Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an elite athlete? The training, the food intake, and trying to manage full time work with a sporting career?

Today, Annabel and the Longevity Exercise Physiology teams at Drummoyne, EdgecliffMarrickvilleBella VistaRandwick, PymbleBalmain and Neutral Bay  go behind the scenes with one of Longevity’s own Exercise Physiologist’s Ryan Hebron. We discuss the everything from exercise regime, diet and how he is able to balance footy with helping others achieve their full potential.

Tell me a bit about your history of the sport, when did you start, how did you get into the AFL program, what do you enjoy about AFL?

I started AFL in high school. I immediately loved it. Throughout high school I was in the Sydney Swans Academy and played in Nationals each year. After school I did a couple of preseasons with the Sydney Swans and played in their reserves, and then played for Sydney University in the same competition. After that I moved to Melbourne and played in the Victorian Football League (VFL). It was a dream playing for Werribee down South.

Unfortunately, my second season down there, in Melbourne, was cancelled by Covid. I came back to Sydney and finished off the studies and luckily the Swans and Giants had just entered the VFL. I played a season for the Swans reserves which got cut short again by Covid. I’m now at Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants and am Captain of their reserve team.

What does your training involve? 

AFL is fast paced, physically demanding and uses all the elements of athleticism and skill. The biggest challenge of AFL is the running demands. To put it in context, I did a couple of half-marathons during lockdown, one of which I went hard in, and I can safely say that the demands on my body from an AFL are far greater.

“The GPS units show that we run between 13-16km per game, ~2km of that is above 25km/hr.”

You can’t just have endurance, you need to be explosive, so your training needs to cover all the aerobic and anaerobic/sprinting energy systems. Agility is another important element of AFL as you need to evade opponents constantly and change direction explosively.

You need to be strong for 2 reasons. AFL is a contact sport, and you need to grapple, tackle and push off your opponent. You need to bullet proof your body, which requires strength throughout the movements that are performed on game day. There is particular importance on hamstring muscle (back of thigh) strength because they are worked super hard in running and kicking.

Most importantly, you need to play AFL to get good at it and develop a resilient body. You need to have good skills, and there’s only one way to improve that. Teams try to get as much running in drills as possible, as opposed to just running laps. So, training involves a lot of skill drills and match play.

You can see there’s quite a lot to work on. Because I work full-time, I need to prioritise my training elements. So, I go with:

  • 1-2x 3hr AFL training sessions with GWS
  • 45min Skills session with a teammate
  • 2x 45min Resistance Training sessions – periodised based on pre-season or in-season
  • Game day
Do you work with health professionals?

AFL clubs have lots of health professionals. I’m constantly picking their brains about how to improve as a player and an Exercise Physiologist. AFL clubs have:

  • Exercise Physiologists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Dieticians
  • Psychologists (mental training is just as important in AFL and life)
  • Sports Doctors

 

“Embrace the social side of sport and make sure you have a good network of people around you”

– Ryan Hebron

What is your diet like?

I have higher dietary requirements as an athlete. It’s quite a struggle to reach the required amount of protein. Each year I’ll do a week where I track my food intake and see how my macros are, just to see if my guessing game is accurate. It’s normally reasonable. I supplement with Whey Protein powder as it’s the best. I also use caffeine before a game or training to get its performance enhancing effects, as I do with beetroot powder (slight contribution to endurance, but you need a lot) and creatine (to maintain my muscle mass and strength in season). Other than that, just a balanced diet and I pick my battles with alcohol (only on special events like birthdays, wedding, reunions or retreats).

How do you balance full-time work and footy?

“2 things. Sleep and organisation.”

If I don’t get over 8hrs I nap. I diligently plan my fortnight ahead and try to keep procrastination to a minimum. Couldn’t do it otherwise. In saying that, I believe that my footy and work have performance enhancing effects on each other. It’s a good balance.

What advice do you have to someone wanting to be an elite athlete? 

I’ll skip the cliché’s and say make it enjoyable. A lot of the struggle of getting to the elite level is pushing through the boredom of repeating a skill or running for a decade. Embrace the social side of sport and make sure you have a good network of people around you. All the best to anyone aspiring to get into elite sport.

 

It’s been great to get to know Ryan a little bit more and find out what his training and eating regime consist of. We can certainly say being a full-time Exercise Physiologist and elite AFL player, doesn’t come easy. It is great to see Ryan, putting his experience as an Exercise Physiologist to play out on the footy field, as well as in the gym with his clients.

 

If you want to start an exercise program with Ryan or learn more about how you can progress your career as an elite athlete, give Longevity Exercise Physiology Edgecliff, Pymble, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain, Bella Vista, and Neutral Bay a call on 1300 964 002 to book in a session today.

 

Written by Ryan Hebron & Annabel Bergman