Stuart Holden Eats Right On The Comeback Trail

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Stuart Holden plays for Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League.

While rehabbing his knee, Holden showed off his kitchen skills in his show for YouTube's Kick channel, No Holden Back.

Stuart Holden would rather you know him from his effortless moves on the soccer pitch, setting up plays and scoring goals for the Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League. Unfortunately, the amiable 26-year-old former starter for the U.S. national team has spent more time working on his YouTube channel show No Holden Back than playing soccer the past year-plus, due to a series of debilitating knee injuries.

On camera, Holden is upbeat as he works through his exercises and recounts the mundane tasks of his life during a rehab stint in Delaware. In one of the episodes, he heads to the kitchen to make a veggie omelet with a side of turkey bacon, works out, then comes back to blend a super-green smoothie. Later, he goes shopping at Trader Joe's, then returns to the kitchen to whip up a cranberry and apple stuffed chicken with a side of butternut squash. He appears to be a competent cook, though you get the sense that despite his smile, he'd much rather be dribbling through Manchester United's defense.

On the day Holden calls Food Republic to chat, he's packing up for his return to Bolton, where he's taking the next steps toward a return to Premier League play.

How is your knee?

I'm almost seven months in rehab and right at the place I hoped to be seven months ago. Just taking it slow and making sure I give it the right amount of time to heal and giving myself the best chance to be 100% when I step on the field.

How frustrating is it to not be out there?

I'm getting to that point I'm itching a lot and ready to get out there and start playing. It's been a long road for recovery, but it's been a smooth ride and everything is going well. Now I'm ready to get back to England and see my teammates that I train with and play everyday.

What's the pressure like when you're playing in the Premier League?

It gets your adrenaline pumping. Once the game starts it's just another game of soccer though. You focus on the field and playing soccer and not the 70,000 fans. But it's a great feeling, because the fans are so passionate and supportive.

While you've been rehabbing, a teammate, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed on the pitch and almost died. How did you feel watching this unfold across the ocean?

It was tough because I was here in the states when it happened. From afar it was hard, especially being one of my teammates and going through a life-changing experience. You don't take anything for granted. He's doing a lot better and everyone is thankful he's alive. You saw how the soccer world rallied around that and got behind Fabrice and sent him the best wishes. It was a surreal thing to be a part of.

You've been exposed to professional soccer players, both here in the States and internationally. Would you say soccer players eat very healthy because your body requires so much to play that sport?

It varies, to be honest. There's a solid spectrum of guys that are insanely healthy and crazy about what they eat, all the way down to the guys who just don't care and just throw everything into their body. I would say for the most part soccer players do eat very healthy and take care of their bodies. But it comes down to the individual and some people don't see it the way I do.

What's life like on the road playing in the English Premier League? Is it challenging to eat healthy on the road?

We have a chef that travels with us and he cooks good meals for the team. Everyday in the cafeteria we have four different options for lunch, a fish, steak, chicken and one you can order. We're pretty well taken care of.

You seem like a social guy. If you have a day or two off do you try out different restaurants?

I've tried to eat at nice restaurants. That's one thing I'll pay a little extra for to eat in London. I've been to Zuma. I love sushi and it's a great Asian fusion restauraunt. I've eaten at almost every restaurant in Manchester. In a week, I'll eat out two to three nights and the rest of the time I'll cook.

Let's talk about No Holden Back, the show you started for the YouTube channel Kick during your rehab. How did that start?

It started with me and my girlfriend wanting to film stuff behind the scenes, and it took on a bigger role and a bigger production. It took a look at my recovery, because I've been out of soccer for most of the year. The mental side and the physical side and things off the field like cooking, going to the movies, reading books, showing people my day-to-day life.

How did you get into cooking in the first place?

It was because my mom's cooking was so bad [laughs]. No, my mom taught me to cook a bit. In college you start on ramen noodles and cafeteria food. And then you move into an apartment and you take it upon yourselves to start cooking. As athletes, we need a pretty specific diet. I found that that catered to my play and I started taking care of my body off the field and knowing exactly what I'm putting in it and coming up with all these healthy recipes that tasted good and not having to worry about all the extra calories that you don't really need. That's how I started cooking more.

Did you do any research to figure out what'd be best for you?

I read a book called The Abs Diet, recommended by one of my teammates. I didn't follow that plan exactly because as an athlete you have to take bits and pieces from every book and recipe, but that gave me the superfoods idea — of knowing what food to put in and catering to recipes around those [ingredients] and what to stay away from, like transfats. And snacking on almonds and the healthier nuts rather than picking at chocolate.

What about the actual act of cooking. Did it take you awhile to be comfortable in the kitchen?

I started on a grill. I had a grill in the apartment in Houston [while playing for the Dynamo]. I lived with two other teammates and we all did a little bit. We had one guy on the salad and veggies and it was me on the grill. Another guy was doing pasta and you start doing everything. It's kind of trial and error at first. You burn chicken and sometimes you undercook it. Now I can do it with my eyes closed.

What about the ingredients you use? Where do you shop?

I like farmer's markets for fruits and veggies. Whole Foods is an obvious choice; there's one in Delaware that just opened up near where I've been working out and I've probably been there every day since.

Were you raised in an American environment where there's lots of fast food and burgers?

I was exposed to that a little bit, although I preferred to sit at home and eat a big plate of pasta rather than go to Taco Bell and get six tacos. It's hard to avoid that, especially when you're rushing around. My parents did a good job of always one of them being able to cook. My dad was a good cook, as was my mom, and they always had fresh meals available for us and it got ingrained in our lifestyle.

What about now, how do you experiment with new dishes?

I have my go-to's: salmon and chicken and steak. Every now and then we'll Google a recipe or my girlfriend gave me this huge cookbook with notecards and I'll randomly pull one out and try to cook it. If I like it, I'll save it and try to perfect it. I'm not a picky eater. I like trying new recipes and you don't always get it right. A lot of times I'll have friends over and I'll cook for a big group.

I imagine that being competitive, you like the adrenaline rush of trying to please a bunch of guests with your food?

The whole time you don't even enjoy your meal because you're looking around to see if anybody is pulling faces as they throw your food back. It's a big satisfaction as well once you cook that meal and you see that everybody has enjoyed it.

Moving on to your rehab, how hard is it to stick to your diet during your comeback? It always seems like it'd be tough to stay on track when you don't have the motivation of knowing you'll play soon.

It's funny you bring that up. When I was 17 I had a knee injury that put me out for eight months, and in that time I gained a lot of weight because I wasn't serious about my diet and I didn't eat well and didn't exercise as much. That was my biggest fear going through these injuries was, "Am I going to put that weight on again?" So I made sure I was strict on my diet and worked out. In the past year I always fluctuate within five pounds of my normal playing weight. I'm right in that range, and six percent body fat, and that's due to my diet.

Despite the fact that you're eating healthy most of the time, are there any guilty pleasures you allow yourself to have?

Candy. I'm a sucker for dessert. When I first got injured I stayed away from [desserts] and I found I could still slip them in and maintain my weight level. I don't eat as many carbs when I'm injured and I cut back on that. But my guilty pleasure is dessert. I went to Cheesecake Factory last night for dinner and ended up eating a healthy meal and then wound up washing it down with a nice Snickers cheesecake.