THE level of commitment and sacrifice it takes to be a professional footballer is something the majority of fans are well aware of, but Swindon Town defender Darren Ward takes dedication to a whole new level as he strives to extend his already impressive career.

Following a nasty shin injury while a teenager at Watford, the dominating defender has endeavoured to look into ways he could better himself - which has seen every area of his life transformed in one way or another over the last 15 seasons.

For the last two years the 34-year-old loanee has been living a Paleoithic lifestyle, also known as the caveman or Stone Age diet, which is based around foods traditionally hunted or gathered by our forefathers.

With treats like ‘poisonous’ chocolate at an absolute minimum and alcohol a no-go, the defender leads a structured existence as he consumes a diet of yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and lean meat and fish, all eaten in the correct order to improve both his physical and mental well-being.

Before games and at half-time he consumes beetroot juice to improve his stamina, undertakes personal stretching routines before first-team training, and also administers trigger point self-massage to make sure his muscles are also at their peak for both training and matches.

Far from being preachy, pushy or domineering, Ward believes the way he lives his life could have benefits for everyone, and credits it with extending his career well into his 30s.

“It is important because it is all a part of everyone’e life, but so many people don’t realise it,” he said.

“It is all about lifestyle, and it is not a diet. You don’t diet your body, you look after it and have a lifestyle for it.

“I live a Paleo lifestyle, so I eat a lot of yams, sweet potatoes and vegetables and things like that, and I also come off wheat and dairy products and things like that.

“I do have them occasionally, and I do that to make my body realise that these things could come into my diet, because if I am completely off them and then I start eating them again I could get ill.

“I am very passionate about it because I know how important it is, and in the future I have plenty of aspirations to achieve and targets to reach, and I would love to help people improve their diets and live a healthier lifestyle.

“It is my life, it is no dress rehearsal, it is the real thing. I don’t want to live like ‘oh it’s going to be okay’ through to 40 or 50, and if I can carry on playing right into my late 30s then I would class that as having done very well.

“I am 34 now, and I could not have all that much time left, and I am certainly in the back-end of my career in the bigger picture, and it is not just about that. It is about my life too. I want to be playing with my children and going to the park and things like that, and I don’t want to be on crutches or in a wheelchair and unable to do it because of football or because I haven’t looked after my body.

“If you don’t change things in your life and do things for the right reasons then you could be in trouble.”

With life after football already at the forefront of his mind, Ward believes more professionals need to pay closer attention to what they are putting into their bodies during their careers to avoid issues in later life.

“Ex-footballers have issues all the time, weight-wise and health-wise, and everyone is genetically different although metabolism-wise we are all very similar,” he said.

“It is quite often something that is overlooked, and there are a lot of players who work very hard in their careers and in some cases earn big money, but they still don’t eat well, even though it is your body that enables us to do what we do.

“One thing I can’t understand is why you would neglect your body, but it is something which stems from very early on when you are at school, where you learn to cook and eat good food.

“Advertising doesn’t help either, because the bad foods are advertised here, there and everywhere, and it is cheap and easy and also very convenient with the manic lifestyles a lot of people lead now.”