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The hunger games

Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012, 16.46CET
France team reporter Matthew Spiro has been quietly piling on the pounds in Donetsk and wonders how Ukrainians manage to stay so svelte on such a waistband-busting diet.
by Matthew Spiro
from Donetsk
Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012, 16.46CET

The hunger games

France team reporter Matthew Spiro has been quietly piling on the pounds in Donetsk and wonders how Ukrainians manage to stay so svelte on such a waistband-busting diet.

Before breakfast this morning, as I braced myself for another helping of fried eggs, sausages, bacon and chocolate croissants, I had a look in the mirror and was a little concerned. I knew that the swanky trousers UEFA have provided me had started to feel a bit tight round the waist, but I honestly wasn't expecting to see quite such a significant bulge in my UEFA EURO 2012 t-shirt.

All sports journalists know that covering long tournaments like this carries a certain risk. You spend most of your time sitting behind a computer – whether it is in a car, media centre, training ground, hotel room or stadium – and you eat whatever you can whenever you get the chance. The cold beer(s) once the day's work is finished also feels compulsory. Unfortunately chances to exercise and burn off some calories are extremely limited as the little downtime you have is spent horizontal on a bed.

For those of us lucky enough to be working in Ukraine, gaining weight seems to be unavoidable. The food here is tasty but, in my experience, tends to be heavy and calorie-filled. I can't help accepting the offer of a traditional borscht (delicious vegetable soup with sour cream) before the main course, which always involves generous portions of meat and carbs. The varenyky (dumplings filled with potato or cheese) and guliash (like Hungarian goulash) are my particular favourites.

During some of the more sluggish moments in the France-England game, I wondered if the players had been following the same dietary patterns as me, but I am assured the heat was the sole reason for the occasional slowing of the pace. As far as I'm concerned, the most puzzling aspect of all this is the healthy condition of so many Ukranians. The 35-year-old Andriy Shevchenko is not the only local doing well for his age. I've seen very few overweight people here.

How then, given the Ukrainian diet, do they do it? "We eat a lot for breakfast, then not so much for the rest of the day," revealed Nataliya Burakov, a Donetsk-based interpreter. "I eat kapusniak (pork dumplings with cream) and cereal with chocolate in the morning." So, I prompted, you only have salads and fruit after that? "No, I eat borscht, of course, and potatoes, meat, bread and whatever else I fancy."

It is safe to say I have not yet got to the bottom of this. I did, however, fork out on membership of my hotel gym this morning.

Last updated: 23/06/12 9.11CET

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