COLD baths three times a day, no meat or dairy, a celery drink for breakfast, breathing techniques.
Bartosz Bialkowski is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that, at the age of 34, his body recovers from the rigours of a 46-game Championship season.
“I’m not sure if you have heard about a guy called Wim Hof,” Bialkowski asks NewsAtDen.
Hof – nicknamed The Iceman – is a Dutch extreme athlete who has set several records of endurance including the farthest swim under ice. He is an advocate of the benefits of cold therapy and meditation.
“I take cold baths every day,” Bialkowski says. “First thing in the morning I’m jumping into a cold bath. Obviously after training and then in the evening as well.
“There are breathing techniques that are very good for your body.
“I listened to a Novak Djokovic podcast with Wim Hof. It was interesting, if you get a chance you can listen to it.”
Bialkowski is on his own endurance run of a kind, 116 consecutive league games since the start of the 2019-20 season.
If he doesn’t miss a game for the rest of this campaign he will move past European Cup winner Alex Stepney (138) on the last day.
David Forde (141) will then be the only one left in his sights.
“I want to keep going,” Bialkowski says. “I want to play as long as I can and still improve on a daily basis. I’m still enjoying it.
“Obviously Fordey is a Millwall legend. I played against him a few times. He was always very professional, he was a very good keeper.
“So it’s something I can be proud of if I carry on like that. Let’s see what happens.”
Bialkowski, who will be 35 in July, has held off competition from George Long this season, with the former Hull City stopper limited to four appearances for the Lions in the EFL Cup and FA Cup.
If Millwall recruit another goalkeeper in the summer he will have his work cut out to match the lengths Bialkowski goes to off the pitch.
He doesn’t eat anything for breakfast. Instead he makes a celery juice. Bialkowski is a dab hand in the kitchen and for Christmas made a traditional Polish dish.
Some people who don’t eat meat can overdo it on the carbohydrates – pasta, potatoes, bread – to compensate.
Bialkowski has worked out his own routine around his diet.
“I skip breakfast sometimes. I do kind of like fasting, I think that’s very good for your body,” he says.
“It’s normal lunch at the training ground. They know I’m vegan, there are a couple of other vegans at the training ground as well. It’s a balance between carbs, veg and protein. There’s a lot of chickpeas, all kinds of beans, soya. Then protein shakes after the training sessions.
“Dinner at home, I love to cook. I enjoy it so I’m always trying to find some nice vegan recipes.
“I’ve got a favourite, but maybe it’s not the healthiest option. It’s one I cooked for our Christmas Eve dinner. It’s called pierogi, it’s like a dumpling. I made it with sauerkraut (fermented raw cabbage) and mushrooms. It’s very nice, it’s something I’ve always loved. I do it once a year on Christmas Eve, it’s a traditional Christmas Eve dish for us.
“Going vegan, sometimes you have to be careful as well. At the beginning I was kind of like, not struggling, but finding myself eating too many carbs.
“But I’m getting there, I think I’ve found a balance. I feel good and I can’t see myself going back now eating meat again, to be honest.”
Does he not find he lacks energy for intense training sessions having not eaten breakfast?
“I just have a cup of tea, water and that’s it, really. I’m not struggling to find energy for training,” Bialkowski says. “This is something that I’ve been doing for a while now. I just feel better.”
On the training pitch, there is a new generation coming through that, though they might make Bialkowski feel old, bring that energy and freshness of youth.
Bialkowski moved to England for the first time and signed for Southampton two weeks before Zak Lovelace was born. They were team-mates for the first time in Millwall’s 1-0 win at Coventry last month.
Nana Boateng, 19, made his debut last weekend against Crystal Palace, following academy graduates Danny McNamara and Billy Mitchell into the team.
Bialkowski has enjoyed the integration of the likes of Lovelace and Boateng into the senior squad.
“Absolutely, they are very talented young boys,” he says. “They trained with us a couple of times before the Coventry game. It was great to see, they showed quality and the gaffer trusted them to put them into the team.
“They’ve got lots of energy, lots of talent and are keen to work hard. You love to see those kinds of things from the young boys.
“[Lovelace] is very talented and very strong as well for a 15-, 16-year-old boy. He scored again for the under-23s on Monday. He’s got very good potential. I’ve faced him a couple of times, he’s got a very bright future.”
Those youngsters are unlikely to be involved this Saturday against Nottingham Forest as Millwall get players back from injury and periods of self-isolation after positive Covid-19 results.
But Bialkowski is set to make it an unbroken 117 league appearances in a row when he returns in place of Long.
Bialkowski knows the pressure is on, with the Lions having fallen seven points off sixth place.
He has no problem with that.
“There’s always pressure. It’s a professional game. You learn to live with the pressure,” Bialkowski says.
“But as you say we’re seven points off the play-offs and if we want to achieve something we need to go on a winning streak. Hopefully that will start with the next game.”
Image: Millwall FC