For many footballers, there’s nothing scarier than ‘the R word’. Retirement is the elephant in the room few players want to address.
Transitioning from an AFL career to something completely new and unfamiliar can be daunting and uncomfortable; but when Essendon midfielder Jason Johnson hung up the boots in 2008, he was well and truly ready for what lay ahead.
“I definitely think, in my last year or two, footy wasn’t a priority,” Johnson recalls.
“I knew I was going to finish up in my last year, and more of a focus went to what I was doing off the field. I still trained hard and played the way I normally did but it was just, I guess, my energies were being directed more into what I was going to do when footy finished.”
For Johnson, a future in the food industry beckoned. He traces his interest in food back to 2006, where he “went to a health retreat in Queensland and fell in love with food that was all about being good to the body.”
“From there I started really getting into preparing my own food and looking into food and what it does for you”, he says.
“It became part of my preparation for being an athlete.”
Johnson’s love for healthy food and cooking began to grow, and in 2008 – his final AFL season – his vision of life after footy really came into focus.
“I wanted to be involved in hospitality but I wasn’t sure what form – until I got into a kitchen,” he remembers.
“I wanted to be involved in hospitality but I wasn’t sure what form – until I got into a kitchen,”
“I met a chef in my last year that was providing nutritionally-balanced meals for us to recover after games. I started working with him, and really got into it.”
Johnson formed a partnership with that chef – John Casey – at the end of 2008, where the pair began working closely with dieticians to create food that suited the dietary requirements of athletes.
Five years on, their organisation Dineamic is a hit.
Together, Johnson and Casey have created a range of pre-packaged meals and snacks that require virtually no preparation, are tasty and most importantly, healthy. There are seven AFL clubs – including Carlton, Essendon and St Kilda – and a range of other high-profile sport organisations currently using Dineamic to cater for their players.
“We also do some stuff with Melbourne Heart, Melbourne Vixens and Melbourne Rebels; also some individual athletes, tri-athletes. We’ve done some stuff with Storm, Hawthorn,” Johnson adds.
Dineamic isn’t an organisation run solely with athletes in mind, but it does address an area in which many sporting organisations are looking to improve.
“It’s probably the only area they can’t control: what a player eats when they’re away from a club. So making sure they’re fuelled properly both pre and post training is very important.”
While Johnson says most of his former-teammates could handle themselves fairly decently in the kitchen, there were a couple who might have been well-served by Dineamic, had it been available a few years earlier.
“(Dean) Solomon never cooked,” Johnson says with a laugh.
“Barbequed meat and salad would be as far as Solly would go.”
Another premiership teammate, ruckman John Barnes, is another who wasn’t blessed with Johnson’s talent for cooking.
“Barnesy was quite unique. He loves to cook, but I wouldn’t say he’s a great cook,” Johnson says.
While Johnson loves exploring new foods, he understands not all athletes are quite so adventurous.
“You’ve got to keep it pretty simple. The guys like simple food but it’s got to be quite relevant to what they need to eat; a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, quite lean – so low in fat – and really just a good variety.
“We make sure they don’t get sick of one sort of thing, and they get plenty of variety.”
The two-time Essendon best and fairest winner is excited by the work Dineamic is doing – 10 stores around Victoria now stock their products, and Johnson and Casey also run a café at Carlton Football Club – and is glad to have found a niche outside of football.
He believes it’s important for all footballers to have an eye on the future, when the time’s right.
“Planning is pretty important – you’ve just got to know when that time is,” he says.
“I think you can’t be in denial about (retirement). You’ve got to face it and accept it. The sooner you move forward on your plans and action them, the better you are when you exit out of footy.”
Johnson played 184 games – including the 2000 Premiership – during an impressive 12-year career at the Bombers. If the success of Dineamic is anything to go by, his career as a chef looks set to last even longer.
For more information about Dineamic, visit http://www.dineamic.com.au/