Episode 167 of the Institute of Performance Nutrition's "We Do Science" podcast! In this episode, I (Laurent Bannock) discuss "Football Nutrition" with Professor Michael Gleeson, Loughborough University (UK).
Discussion Topics Include:
Podcast Episode Transcript: Download PDF Copy
Key Paper(s) & Resources Discussed / Referred to:
Related Podcast Episodes:
Check out our other podcasts, publications, events, and professional education programs for current and aspiring sports nutritionists at www.TheIOPN.com and follow our social media outputs via @TheIOPN
[00:00:00] LB: Hi, and welcome to episode 167 of The Institute of Performance Nutrition’s We Do Science Podcast, The IOPN, We Do Science Podcast. I am Laurent Bannock, the host. Now, earlier today, I had a great conversation with Professor Michael Gleeson, Mike Gleeson. You may well know that name for several reasons. One of them would be that Mike has been a guest on this podcast before a few years ago now, where we talked about nutrition and immunology for sport and exercise contexts; a great area of expertise for Mike Gleeson.
Also, if like me, you've been fascinated with sport and exercise nutrition, sports science, Mike Gleeson has contributed a great deal to the evolution of knowledge in our field. No doubt, if you've done your degrees in sports science, sports nutrition, master's degrees, whatever, you'll absolutely know who Mike Gleeson is.
You’ll know that today's conversation is going to be a great one. There's no greater conversation than talking about football, or soccer, of course. Today's conversation is going to be about that football nutrition. Now, we could talk for months on end, literally months on end about what you would need to know about sport and exercise nutrition, sports science, biochemistry, etc., that's related to football, let alone all the other stuff, like the tactical components, the strength conditioning components, sports psychology, and so on. There's no way we're going to cover everything in this podcast today, this 90-minute podcast.
I've worked a lot in elite football. Mike Gleeson's had a lot to do with working with elite football as well. Also, just personal interest in football. Of course, football is an incredibly popular, ubiquitous sport, so to speak. I'm not sure it is the right word. It's something that a lot of people play, whether it's in the garden, at school, at college, at university, and/or have managed to get to the pro elite level. Either which way, it's a game lot of people love, not just in Europe or the UK, but around the world, it is a massive sport.
It's an area that performance nutritionists, sports nutritionists are very likely to get involved in in one form or another. We talk about sport and exercise nutrition through the lens of people that are working in those contexts, whether it's research, or whether it's practice, particularly from a practice perspective, putting this science into practice. There are some important angles there, some important concepts that need to be considered when thinking about sport and exercise nutrition strategy. These are the things that we talked about. There are many other areas you can get into. Of course, I will be linking in the show notes to the various resources we talked about, like the UEFA expert group statement on nutritionally football that Mike Gleeson was a contributor to along many others, led by James Collins, their practitioner working for many years in elite sport.
It's a really top crew of authors. Now, we talk a bit about that and how that came together, as well as Mike’s latest book on nutrition for top performance in soccer, which is very much more focused, sort of that, the applying it into practice side of things. A great text for nutritionist, sports nutritionists and users, players, that sort of thing.
Anyway, before we – well, before I unleash this conversation on to you, please check out what we do at the IOPN. We are obsessed. My team and I are obsessed with helping support the growth, the training and development of performance nutritionists. That's one reason for this podcast. That's one reason for some of the research that I and my colleagues have contributed to. In particular, our main offering is our diploma in performance nutrition.
Now, the whole point in our diploma is it is not an alternative to say your degree, or your masters, or whatever other routes you've come in to nutrition, for example. The point is, is that there's only so much time your educational program, however which way you've achieved it, your nutrition coaching, your sport science strength conditioning, your nutrition dietetics, sports nutrition masters is still only going to have a limited amount of attention on sport and exercise nutrition and particularly its practice. For example, one to two modules in a typical master's degree.
Our program is five modules dedicated entirely to sport and exercise nutrition, knowledge, contextualization and application into practice. That's really the difference there. If that's something you want to do is learn in depth about performance nutrition, sport and exercise nutrition and how to apply it into practice, then our program will be of interest to you. You can check that out at www.theiopn.com, as well of course as the podcast and all the past episodes, and the show notes and so on can all be accessed from our website at www.theiopn.com.
Where also, check out our new SENPRO system, which is our sport and exercise nutrition software system for performance nutritionist, sports nutritionist, nutrition coaches and so on, working either with individual clients and/or in team settings to help you do effective meal planning, communication behavior change, manage your practice. So much to it. Just check out that. It's developed a lot over the coming months. We're very proud of it. We’re putting a lot into it. It's there to help you as the only specific platform there for sport and exercise nutritionists. You can learn about it at www.theiopn.com. That's enough about all of that. Now, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Professor Mike Gleeson about sport and exercise nutrition for football. Enjoy.
[00:06:01] LB: Hi, and welcome back to The Institute of Performance Nutrition’s We Do Science Podcast. I am Laurent Bannock. Today, I'm going to have what I know will be a great conversation about football and nutrition. I can think of nobody I want to have this conversation more with today than with Mike Gleeson. Professor Michael Gleeson. I'm going to say, welcome back, for several reasons, Mike. Firstly, how are you?
[00:06:30] MG: Hello. Thank you, Laurent. I think I know what you're going to say.
[00:06:33] LB: Yeah. Well, there's two reasons. Firstly, for the hardened fans of this podcast, they will recall that we did a podcast, and dare I say, it's been a few years ago now, where we talked about one of the areas you're particularly well-known for, which is your expertise, your research in exercise and nutrition related immunology, that sort of thing, which anybody who studied sport and exercise nutrition will be familiar with you on that.
Also, you have, as we will discuss today, got a lot of experience and interest in football. We tried to have this conversation before. All sorts of things happened, like pandemics, and I then ended up traveling around the world, being a nutritionist for a football team and just things went a bit nuts. It's great to come back and have this chat with you. I suspect, we'll all be the better for it. In that time, actually, your latest book has come out on nutrition for top performance in soccer. I think, actually, the timing of this is rather good. The reason why I wanted to have this conversation with you is like many of the guests that I invite on to We Do Science is, you're not just a great scientist. I know you may not say that about yourself, but you have had an immense impact on sport and exercise nutrition. That's one thing.
Also, you have crossed that bridge between science and practice, and had the opportunity to either directly, or indirectly help apply science, in this case, as it relates to performance nutrition into practice, and many other areas, including, we've asked, [inaudible 00:08:19]. You've done a number of publications, but in particular, the sports nutrition textbook that we use on our course at The IOPN, for example. It's almost as if, wherever I look, I keep seeing Mike Gleeson and your impact. Football is a really interesting one. That, of course, is what we're going to focus on today.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this chat today, just give us a little bit of background, Mike, about yourself. There will be new listeners who don't know who you are, what your background is, despite how I've just started it. I think, it would be great just to kick this off with a bit of background.
[00:08:55] MG: Okay, I'll try and keep this pretty quick, because it could be a long story. Yeah, I started off doing a first degree in biochemistry in the 1970s at University of Birmingham. Then was lucky enough to do a PhD with a great guy called Dr. Jack Wearing at [inaudible 00:09:11] which is now in the University of Central Lancashire, but it was actually a PhD on effects of diet on energy metabolism and exercise metabolism. It was really interesting. That's what really got me into the whole field of nutrition, having covered a very broad degree in biochemistry of everything really.
From that several post-doc positions, few lectureships along the way, eventually got back to working at University of Birmingham, in the Sport and Exercise Sciences Department, some probably 20 years after that. That's why I first became a professor about 20 years ago now. Then from there, I just made one more move when I got my arm twisted to move to Loughborough University. Yeah, I've carried on research in that vein of exercise and immunology, applied to sport and also, the general population’s health as well, and that's become much more relevant in these days of COVID, of course.
Yeah, I've always had an interest in sports and in particular, my favorite spectator sport is football, or soccer. There's actually two versions in my book. Actually, one's got football insight, or the other one, as you mentioned, is soccer. One's based for the American audience and the worldwide audience, South America as well, the soccer one, and then there's a football one that's been – one that's out in – should be out anyway in the UK and Europe. That's where I am now. I retired six years ago now, and I've just written a few healthy lifestyle guide books. We've done a third edition of the sports nutrition textbook. Yeah, now this book on nutrition in football.
[00:10:54] LB: Yeah. I know that that's the shortened version, Mike. I think, one thing that strikes the listeners, as it does myself, is just how many years you've been involved in sport and exercise science and sport and exercise nutrition research. Not everyone will be aware of is just how new the field actually is. It seems to me that you pretty much were there at the beginning. For you, the evolution, the journey from day one, when you started getting your initial degree, your initial education, all the way to becoming not just an educator, but somebody who's actually beaten a pathway into new knowledge, new areas of interest, and have, as I said, actually contributed to what we see as sport and exercise nutrition nowadays.
Just because you're here, I want to take advantage of your own reflection on that, as you're driving into retirement, I realized, but you'll never not maintain an interest in this, of course, in that rearview mirror of all that science, that education and that knowledge. I mean, how do you feel about all that and where we're going?
[00:12:07] MG: Yeah. Well, I guess, when I did my degrees, sports science degrees were – I don’t know. They hadn't been invented at that time, as such, not in the form that they are now. I always thought it was a – I thought, there was a benefit to me to have done a degree in a subject biochemistry, or maybe I might have done physiology, if I was going to do that, or in medicine. Then move into the field of sport and exercise science and apply that knowledge. Because you get, obviously, doing a whole degree in biochemistry, you get a much better understanding of things like metabolism and the basis of nutrition, than you do from perhaps doing a – or just doing a sport science degree, where you get that maybe as one or two modules during your three-year course.
I think, that comes across when you go to conferences, and you’d hear people speak and you think, well, sometimes you think, well, that's not quite right. Sometimes the basic play of chemistry isn't there, underpinning the nutrition advice that people are trying to give. If I was giving advice to anybody about doing a nutrition degree, I'd also say, read more broadly outside the subject. Take in the physiology, the psychology, biochemistry, to get a better understanding of metabolism and understand the units you should be talking about. When we're talking about concentrations of things in the blood, in the muscle, and the doses of various compounds we're giving the athletes.
[00:13:41] LB: Well, of course, that’s what’s happening now, isn't it? Is that people will – they'll go get their degree in sports science, exercise science, strength conditioning, whatever. Okay, strength conditioning is much more of a specialized pathway, directly aimed at preparing people for a profession in strength conditioning, as part of my past was an S&C coach. Like you just said, there is a difference between nutrition and sport and exercise nutrition, where sport and exercise nutrition is it's the apex of – it's the specialization bit. One should not be focusing on that at the expense of the broader health related aspects of nutrition, which goes back many more years, of course, from an educational perspective.
There's vast amounts of public health focused nutrition, clinical related nutrition, and I'm pleased that you say that in the way that you do. I have a concern that we have, where there's too much focus on things like sport and exercise nutrition, without enough focus on particularly, from preparing practitioners to understand those basic fundamentals in more detail, which of course, goes far. You know, you can't get all of that into a degree or into a masters, which is why one needs to continuously learn and develop themselves and get onboard with continuing professional development and other programs and courses, and so on.
Of course, listen to podcasts like this and read books, like the one that you've just written. The purpose of this chat today isn't to talk about education programs, and so on. We'll move on from that dangerous rabbit hole, that we have there. Let's just fast forward this immediately to nutrition. Why have you developed such an interest in nutrition, not just as a spectator, your choice of spectator sport, but where you've channeled your expertise in sport and exercise science, and particularly, nutrition as a specialization? Why football, or soccer? What led you to this point?
[00:15:41] MG: Two things. One is actually, I love the sport of watching the sport. That's my favorite pastime on a Saturday afternoon, or a Saturday evening, watching on the TV. Other than that, I was involved in the UA for expert group consensus review that was done, actually took about three years in the writing. It's now about 20 years or so getting on for that, since the last one, which was done under the auspices of FIFA, back in 2006. I hope that one was actually published.
Yeah, this one took so long to write. Not so much the writing. Lots of people contributed things, so actually 31 different authors on the paper, including myself. Because you have so many people involved, getting to a consensus on various topics can be difficult. Sometimes you just have to go with who you think are the best educated people, or the practicing people doing the research and knowing the subject area, and rely on them to produce something that most of us can agree on.
Also, the editing as well, with many people from many different countries, most of whom probably, first language isn't English. Then, actually taking what they've produced and tried to put it into a similar format, similar type of language, so doesn't really feel like, one person's written that section. Somebody else has written another. You want to know how it flow through all sounds and reads the same, and correcting all that, sending off to the way for people to look at themselves. Several members of the medical committee wanted to be on these co-authors on the paper after they reviewed it and sent back comments. There were some things we agreed with, some things we didn't. Again, we come together for a consensus agreement.
Yes, it takes a long time to write these things when there's so many people involved, and so many interested parties. It’s difficult. When this thing came onboard, we actually got published. then I thought, well, actually, it's all great, but it's all very science-based. That was the purpose of what it was, to produce an evidence-based guideline on what players probably should be eating before, during and after games and for their overall health, etc.
To put it actually into practical terms that people – particularly, I was thinking in amateur sport, amateur football is huge across the world. Far more amateur players than there are professionals. They all look up to the professionals. Why not learn from what the pros have been advised to do?
[00:18:27] LB: Some of them will become pros, of course.
[00:18:29] MG: They will. Yes, yes, of course. Applying that, letting them learn from that was the goal. Then again, the language of the paper, the science paper has to be translated into everyday English that the average player, or the person supporting that player, be it the – perhaps a coach in the amateur game, or a nutritionist, a dietician, or even a performance chef, being involved in the nutrition of professional players. We've all got something to go back to. Indeed, for the players themselves, to actually understand to a degree, why they're getting this advice to eat this on one day, and this on another, and take this at half time, etc.
If they have a better understanding of it, they're much more likely I think, to be able to comply with doing it, if they realize what the potential benefits are of doing what they're advised to do, and what the potential pitfalls of not doing it might be, if all your opponents and your competitors are doing the same.
[00:19:35] LB: Absolutely. I think you make a good point there. You know, it's not just about an individual trying to do this. There's a lot of stakeholders involved, whether it's at the elite level, or the sub-elite level, or just at the completely amateur level, one way or the other. There's all sorts of people involved from like you say, the nutritionists who are absolutely not the only people that should be knowing this stuff. That needs to be translated to a Language and practical aspect that the players themselves can put into practice. If they're lucky to be supported by chefs as they typically are at the elite level, or what is particularly common, or what’s becoming increasingly common is the whole personal chef phenomenon thing now, where rightly or wrongly, the players are getting all their own individualized help and support, and there's a danger there, of course, of having a team of over a dozen people doing something completely different, not singing from the same hymn sheet, and so on.
I think, it doesn't matter how we look at it. I think, this consensus on what constitutes as an evidence-based perspective on the do's and don'ts with regards to nutrition support is invaluable. Even for me, somebody who's worked at the level I do, I walked around with literally, this consensus statement was in my bag, or on my iPad, or wherever is – There's so many things that go on. So much new knowledge comes to mind. It's a really good grounding tool, grounding document that I recommend everyone has. I'll be linking to these papers and books and so on that we're talking about in the notes on this podcast.
Before we tantalize and tease the listeners with some of the areas that are discussed, both in the consensus statement and areas that you put into particularly practical formats, applied formats in your new book, just quickly come back to this concept of a consensus statement. You've already made it clear how complex it is. I know, I've contributed to a few consensus papers in the past and boy, oh boy, is it complicated. You made a point about people from different levels of expertise. You may or may not have agreed on everything, language, etc., etc. There's a lot of stuff going on there. Ultimately, you arrive at this consensus paper. Why is the consensus paper important, though, Mike? Why can't people just look this stuff up on Google, or get a paper that's 20-years-old, the previous version, for example? Why is this a must read for anyone interested in this area?
[00:22:05] MG: Well, I think because, obviously – in the historical perspective, things move on, not only in the world of nutrition itself. If you think back to 2006, yeah, we knew about some of the supplements like creatine. Then, for example, the importance of carbohydrate, but there's no mention of consuming concentrated beetroot juice, for example, for that nitrate boost. Not much on beta alanine. I don't think the idea of using creatine to help boost muscle glycogen resynthesis, and the recovery from a match, and even being considered at that time.
Yeah, so as things have moved on in the world of nutrition, and much more, perhaps emphasis on personalized nutrition, rather than one size fits all. Also, in the world of football, the game has changed over the years. 15, 20 years ago. We now see a much more intense game, with the more high intensity actions, more distance sprinted. If you look at the percentage of successful passes, that's improved compared to 15, 20 years ago, quite considerably. The technical demands of the game have increased as well. Along with that, the training demands have been increased in proportion to match what players do on match days.
The game itself has evolved. We've got this new intense pressing style of play applied by many of the top teams, like Liverpool, Manchester United. I would have included Leicester City in that, until last night. We won't speak about that. That's one of the things that brought them success. Very quick counter-attacking and also pressing. All of this increases the demands on individual players, so you're forward to having to do this pressing in in addition to their normal – making the runs to get on the end of through balls. The workload of those guys has increased considerably.
Okay, the overall distance covered hasn't really changed. That's perhaps the one thing that hasn't changed, compared with 20 years ago. Everything about the intensity of the game, and perhaps, also the mental attitudes are needed the concentration, that's needed for the additional technical skills that have shown improvements over the years. Everything happens that much quicker. Perception has got to be quicker, and your attention to detail and concentration’s got to be there even more.
[00:24:43] LB: There's a few more layers of demand stress, if you like, that's placed on players of course, with travel. There's a lot of travel going on nowadays. I'm sticking my hand up as being a particularly sensitive to that concept, having traveled a lot with football teams over the years. As I was mentioning, we're talking about the players. What about the support staff? I mean, they're to look after the players. Who's looking after the support staff? That's another podcast for another day.
Mike, it is an interesting one, though, because when we talk about nutrition support for football players, we're not just talking about fueling them to have a good game. We want to factor in things like, the potential for injury, which does happen, illness. Like you mentioned, we're all very tuned into things like COVID, of course. Prior to COVID, we were all interested in this because, which is actually one of things we talked about in that podcast years ago, about reducing infection incidence in team sports. It's not a new thing. Colds, flus, upper respiratory tract infections in general can be a real major issue, particularly for these mega highly-paid football players.
It's not about the money that that represents to the team, or the impact that has on the individual, but it's a really important skilled player who's not on the pitch at that time. Has an impact on how the rest of the team might perform, in terms of technical functioning of the team and psychological functioning. Some players are very important to the leadership, or the structure of the team. Of course, there's what Neil Walsh talks about, of course, the total load of stress and resistance to stress from his perspective, which we've covered in a past podcast before, all the way through to things like sleeping and the impact that that can have.
I guess, the area that I see quite a lot is the advent of social media and the impact that that has. I'm not talking about information, poor information that influences individual's choices in nutrition, but the obsession that some people have over social media. Players, you see them immediately after training sessions, or if they're even allowed a phone in the dressing room at halftime. They’ll be looking up stuff on social media.
Where I'm going with this is what they look like with their shirt off, Mike. There is an angle there, where some players will undertake extra training sessions, and/or will engage in certain nutritional practices, because of the impact that it has on either what they look like, or their perception of what they're not getting from the club, which is all quite interesting, isn't it?
[00:27:29] MG: Yes. Yes. Yeah. I see where you're going with that. Yeah.
[00:27:34] LB: Yeah. Anyway, in the consensus statement, and in your book, you cover the areas that we're all going to need to know, that's relevant. Well, all kinds of football, particularly football, match day nutrition, which we'll come back to in a minute. Training day nutrition, body composition, which I've referenced an angle on. Stressful environments and travel. Cultural diversity and dietary considerations. I'm thinking back to my time with Egypt in the last World Cup. That was a really interesting one.
Of course, supplements, which we do need to talk about today. Rehabilitation or injury support. You even, in the consensus statement, talk about the very interesting, unique needs of referees, particularly at the elite level. I think, we forget about the refs. And junior high level players. Of course, that's the development of young, aspiring football players. The very young, youthful, I'm not suggesting you're not youthful, Mike, but the young, youthful Mike Gleesons, who aspire to be a Leicester City player, for example, are out there all days and hours practicing their art, and hopefully, getting a look into get into an academy. I actually know family members that have tried this. The obsession goes in many, many different directions.
I think, what people are going to want from our conversation today, because they can read all these things, obviously, is for us to just have a little delve into some of these areas. Before we do that, if you could just quickly describe the characteristics of a football player in terms of the physical characteristics that we need to be bearing in mind from a need – When we're thinking about what the needs of that football player is, in order to, from a training perspective, from a performance perspective that would say, differentiate them from let's say, a marathon runner, or a triathlete, or whatever, what is it that makes a football player a specific kind of athlete that we need to bear in mind when it comes to nutrition support?
[00:29:23] MG: Yeah. Well, I think first thing to realize that soccer is essentially, high-intensity intermittent sport. You're not talking about continuously running at pretty much the same pace that you might for a marathon runner. You're talking about, so it stops and starts to the game and being able to run quickly when you have to, and being able to keep that up for 90 minutes, or even a 120 minutes of the games that go to extra time. That's part of it. To do that, you need to be resilient as well. There's physical contact in the game. You hear about managers not liking players who get brushed off the ball too easily, or at the other end of the spectrum, are weak in the tackle.
You've got to be able to tackle, you've got to be able to pass, you've got to be able to shoot, you've got to be able to physically challenge with other players. When you see what's going on at corners, you don't know what's happening with the ball, where the corner is coming in from. If you look, actually take your eyes from that and just see what's happening in the box, there's a lot of wrestling going on there. People competing, or trying to block off player’s runs, and that, and even grabbing them. Occasionally, of course, the referee spots it and gives a penalty.
It's by and large, that's fairly rare. It's got to be a fairly blatant one for them to do that. Get away with a lot of physical blocks and that. Although, it's not quite the same as rugby. There's quite a lot. There’s quite a lot going on. People always focus on where the ball is going and when it's on the ground. They were looking at the ball and what the players do with their feet. We look what they're doing with their arms as well.
Both the attacker – Don't push off the defender, or defender is trying to link an arm there. There's a lot of physical interaction going on there. The guys have got to be strong physically. They got to be strong in the upper legs, in particular, for the shooting, and the tackling, the jumping. Some of these guys can jump pretty high. Nowadays, when you see them just standing jump. There's all that going on, as well as the endurance of keeping that. Also, the mental side as I said before. You've got to do this. I think, sometimes instinctively, perhaps, but also, seeing where through ball is and being able to react very, very quickly and produce things in split seconds of skill. I mean, that's what turns us on watching the game, isn't it, these exquisite skills of striking the ball, passing the ball, dribbling the ball that we see these great players able to do. You've got to do that in week out and sometimes two, even three games a week in some occasions.
[00:32:06] LB: Absolutely. Look, we're never going to cover this all in this conversation today. I think, it is important to differentiate things, like the needs and requirements of a player for training. For Match Day, you've obviously got pre-season, in-season, off-season. Those are a fair number of phases. It's definitely interesting to see what state the players are in at the beginning of the season, relative towards the end of the season. Then you've got the players that have international duties.
When everyone else is lying on a beach somewhere, these guys are out playing even more. The sheer congestion of fixtures, which just seems like it just keeps getting more and more, isn't it? Tell us a bit more about that and the implications that has for the bodies and I guess, their minds, but particularly the bodies of these athletes and why this is important for us to factor in?
[00:33:02] MG: Well, yeah. I mean, you're right. These games are taking place, sometimes every three days. It's not a lot of time to recover, from the biochemistry perspective, or the nutrition. It's very little time to actually get your glycogen stores back to where they were before you started the last match. Even that might not be optimal. Fractural football performance. Ideally, you want players to be able to have four or five days to fully recover, I think, from both from the knocks, but also to allow them to restore those essential carbohydrate fuel stores in the muscles they're using and the legs, to be able to enable them to play an optimal level for the full 90 minutes.
I mean, that's why we see so many players, I think, being substituted after 60 minutes. Some of them essentially run out of fuel, if you like, or run out of energy to be able to carry on at the same pace everybody else is maintaining, or that potentially a that substitute could come on with, if they were to take over the last 30 minutes or so of the game. Even know within the seasons, I say all this different off-season, in-season and then the end of season. The gap between one season ending, the next again is beginning seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Particularly when you factor in these international competitions taking place, the Euros, the World Cup. Something's happening every two years. We've now got this Nation's Cup as well.
Clubs want to on pre-season tours to earn some extra revenue and enhance their fan base in foreign countries, and what have you. It's all driven by money at the end of the day, of course. It puts an increase in demand on the players. The reality is, the best players play the most games, because they're the guys you want in your first day, week in, week out, your Kevin De Bruynes, your [inaudible 00:34:59], like that. These guys, the Belgian perspective.
[00:35:02] LB: I was going to say, I know these guys.
[00:35:05] MG: Yeah, of course. They're the ones who are going to play in the international teams as well. Yeah.
[00:35:12] LB: The converse of that is the players that don't play very much. There are implications of that too, isn't there? A player who there might be training, and you see it. You see them warming up. I'm talking about even those even get selected to be backup players, so to speak. Quite a lot of them don't get to play and can get to an extent where they rarely get to play. It might get to the point where they'd rather stay at home with their club, and we're talking tournament football at this point, because at least they get to play. Apart from if you don't play, you don't keep your skill levels up, your experience. It is a big part, isn’t it, is the whole experiential side of this. What are the ramifications of not playing? I guess, we need to factor that in, too.
[00:35:59] MG: Yes, because those players, you still want them to be able to maintain their fitness. If they're not taking part in Match Day, which generally is considered to be the most intense exercise day of the week, for those that are actually involved in the game. They're not taking part in that. You will be doing something else that's pretty much equivalent to that, in training in order to keep up the fitness to the same levels of those that are actually taking part in the game.
I mean, one interesting thing you always hear managers saying in football, is, “Oh, yeah. The guy's been back in training. Maybe has had an injury and he's come back.” I'd say, yeah, he's been back in training for three weeks now, but he's still not in match fitness. There seems to be this thought in football, that you can only gain match fitness by actually playing matches, when games are played a real intensity, in a competitive way. Not only perhaps, just to bring you up physically to the required level, but also, say, mentally, as well. I forget how much the mental side of things is of importance in the game. Nutrition can play a role there to a degree. Yeah, it's about getting games at the end of the day, really to be able to play at the highest level.
[00:37:17] LB: Actually, Mike, you mentioned something interesting, which is, it's something I feel quite strongly about as a practitioner. We get very obsessed with looking at sport and exercise nutrition science from a very black and white lens, very reductionist perspective, which of course, I've talked about this on many podcasts. Of course, it's important, because that's important to science. In practice, we have to factor in things like the needs, the preferences, the individual likes, dislikes, cultural issues, religious issues, and fundamentally, what is practical. There are elements of just being practical that might be, can they even get access to this type of food? Which there might be even other problems with? The only place they can get the food is on the bus, or the aeroplane, or whatever. That influences the types of foods that people can and cannot eat, all the way through to the risk of food contamination, and/or food poisoning, or players just don't want to eat on the bus and/or eat something cold, or whatever. There's quite a lot that is involved in that.
I wanted to draw it, before we get into some frameworks about training day and match day and nutrition and so on, from your perspective, in that taking the science and applying it into practice, what are the most critical areas? Who are the most critical stakeholders you see? You talk about this in your nutrition for top performance in soccer. You talk about the importance of the chef, for example. At the end of the day, the player has to be the person that eats this food. Just quickly, before we get obsessed about sports nutrition science and how many grams and kilograms and this, that and the other, what are the key areas that in reality are going to make any intervention more likely to be successful in terms of the impact it has on the player and all the team?
[00:39:09] MG: Well, yeah. First and foremost, whatever goes on the plate, you want the player to eat it. Usually, the way these meals are formulated is you want them to eat everything on the plate. The most important thing really is that you're providing food that the player is going to like, enjoy and eat. Eating food should be a joy. It's something that can improve our mood. It's not just about refueling. It's part of social interaction as well with teammates. Great team bonding, isn't it? To go in and sit down and have a meal before or after a game and talk about stuff.
Getting players to eat what they like, like you say, suits their own individual preferences. We might have our own nutritionist. We might say, “We want only so many grams, or grams per kilogram of carbohydrate and protein in there.” There's literally thousands of different meals that can really provide those sorts of things that we want them to have. In these cases, then matching that to what the player actually likes to eat, and particularly avoiding things they don't like to eat. What lot of some of the chefs that I speak to on this topic also tell me about, oh, yeah, let's say, they might say they don't like vegetables. We've got ways of producing meals where we can actually hide those, because they get mashed up, and it's in a soup or something, or it's in the casserole bit of the dish that they're having.
They've got the meat that they like there. They don't actually realize they're getting these nice, healthy greens in there as well. They wouldn't probably eat if it was an isolated item on the plate in front of them. There's a little bit of tomfoolery going on as well. Also, I think, particularly, maybe for match day meals, after a game when players they've had a hard time, sometimes they've lost the game, of course, and they want to relax, but they want to enjoy something as well. They might feel and build up to the game, they're having to – it’s what's prescribed and maybe this is an option to have something a little bit more what they would normally like, young men and women in general in the professional games. Often, they like things like takeaways. The chef's come up with what they call fake aways. I’m sure, you've heard of these things.
[00:41:37] LB: Yeah, yeah. Those are great.
[00:41:38] MG: You can produce a lovely meal, you could describe as burger and chips. If it's got really healthy, lean ground steak or something there in your burger, you've got a healthy whole meal bun. Instead of having greasy chip chop chips, you have something like oven-baked sweet potato wedges, or something like that. It tastes pretty much the same as this chip tray. Just a dozen of an oven-baked chips are a healthier option and less fatty than the ones done in a frying pan and the grease.
There's lots of different ways of doing that. You can do the same things for pizzas and for lots of the pasta dishes, so it feels like you're going out for an Italian meal and gone a snack with lots of tasty things, which are always trying to add little extra healthy ingredients and was fooling the player into thinking well, this is really, really tasty and really, really good. That's what you want. You want to enjoy it at the end of the day, and eat what's put in front of them.
[00:42:44] LB: It is an art form. You don't have to be a Michelin-starred chef. In fact, there are problems of being a Michelin-starred chef, as I have found a lot of certain lovely ingredients that aren't necessarily appropriate for football players. Nonetheless, it is an art form. That's where I think sport and exercise nutrition being applied effectively into practice has to include a consideration of what the food looks like, what it tastes like. Like you say, make it tasty and make it enjoyable and make it interesting, even if it's to a certain extent, not quite perfect on paper. The reality is that it's going to go in and stay in.
I guess, if we flip that to the other side, human beings eat food. Football players are a type of athlete. They have the same basic needs as any other human being. Broadly speaking, eating a range of foods is going to more or less give most people with what they need to sustain life and be somewhat functional. Okay, not perform at best, but they'll be okay. There are a number of things that we need to be particularly focused on. Obviously, as we go up that hierarchy towards the elite athlete, in particular, those playing late season, international games, congested fixed schedules and so on, there's going to be a number of nutrients, though, that are particularly important.
I guess, before we even break this down to what differentiates the nutrition requirements of a training day from a game day, what are the main foods, or earth food type in particular, that you would say is absolutely the preference, given there's a lot of fads and fallacies that exist in nutrition and so on? What sort of foods are going to be the prime directive when it comes to football players’ needs?
[00:44:40] MG: Well, as part of it, like I say, healthy, very balanced diet. The main focus in a sense, has to be on getting the carbohydrate intake right. Because that's what fuels the muscles for 70% of match play. We know that from measurements of the metabolism and players and how much glycogen they're using up in their muscles and their liver during match play, and also to support intensive training. That's the thing that's got to be the focus for getting the fueling up prior to a match. Also, then on match day and the subsequent day of recovery after that. That's where your carbohydrate intake’s got to be the highest, together with sufficient protein. Fat can make up the rest in a sense on those days.
When you move on to the training days, it all depends on what the aim of that training is, and what's the session going to be about. For some, it might be a very light session, or hardly anything at all, and then maybe a little bit of gym work in the afternoon. Or perhaps, you could put a bit more focus on the protein then and less so on that carbohydrate. Those are the main things, ensuring the players are well hydrated when they turn up for training, and the build up to a match. When you got congested fix, you play periods, that's going to start essentially, the day before the game. We say on match day nutrition, it's all about what you have on match day. Actually, probably the most important meal is the meal the night before the match.
[00:46:29] LB: Yeah. Actually, this stuff is more important than some people might realize. I just wanted to quickly come back to the carbohydrate conversation, because whether we like it or not, that has become an area of obsession for people over the years. Whether they think it's going to “make them fat,” or I think, to be more correct, politically correct, or whatever about that statement is just going to have an unfavorable impact on their body composition. Which as I mentioned, is of great interest to football players nowadays, particularly those that have this habit of taking their shirts off after scoring goals and all that great drama that can occur with football.
One way or the other, people like to look good, and they care about themselves and not just about being elite athletes. Ultimately, this issue with carbohydrates is dangerous, because that can creep over to influencing choices that players make, where they will reduce their carbohydrate intake for fear of the impact that it might have on their body composition, for example. As it relates to the main thing, which is ensuring there is sufficient glycogen in the muscle and in particular, glycogen restoration strategies.
For me in tournament football, that's just the biggest challenge is just trying to keep everyone's glycogen levels up. To illustrate why that's important, maybe you could just give us a just a bit of an overview about why this topic’s important and why we're trying to hit that with our nutrition strategies. As it relates to how this glycogen is actually stored in the muscle and how training and playing football actually depletes that glycogen. Because I think, without understanding, we then understand our nutrition strategies and priorities a little bit.
[00:48:17] MG: Yeah. I mean, I think with carbohydrate, as a fuel source, you can only store a limited amount of it in the body. The bits where you need it for playing football are principally in your leg muscles, and also, in your liver. Your liver can hold about a 100 grams of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, same glycogen as you have in your muscles. That's just used to be broken down into glucose, the blood glucose, which is used as a fuel, both at rest, and quickly during exercise by your muscles. It's also an important fuel for your brain as well.
In order to maintain, again, mental performance, as well as physical performance, you need to have liver glycogen available to keep that blood glucose topped up. Because when you exercise and the muscle start extracting that glucose from the blood to essentially keep competing with that limited fuel supply with your brain. You don't want it running out, so you're going to keep that up. That's why breakfast is so important the day before on match days, because your liver glycogen goes down overnight, while you're asleep, because your brain’s still using it even though you're asleep. You're still using 6 grams an hour.
If you're asleep for eight hours, let's say, you've used up half of your liver glycogen. When you woke up in the morning, you don't want to start your match in that condition. Luckily, your liver glycogen will pop up pretty quickly within a matter of hours, if you take onboard carbohydrate. It can be in the form of glucose, or fructose, like you get in fruits and fruit drinks, for example. Fructose can only be converted into glucose, and that really only occurs to a significant degree in the liver itself. You're essentially giving preferential food to your liver, if you give it some fructose in the morning as part of your breakfast.
That's one of my favorite. I like the idea of giving fruit juice, a 100% fruit juice. It's 10% sugar in there to be a mixture of glucose, fructose, and galactose. That's really good fuel for your liver. Then, you've got your muscles and your leg muscles, you might be able to hold up to most about 300 grams of glycogen. You have to be careful when you read the textbook, because they'll say, well, the total amount stored in the body could be about 500 grams. You've got lots of other muscles in your body and your arms and your shoulders and your back and everything. You're not really using that much to a degree in football. It's what's in your legs that's important. That's what's going to make you fatigue if you run out. Getting that right is important.
When we play a game of football, we know that you use up probably at least 50% of that glycogen, but it's not used up evenly amongst your muscle fibers. We've got type 1 fibers, type 2, fast twitch fibers as well. They tend to use it a bit more quickly, because they're more reliant on that. Whereas, slow twitch fibers can actually use some fat in the lower intensity parts of the game. Your type 2 fibers tend to get more depleted. That means, some of your fibers can even though, overall in the average, the muscle might be down to 40% of what it was started.
Again, you might actually have completely depleted some of the glycogen in some of those fibers. That will have an impact on their ability to produce force and therefore, your overall muscles ability to produce force. That in turn, means you won't be able to maintain sprints for as long, or do as many sprints in a certain amount of time. It might affect the strength of your shooting ability and passing ability as well. That's why it's so important, and it's going to provide 70% of the calories we burn in a football match by an outfield player. It’s going to become from their carbohydrate stores.
Some studies have been done, albeit not using really elite level footballers, but we know some studies have been done where they've artificially influenced this by having players have a low carbohydrate diet for three days before a game, as opposed to a high carbohydrate diet. Clearly, although first half [inaudible 00:52:40] is not much affected, it's the second half where you see this impact. The players cover less distance, and much less distance at high speeds.
They're slowing down and not covering as much distance.
It's just an expression of the fatigue that's occurring, because they've essentially run out of glycogen in too many of their muscle fibers. That's why it's really important. Then, when you stop, when you want to recover, and maybe you've got a game in three days’ time, this process of glycogen recovery restoration, by feeding carbohydrate in the meals you have after a match in the days following the game, it's relatively slow; slower than it would be for say, somebody who just runs in a straight line, or cycling, or swimming. Because with football and also with rugby, you get muscle damage occurring, not just from people kicking you.
This happens anyway. It’s part of the game. You get soft tissue damage that way. You've seen the bruises on the players that come off after the game. Also, because they're doing various eccentric muscle actions, particularly decelerating, sprints, and landing from jumps and twisting and turning actions, which stretch the muscles while they're being activated. This produces a degree of muscle soreness. This seems to be one of the factors that results in a slower recovery of muscle glycogen after games like football compared to say, cycling where virtually no muscle damage occurs.
[00:54:18] LB: Yeah. We have a lot more control, don't we, over preparing a player in terms of feeding them and fueling them before a game, or a training session. All the chaos that tends to occur from the time the whistle goes and thereafter, to include all the stuff that happens at halftime, which is most definitely not them just sitting around wondering what they can eat and drink. There's rehab and tactical stuff that's going on. Maybe a bit of drama that goes on.
I've witnessed that a lot. Yeah, there’s all sorts of stuff that's going on. Stress and so on, which will impact the desire of an individual to refill. I know, as the nutritionist in the dressing room, they've got a lot of things going on. They're not necessarily thinking, you're the most important person in their life, sadly, sadly. Nonetheless, we're sitting there knowing your tank is nowhere near refilled.
What are the implications of that? I know, you've mentioned it already, but what are the implications of that on a player not refueling? What are the strategies that research the evidence shows that we can employ to do the best that we can, to top up those fuel supplies?
[00:55:36] MG: Yeah. Again, at half time, the emphasis is going to be on carbohydrate, getting some carbohydrate in there, whatever form you can get it in, and some fluid to rehydrate, particularly on a warm day. There's only very limited opportunities during actual match play, partly due to the rules of the game. There might be opportunity as somebody is injured, and the physio is coming on the pitch for a minute or so to toss a bottle to a player or something, or a gel, maybe. Yeah, very limited time, 15 minutes from when they come off to, when they're going back on.
Like you say, probably the most important thing for the potential success of the team is the managing it and his message across to the players and the players taking that onboard, so they can't be I say, thinking about what they're eating, or drinking. They've just got to be handed something that they can sit there and take onboard, while they're listening to what the manager has got to say and possibly what their other teammates have got to say about the progress of the game and how they can improve things, if that's what needs to be done. Yeah. Really, just talking about really drinks and gels and nothing else. Maybe some caffeine. Sometimes might take caffeine in the form of a pill powder, or potion before a game, or something like Jamie Vardy, to sip a can of Red Bull, or something like that, or an equivalent energy drink with a high caffeine content as part of their pre-match ritual.
At half time, quickest way to get it onboard is to take what they used in the military and still do, which is a caffeine chewing gum, to keep the soldiers awake at night when they're on night operations and need to be alert all of the time. It's a life-threatening situation for them. Not quite life-threatening in football, or [inaudible 00:57:27] would disagree with me, I think. Yeah, getting that onboard quickly can be done with caffeine, because you absorb some of that caffeine through the lining of the mouth as you chew it.
The only thing I tell players is make sure you spit that out before you go out on the pitch. I dread the time when somebody actually accidentally inhales that chewing gum, which actually could be life-threatening for the player. If that happens, you're blocking airway. You don't want to risk that happening at all. There's no need to carry on chewing.
[00:58:04] LB: No. I just think, it's just that picture we're painting of the chaos that's going on. Also, the fact that in that dressing room, there's a lot of individuals that are in there. Some of them, absolutely in my experience, don't like chewing gum, but they would absolutely do a shot of espresso, or something. Some of them don't want sports bars, but they will eat a banana. Some of them will drink their carbohydrate drink. Some of them will want to eat something. Can be in any form.
I think, from my perspective, the real emphasis there is you got to get to know the players and what their needs and preferences are, and then practice them as often as you can. Because in a game scenario, they are on a whole another level of from a psychological perspective, their adrenaline's going off, the manager is probably having a shout at them or whatever. There has to be as little as possible that gets in the way between them accepting the offer of a drink, or a bar, or for them to actually fancy a little bit of something.
Whereas, if they're all on the same thing, the chances are that a fair number of them just won't touch it, or won't do it. Then your whole strategy has failed. I think, it is important that people understand that there are many different ways to achieve this result. It doesn't have to be just what we have seen in the research. Now, I carefully want to just make a point of certain studies have been done with certain products, because there are reasons why they've got their hands on those products, and/or have managed to get some funding or whatever. There are going to be similar things that you can find just from normal food sources, that might also work, and you should factor those in. Do you want to just quickly mention, because you do mention this in your book, about that there are a variety of things that can be used? You don't have to just use the one that's got a branding, or a copyright, or a trademark.
[01:00:01] MG: Well, no, no. I mean, yeah. I used to say, if you want your caffeine, like you say, you could get it. This gum, you could get it as a pill. You could get it as part of a cereal bar. You can get it as part of a drink. Or a coffee, so strong coffee. Nothing wrong with that. Yeah. I know some players who actually prefer to have – they're going to have caffeine, they'll have it that way. Maybe with a bit of munch on a little bit banana cake, or something like that. It's finding out what works for the player. Of course, you don't experiment with these things on match day. You find out what works at training.
Maybe have that ready, where – depends on which teams you work with. Whether players, when they come into the dressing room, they've got their own locker with their stuff there sitting in front of. Have what they normally would like ready either in the locker, or brought out just on the seat when they come. They can think about it, they could just pick up a selection from whatever they want to have. Maybe have some other things, perhaps general things on a table, where if suddenly they’re going to say something, somebody else is having, they fancy having a bit of that —
[01:01:14] LB: Mike, I think something that really is important is – and this is, especially from the practitioner, or the sports science, or whoever's involved in influencing players to take these things, is the absolute need to understand the strengths and limitations of these strategies and these products. The underpinning, as you mentioned earlier, understanding the actual biochemistry, the physiology of these things, because on the one hand, okay, it might be a waste of time, but it's not going to be harmful. It could still be a waste of time, or all the other way. It could be a problem.
You might be giving them contaminated products, for example, because you didn't choose your products from a tested line of products. Or, you found something absolutely brand-new on a player on game day. They will have some gastric reaction to it, which I've definitely seen before. It wasn't something I gave them, but somebody gave him a beetroot shot. This guy started coughing up what he thought was blood. The psychological impact of that was like, “You're killing me.” It was the shock of it as well.
Listen, we could talk a long time about those things. I think, let's just – because we haven't got a whole lot of time left here. Do you want to just quickly talk about training day nutrition and what the key considerations should be as it relates to what the evidence tells us currently?
[01:02:37] MG: Well, it's difficult to do in that sense, because like I say, because it all depends what's happening on what you call trading day. Can be a light day. It can be an intense day. It can be the day before the match for them. The guys might just be practicing free kicks, corner routines and things like that, special moves. Very little, what you might think of as normal training.
That influences obviously, the energy requirements and the carbohydrate requirements that are going to be needed. Every day, you're going to need protein for the repair of the muscles to help maintain immune function to allow training adaptation to occur effectively after the training sessions. You need some fat in there in the diet to get the essential fatty acids that we need and also, to get the fat-soluble vitamins.
Most food doesn't taste great if you haven't got something with fat on the place. Things like, you want to cut out dairy, for example, because it's excellent source of calcium, which is another important micronutrient for footballers to maintain strong bones. It has to vary day by day, really. I think, what you have training day nutrition, whereas, you plan for match day and recovery after a match for players who played the full 90 minutes. Then that can be fairly more regimented and much more clearer on what we need for that.
The rest is take into account other issues like, body composition, so you do want players eating too much fat or carbs, but you always want them to maintain a high level of protein intake. Because one of the advantages of that is that's what provides the best [inaudible 01:04:24] as well, so you don't need as much fat carbs, if the aim is to restrict the energy intake, because it's high, it's been a recovery day, or it's essentially a very light training day.
[01:04:38] LB: The reason why I asked that question is because I knew you were going to say it depends. The reason why I wanted to pose that question is, because the difference between looking at a book chapter, or a consensus statement, or whatever is the fact that it is not – it's very static information. It's not texturally, or it's not contextualized for the situation at that time, which – and there are so many different scenarios that can occur. I've used the word chaos already in this conversation. It absolutely can be extremely chaotic.
I think, that that's something that has to be factored in, particularly when we differentiate what people are doing at home, relative to what they'll do at a more controlled environment, such as the club canteen, where the chef, hopefully, is producing something in conjunction with the nutritionist, but that isn't always the case, either. I've seen all sorts of variations on that, all the way through to accessibility to these things on the bus, on the plane, or in the kit bag, in the dressing room. There's so much, isn't there to this, which is why I think it's tempting for people who aren't the nutritionists, or the sports scientists, or nutritionally trained sports scientists, and so on to try and do this all themselves. The reality is that it is complicated. Like you said –
[01:06:07] MG: Oh, yeah. It's difficult. It's difficult, in the sense that people commenting recently about the idea that in some sports there's insufficient energy intake, and that in itself has its own potential health problems that come with that. That might particularly apply in the female gamers, probably even more emphasis on the body composition and the way you look thing, than there is in the male game. When you ask a question, how do you avoid that? How do you actually ensure that the player is getting the right amount and energy for any particular day?
We can't really estimate energy expenditure that accurately for a whole day, for a player even playing a game or on match day, we know what the typical average values are, but that's going to be higher for a heavier player, depending on his position. A midfield player will be expending more calories than say, a central defender. The goalkeeper, of course, is another one who doesn't expend as much energy as any of the outfield players, generally. Yeah.
[01:07:16] LB: Also, playing this week relative to next week is going to be different, isn't it?
[01:07:20] MG: Yeah. You can prescribe energy intake, obviously, really accurately, if you're involving a nutritionist, and the person who's actually preparing the dish, if it’s a nutritionist himself or herself. Actually, estimating an individual's actual energy expenditure on any one day, it's rough guesswork, is where you're at. The other thing is you really have to go on as to whether you're getting it right or not, is well, is their body weight gradually increasing day after day? I this case, you're feeding them too much. They’ll probably tell you, “Well, you’re putting on weight.”
Regular measure into body composition, not DEXA, because you can only do that a limited number of times. I mean, two or three times a year at most, I would suggest, because it involves X-ray radiation, which gives you your gold standard measurement. Other than that, most people just use the bathroom scales to see how they are. Now some of these ones, now you can get with the bioelectrical impedance measurement, so it gives you an estimate of your body fat. It might not be all that dead accurate. If you're measuring yourself the same way, under the same conditions every day, like you measure yourself perhaps first thing in the morning, after you've had a pee, before you've had a drink, measure yourself then. You should get a reasonably reproducible measure from day-to-day that you can prepare with.
I believe, the figure you see in front of you exactly. You can tell whether it's going up, or whether it's going down. Then, you know whether you're in the right ballpark for what you eat. We're humans. We eat to satisfy our hunger.
[01:09:02] LB: Of course.
[01:09:03] MG: Of course. Most of us have a reasonable idea of how much we can eat without putting on weight. As long as you don't do the naughty extras, like drinking too much wine, or something like that, which really –
[01:09:14] LB: Why would anybody want to do that, Mike?
[01:09:16] MG: No, no. That's a no, no for football. You know that.
[01:09:21] LB: It's interesting, Mike. Sorry, it's interesting. I've more than once had this scenario where we'll do say, the equivalent of a pre-season DEXA. Maybe end of season DEXA. We’ll do our ISAK skinfolds throughout the season, but the player goes home and measures himself on his own scales. It tells him that he's whatever percentage body fat. I can't stand it when people talk about percentages, because it's such a misleading area.
It is interesting how impactful that actually can be to the individual, their relationship with their own scales at home, relative to their every six weeks, every three weeks, or whatever it is you get with the club nutritionist. Or the DEXA, the incredibly high-tech methodology that goes there. Just standing on a scale, and also what the player sees themselves through their own lens for their own mind's eye, and their own judgement of their own body composition against their own reference, which is whatever they think people are looking at, whether he's got his six-pack, or whatever.
What I find interesting about this is the power that that can have, and how it can influence eating behaviors and choices. It’s something that I deal with regularly with my own players. It's an interesting one, just that.
[01:10:35] MG: Yeah. Again, it all comes down to education, isn't it? Not letting the player rely on what they hear from their friends, or on the Internet and this and seeing pictures of other people. It’s by telling things. Well, yeah. That scale you've got should measure your body weight pretty accurately. You'd want your money back if it didn't. Take the, like I say, the percentage body fat that you might get from that with a pinch of salt. Just use it to say, well in that particular set of scales, that's what it's telling you. It might be right, or it might be wrong. The important thing is it’s changing from day-to-day. That's the only thing you need to tell. If you think it's going up consistently, or it's going down consistently, tell you nutritionist about that data, or skinfold, or whatever, and put them straight on what now. No, it's not that.
[01:11:25] LB: My guy illustrates to me, an important part of my day-to-day job as a practitioner in a team sport environment is going out of my way to have conversations with players and get their buy-in and their trust, because otherwise, it's all too easy for them to believe in other sources of information, or interpret information, like the body fat percentage on a bathroom scale, as opposed to what you're assessing with your own methodology. For all the science that exists and all the degrees that people might have, and published papers in this, that and the other, it is, and I guess, we should end on this point, because we're going to be guilty of talking for hours about this stuff, is this idea of translating the science to practice.
As I started this conversation, that's something that you're familiar with. It is something that I'm obsessed with, science to practice. What are your maybe final thoughts about that? I guess, given you've been on both sides of that. Any concerns, if you have any, with regards to just how far off the reservation that translation can go sometimes. Maybe we just need to be mindful of basic things, as opposed to the ultra-complex areas.
[01:12:40] MG: Well, yeah. I think, from the player's perspective, not over complicated things, but just trying to perhaps, explain a little bit of the – not so much the science, the reasoning behind what you're trying to advise them to do. Really be getting that as early an age as possible at academy level. Get players into good habits at the start of their careers, and they're much more likely to carry on with that, because that then becomes the norm to them.
I'm a great believer in educating people, so that they understand. It's all very well saying, oh, you should be eating this, or you should be eating that. The first thing any intelligent player is going to say, “Well, why? Why can't I eat this instead? I don't like that one. Why am I going to have that?” Yeah. Is there an alternative to beetroot juice? Luckily, nowadays, there are. There's a number of other different sources of that, or you can get it from a selection of natural foods that you can eat. It doesn't all have to be beetroot. It can be leafy greens and things like that, and other root vegetables that have it, and rhubarbs is another good source that's not often mentioned. There's other ways of getting these things. Ultimately, it's about, yeah, again, getting back to education and helping people understand why they should be doing what the experts are supposedly trying to get them to do.
[01:14:06] LB: Yeah. No, absolutely. Again, it’s that thing of obsession over the science and there's oh, this research is shown that nitrates will have this particular potential impact. Then, we go out of our way to do everything we possibly can to have them taking all that beetroot shots, and this, that and the other. The reality is that it may well have an impact, but relative to the bigger picture, it may not be the most important thing that you need to be factoring in.
That's why I mentioned, that understanding the strengths and limitations, but also being able to step back and take that bigger picture perspective and make those cost to benefit decisions. Because you can really confuse people. If you start talking about everything that we know in sport and exercise nutrition, or sports science, which actually isn't that much yet. I mean, obviously, I think if we're totally realistic, we're still very much on a learning journey. We just have to be careful about how that's imparted over to the public, which is why just finishing up on this consensus statement, it took years to bring about.
It's a relatively short document in many ways. You could imagine the ultimate playbook for sports nutrition interventions, could be this massive textbook, like your third edition of the sport and exercise nutrition, which is very much the Bible for our students. The reality is that there are some key areas, of course. Football is a game that involves lots of moving parts and considerations. I guess, we just have to be careful with that.
[01:15:38] MG: Oh, yeah. Nutrition is only one part of it. Some will play a small part. Some people, like Arsène Wenger, I think, and Brendan Rodgers and the guys who are in the know, [inaudible 01:15:46], Sir Alex Ferguson, going back to here. Those guys realize the importance of nutrition, or what we're missing by ignoring nutrition effectively, which what they were doing 30 years ago, and taking that onboard. At the time, over those early years, the first managers to adopt that probably gained some considerable advantage to the performance of their players over the opposing teams that were still acting like dinosaurs when it came to nutrition.
[01:16:17] LB: Well, that's a good point. I think, that brings us to the –
[01:16:19] MG: Impact [inaudible 01:16:20] depending on the context of when you look at it, beyond it.
[01:16:23] LB: Absolutely. Well, I think, look, football, soccer, it's a competitive sport. Even for amateurs, they can get pretty competitive. I guess, the spirit of marginal gains, or whatever, it is not necessarily the same as certain skill sets you need to acquire as a talented football player, and your fitness levels and this, that and the other. It is up there with an important factor, isn't it, Mike?
[01:16:50] MG: Yeah. I think, if you ignore nutrition, it's a potential for disaster really. That had been the take home message that it does play a role, not only in performance and recovery, but in your overall health as well. We should all be eating healthily and well and not exceeding our energy requirements and having they shouldn’t.
[01:17:12] LB: Absolutely. I think, that brings us to one more statement that I constantly misquote, but it's something along the lines of great nutrition won't make a bad, or an average athlete, an elite athlete. Poor nutrition can potentially downgrade an elite athlete to not such an elite athlete. I think, that's an important perspective, either which way, it should be an important part of one's strategy to becoming a better, more robust football player.
Anyway, listen, Mike, we're in danger of having a multi-section podcast here. I have lined up a whole bunch of guests, actually, who are practitioners working in a variety of premier league and national football teams, where we're going to talk about the perspective of the performance nutritionist. I’ve also got a performance chef coming on to have a good chat with them, and a number of other people one way or the other. Of course, the usual theme of this podcast, some of the more technical and more sciency stuff, like when we had a conversation with you about nutrition and immunity for athletes. We've got a lot of those things coming up as well.
I wanted to thank you for your time. I always enjoy having a good chat with you, Mike. Your passion not only for science, but football is evident. I bought this copy of your book, Mike. I can honestly say, that it is now another really useful part of my kitbag that I travel around with, because there are some really great resources, both to the practitioner, the nutritionist, but also to the player, which is what I love about that book.
Of course, the consensus statement, as I mentioned right at the beginning is an essential part of my football nutritionist toolbox. I will link to all of these things in in the notes. I hope, you don't totally disappear into retirement, Mike. Hopefully, we'll get you back on for some more conversations in the near future. I just wanted to thank you on behalf myself and the listeners for all of your invaluable information, advice and little tidbits that you've given us today.
[01:19:16] MG: Thank you, Laurent. It's been a pleasure as always. I look forward to listening to those upcoming podcasts that you've got. It's a great resource you have here, and I always enjoy listening to these.
[01:19:27] LB: Thank you. I love it.
[01:19:28] MG: At the age of 66, I continue to learn something new all the time and you never stop learning.
[01:19:34] LB: I love it. I love having these chats, just from a selfish perspective. If everyone is listening in and gets to benefit, then that's even better. Anyway, thank you very much, Mike. Take care of yourself.
[01:19:45] MG: Thank you. Pleasure.
Here are some great episodes to start with. Or, check out episodes by topic.