This year for Virgil, and for other professional players, is unlike most. With a global football tournament taking place during the winter for the first time in history, it has meant that his schedule is more jam-packed than usual. For Virgil, this means managing training and the other 20+ hours of the day. “You’re playing a game every 3 days so you’re doing everything possible in order to be ready. If you’re getting that extra information, in this case from WHOOP, it’s just so beneficial. I’m addicted to looking at it in the morning and making sure that I’m doing the right stuff.”
When it comes to Virgil’s recovery regimen, he relies on everything from an aquabike, to sauna, to a personal physio to stay in check – but fully recovering between successive matches can be difficult. Keeping on top of his rest and recovery has been crucial. “Knowing how to get consistently good sleep is very important. If we’re playing every three days, I need the right sleep to make sure I’m fully recovered.” Between games, travel, and evening kick-offs, establishing a routine has been challenging. Virgil is a huge proponent of naps to offset his inevitable sleep debt, especially when the team has a late afternoon or evening kick-off. “I definitely look at my Recovery score… for some when you see a red or a yellow it could get you down, but it’s about what you do with that information that matters. If I have a yellow or a red Recovery on the morning of a big game, and I know I can get another hour of sleep in, I know it can benefit me.”
During the 2020-2021 season, Virgil suffered a ruptured ACL that put him out of action for over 9 months. “As a football player, a knee injury is the worst that you can get. You’ve set a level and it’s about trying to get back to that level as quickly as possible.” Two-a-day rehab and training sessions became the norm, and he prioritized sleep and recovery above all else. His approach worked, and in the following season he was back in action. This season, Van Dijk has regularly hit a Strain of 19 or 20 during the preseason on double-session days, and during the season, his highest Strain scores come on match days.
As a professional footballer, making sure that he is fueled enough to perform at his peak is critical. He doesn’t count calories – instead, he relies on a balanced and thoughtful fueling approach. “Over the years I’ve found what’s best for my body. I only drink water, I eat veggies all of the time, and after games I make sure to eat the right foods to recover properly”. He does allow himself some flexibility as long as he primarily eats the right foods, “I enjoy food and sometimes I want to do that instead of looking at whether or not something has 200 calories.”
Consistency is what Virgil credits with helping him perform at the top of his game. “My biggest realization was learning that every percentage of improvement can make you a better player, a better human being, or better at work.” Virgil has also helped those around him look for ways to improve. He even set up a team on the WHOOP app in order to support some younger players and teammates as they look to build consistency into their own routines.
As Virgil gears up to captain his national team at this year’s global football tournament, he is confident that he’s done everything he can to show up at his best – and we can’t wait to watch.