England seek special Delhi blend
Beetroot juice, suits made of tin-foil and alcohol hand-rub. If it sounds like an unlikely recipe for sporting success, it's one that will be put to the test in Delhi over the next few days.
England's rugby sevens team, led by record-breaking Ben Gollings and coached by the meticulously maverick Ben Ryan, begin their medal quest on Monday. And if their path to the podium involves a few unusual detours, so be it.
"We're always looking to try out different things, because potentially they could be the difference between winning a medal or not," says Gollings, the highest points-scorer in World Series Sevens tournament by a huge margin.
"Sevens is a crazy sport. With the 15-a-side game you generally have a week between matches to recover. We don't. We play multiple games over two days, and yet you need to be performing at your best at the end of the second day."
So. Those methods in full. The tin-foil tracksuits?
"The idea is to keep the body temperature up, so that after a warm-up we don't lose all the benefits. The boys might look like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we can handle it.
"You want to minimise the warm-up. Some of us might be running a kilometre of sprints in a warm-up, flat out, and that really adds up - it's almost half what we'd do in a game. And you need to maximise your performance in the big games."
Hand-rub? "Playing on the Sevens circuit you get used to arriving in a foreign country and having to get on with it, no matter what the circumstances. No ice in water, don't eat salads, keep your hands clean - these are all basic rules. You have to minimise the risks as much as possible. The last thing we want is for two or three of the boys to go down with something."
And beetroot juice? "Drinking it can help with lactic acid." He chuckles. "if you don't try these things you'll ever know. Sevens has been a good place to experiment with these elements, and the main England squad has benefitted from that work further down the line."
Gollings, who will be appearing at his third Commonwealths, is the most experienced player in the tournament. In the course of scoring his 2,347 points he has touched down for tries in Japan ("all about protocol"). New York ("what a skyline for a backdrop!") and Las Vegas ("middle of the desert - weird and wonderful").
"Having travelled the world you get used to dealing with heaps of distractions, and with each country's own characteristics and conditions," he says.
"This time we arrived a fortnight before the competition, the first time we've ever done that. The last two times we've only been in the village for two or three days all up.
If anyone could side-step a dengue-carrying mosquito, it's probably Gollings. But there are other, less well-publicised dangers he is more concerned about.
"The biggest distraction can be the food hall. Open 24 hours non-stop, eat whatever you like, all sorts of cuisine from Italian to Thai, Chinese to Indian, a massive ice-cream area with every flavour you can think of!
"Mate, it's a killer," he jokes. "You might think, I'll just pop down there for a snack, and pretty soon you're picking up some dangerous habits."
Four years ago in Melbourne, with the atmosphere at the sevens the pick of the Games, an England squad featuring Mathew Tait, Tom Varndell and Henry Paul stormed to the silver medal. Matching that this time around could be tough.
Three-time gold medallists New Zealand will start as favourites, with Samoa - reigning World Series champions - tight up behind, the talents of IRB Sevens Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino at their disposal.
While New Zealand's squad includes three full All Blacks in Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford and Ben Smith, England do not have the household names of 2006, when they could afford to trim Ugo Monye and David Strettle from their squad. But results last year - the defeat of New Zealand in Wellington and victory at the London Sevens have instilled a quiet sense of confidence in Ryan's men.
"We're not going in with quite the same favourite ranking as Melbourne, but I think that's a good thing," says Gollings. "We can sneak in under the radar and do our business.
"We've got a big game against Australia at the end of the first day which will decide our seeding going into the quarter-finals, and I'd like to say we're in with a pretty good chance. We're there to win a gold medal."
For the sport as a whole, these Commonwealths are another shop window as it moves towards full Olympic status in 2016. Five of the current top six in the IRB Sevens rankings are here in Delhi - the sole exception being Fiji, suspended from the Commonwealth after a military coup four years ago.
"It's been slowly coming to the boil over the past decade, but the Olympic inclusion has just made the whole thing leap forward. Players will now make a decision whether they want to be full-time 15-a-side players or full-time sevens players.
"It's a sport that people love to watch. If you think how big Twenty20 cricket has become, this is the same - hard and fast and you hit it."
England's squad enjoyed a link-up with their hockey counterparts at Bisham Abbey before coming over to Delhi, giving a masterclass in drop-goals in return for a drag-flick clinic.
Gollings, a self-described "mad-keen hockey player" as a teenager, had the chance to go to England hockey trials as a 16-year-old. Unfortunately they were being held on the same day as the rugby trials. The oval-ball sport won out.
One of the players he bonded with at the recent link-up - forward James Tindall - scored three times on Saturday as England's hockey team powered past New Zealand. If the pattern repeats itself at Delhi University on Tuesday afternoon, Gollings will be very close to Sevens heaven.