CHAMPIONS JOURNAL NO.2
Bayern defender Ali Riley runs a food blog promoting healthy eating – she firmly believes good food helps her on-pitch performance
If you were after a recipe tip, you wouldn’t necessarily rush to ask a professional footballer. But be it vegan banana scones, sweet potato loaf or crispy tofu nuggets, Bayern München left-back and New Zealand captain Ali Riley has all the right ingredients. The 32-year-old uses her food blog, Love 2 Eat 2 Love, to encourage healthy eating; with her team set to face Lyon in the Women’s Champions League in March, she explains the benefits of smart sustenance.
What inspired you to launch your blog?
In 2015 I studied integrative nutrition with the goal of improving my own diet, so I could optimise my football performance. But during the course I realised that what I was learning was too good not to share and that, with my platform as a professional athlete, I was in a position to inspire others to live healthier lifestyles. Better food means more energy, which we can then use to do good in the world. That’s why my motto is: if you eat good, you feel good and you love good.
Is it a good way to connect with fans?
Of course! I love getting messages about my recipes and hearing that I’ve inspired someone to try something new. It’s also been a unique way to connect with other football players. Even if we’ve never met, or only seen each other on the pitch, it’s cool knowing that another elite athlete is using and sharing my recipes.
Who got you into cooking?
My mum is an insane cook. She can literally make or bake any recipe. I’ve always enjoyed helping her in the kitchen but it wasn’t until I graduated from college, and was living on my own, that I really got into cooking. I realised that I didn’t want to live on instant noodles.
What is your favourite recipe?
I could never pick just one! But my favourite recipes are desserts that taste naughty but are actually made with natural, clean ingredients. My ginger slice and lemon cake are at the top of my list at the moment.
You’ve played in the US, Sweden, England and Germany: how do all those different cultures feed into your recipes?
I’ve learned so much about different cuisines around the world from my club teams, my international team-mates and my travels with the national team. Sweden has probably had the biggest impact on me: healthy ingredients are very accessible and reasonably priced there, and there is a big vegan movement. Then, of course, there’s fika, which introduced me to a whole new assortment of treats and cakes.
Do players come to you for tips?
My team-mates probably ask me to make things for them more often than they ask me for tips – but yes, we talk about food a lot. Lately there are more and more of us who are trying to eat more plant-focused diets, so it’s been fun to share my recipes.
How has the way clubs approach diet and nutrition changed since you started your career?
Most of the top clubs around the world are taking nutrition very seriously now. Before there was a larger emphasis on fitness, but it’s clear now that it’s the combination of the two areas that contributes to a long and healthy career; I also think sleep is getting more and more of the attention it deserves. At Bayern we get five-star meals cooked fresh for us after training, and this is a huge benefit. It’s no secret that the women’s game is far behind the men’s in terms of finances, so one of the advantages of playing for a team that is part of a big men’s club is having access to resources like a sports scientist, nutritionist and chef.
You also have a podcast called Girls with Balls, for which you have called upon an impressive selection of female footballers. What made you want to do it and what kind of feedback have you had?
My goal is to empower women and girls. The podcast gives a voice to unbelievable females who are balancing their sport with jobs, school, businesses and charities. At the same time, it inspires listeners to follow their dreams, overcome challenges and just be themselves. It’s been a tool for me and my guests to connect with fans and open up our worlds to them. The best feedback is hearing that we have helped someone, whether it’s with football, their sexuality, school or whatever. I also think it’s important that the podcast feels genuine, so I am really happy when people tell me that it sounds like a deep conversation between two friends. And I learn so much about these women who I thought I already knew everything about. It’s been really inspiring for me too.