two of naan bread. The food here is fresh, light, and made for grazing and sharing. There’s a spinach dish here and a cauliflower there, chicken in many guises and a wonderful array of aromas and flavours unique to this place and its sister in High Bridge, Newcastle.

Fab says the players probably each require 3,000-3,500 calories a day, so it’s a surprise when all four of them begin to falter.

“My stomach’s bubbling,” Drew says with a small grin, the creamy cauliflower compote suddenly one spoonful too many. “Mine too,” says Fletch. Darius is sinking into his seat, done.

When the waiter announces dessert they can’t quite believe what they’re hearing, and five minutes later each sits with a bright pink doggie bag they’ve politely requested on the grounds of being full.

It seems that the luxury of 3,500 calories a day isn’t all it might sound. It’s not just about what you eat, but when.

Fab explains. “We can’t eat much before we train or play. And there’s a muscle-repair window of 45 minutes after we play when we have to eat. It’s quite technical.”

42bSo when they’ve been playing an 8pm match in Manchester, for example, and are heading home at 11pm, it can get tricky.

“Chinese. They’re usually open reliably late,” Fab says. “And there’s lots of rice [like protein, carbohydrate is important] and you can selectively make healthy-ish choices from the menu.”

They can easily be playing matches on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and while football and rugby are obviously endurance games, on the basketball court you’re at constant break-neck speed and can be subbed on and off all the time. “It’s all about short bursts of energy, which means our recovery time is the most important thing. In essence, that means we can get away with eating what we want.”

Only it doesn’t, really. When they’re not playing matches, the team is practising, which means weights in the morning followed by target practice and then team training most evenings. Feeling sluggish is the last thing any of them needs and they don’t want something sitting in their stomachs for too long.

Fab starts his day with a shake, which is often green. It might be skimmed or full fat milk, depending on the demands of the day, and into it go porridge oats, raspberries or blueberries, avocado, which is full of slow-release energy, kale or spinach, and some pineapple, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Sometimes there is peanut butter or other nuts. Sometimes, a clove of garlic. Or ginger. Possibly a scoop of protein powder.

The odd Mars Bar or bag of chips isn’t out of the question, but again, timing is all. The night before a game, they will eat a heavier meal, maybe spaghetti or rice and chicken, and a good breakfast in the morning. On the way to a game they’ll just have some light sandwiches on brown bread on the bus.

It’s only 5pm – will they eat something later on? Yes, they say in unison. Will they finish their dessert at home? The chef has called it Triple Jump and assembled it especially. The answer is in the affirmative. Triple jump is, it seems, a winning combination.

Dabbawal Street Food Kitchen
Brentwood Avenue, Jesmond, Newcastle

Sign up to our news
You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us.