The Real-Life Diet of Squash Star Mohamed Elshorbagy, Proponent of Cheat Meals
Professional athletes don’t get to the top by accident. It takes superhuman levels of time, dedication, and focus—and that includes paying attention to what they put in their bellies. In this series, GQ takes a look at what pro athletes in different sports eat on a daily basis to perform at their best. Here’s a look at the diet of Mohamed Elshorbagy, one of the best squash players in the world.
Since 2003, Egypt has dominated squash, but the country’s newest star might be one of its brightest.
A student of the famed Cornish player Jonah Barrington, Mohamed Elshorbagy, 24, has taken six major world series titles in just three years. This past month, he dropped from the No. 1 ranked world player to No. 2, but Elshorbagy is gunning to be world champion, and is currently training to defend his title at the Tournament of Champions, part of the Professional Squash Association World Series, held every January inside Grand Central Station.
Elshorbagy’s training schedule is meticulous, and his diet focuses a lot on timing. “Everything in an athlete’s life is calculated,” he says, and with his unforgiving metabolism, he can’t afford to not be calculating. “I remember two years back at the U.S. Open, I normally have my pasta with tomato sauce and just a little bit of chicken before my match, and the chef made a mistake with my order and made the pasta with white sauce, which is heavier for sure. I thought, I have enough time before the match, I can eat this and I should be okay. In the match, I felt like my stomach was burning.”
This isn’t Fraiser Crane’s squash. At the international, professional level, matches are high speed and can last up to an hour and a half, or even two hours. To keep up his energy and his focus, Elshorbagy keeps his diet simple, with little deviation, and programs in cheat meals to relieve the pressure.
“Tournaments can go on for two weeks, and if you’re advancing then you play a round and have a rest day, then you play another round then have another rest day. It’s too tough to keep yourself in the zone the whole time, so you need to keep yourself mentally healthy too. It’s very important to do something that makes you happy and feel like you just took a break.” (When things get really bad, he heads for Krispy Kreme and Pizza Hut.)
Elshorbagy has one other unusual back-up in his corner: his mom. A self-educated squash enthusiast who has never played the game, she gives him pointers and feedback throughout his matches.
“I’m normally a hard person to talk to between games, so I need someone who understands how to tell me the right order and right time in that two-minute break between games. Athletes in general are very hard to talk to when they’re playing, but that’s why it’s important for me to have my mother and my brother at games. So I’ll try to defend my title at Tournament of Champions while having her with me again this year.”
That’s a healthy relationship, considering Elshorbagy has been going to school in England for years now. But living alone has forced him to learn to cook for himself. “I didn’t think I would love it, but I have. I only started a month, or month and a half back, and I started doing duck, lamb, chicken liver. When I cook, I cook to make a plate that looks nice.”
The next goal, besides winning the Tournament of Champions? Learning to cook actual Egyptian food so he can show off for his mom.
Cheese-less omelet with tomato and brown bread, cereal, watermelon
Pasta with red sauce, chicken breast
Small chicken sandwich, bananas, pineapple
Steak with mixed vegetables, bread