Episode 179 of the Institute of Performance Nutrition's "We Do Science" podcast! In this episode, I (Laurent Bannock) discuss "In the Trenches with a Performance Nutritionist" with featuring Matt Jones MSc SENR, Nutrition Consultant with West Ham United FC and the Scottish FA (UK).
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[00:00:00] LB: Welcome back to the Institute of Performance Nutrition's We Do Science podcasts. This is episode 179. Yes, I'm starting to knock these out. I said I would try and get these out every Friday. And sure enough, this is what is happening. I've got some incredible episodes coming up for you with researchers, scientists, early-level practitioners, performance chefs, you name it. If it's relevant to the science or practice of sport and exercise nutrition, that is what I'm aiming to impact through this podcast.
And today, or earlier today, I had a conversation, another one of my In the Trenches conversations with a performance nutritionist. And today, it was Matt Jones. Matt Jones is an experienced performance nutritionist working currently with West Ham and, I believe, Chelsea Women's, Chelsea Women's Football Club. And has, like myself, extensive national team, international team experience says, which we've actually talked about before when we did a podcast all about Ramadan, where both of us had worked with Muslim athletes and the challenges that Ramadan has on that, which I'll also link to the notes to today's podcast.
Anyway, today, we talked about Matt and his career path. Where he started? His education experiences and all the sort of problems, and mistakes, and challenges that presented themselves to him working all over the globe to where he is now back here in the UK working primarily in elite football. Anyway, there's huge amounts to learn there.
The reason why I'm doing this is because I believe there is a huge amount to learn to benefit from by listening to and learning from experienced practitioners. This isn't just for those of you that are aspiring or indeed current early career practitioners, even if you're long in the tooth like me, an old dog, so to speak, in the field. There's so much to be gathered it from everyone because everyone's experiences are very unique to them in the context of their life, and their own approaches, and circumstances and so on.
But also, if you're a scientist, researcher, PhD student, that sort of thing, hopefully these In the Trenches conversations and, indeed, the ones I'm having now with performance chefs in the kitchen conversations will have an impact on you in terms of helping you with some of your decisions for research. Expanding not just the body of theoretical knowledge, but also applied knowledge, the sort of strategies, the solutions that we need in day-to-day practice, which is very different, of course, from the environment of a laboratory and/or a classroom.
Anyway, hopefully you will all find this of benefit. To catch up with all the latest podcasts, just go to our website at www.theiopn.com where you can see all the latest episodes and notes. Over the coming month or so, there's going to be some huge developments to the podcast section of our website where there will be significant enhanced resources and so on. But it's still well worth a visit in the meantime.
And whilst you're there, check out our new postgraduate level diploma in sports nutrition, entirely focused on applying science into practice. It's entirely a unique program. We've got some really exciting announcements to make that are related to our new version of our advanced diploma in sports nutrition. By the time this podcast publishes, we'll be very close to making those announcements.
Also, check out our SENPRO software platform there to assist you with working with individual clients and/or in team settings or group coaching settings as a sports nutritionist or as a nutrition coach working with active people. Anyway, it's all there. Sport and exercise nutrition related, knowledge tools resources, that's what we're about at the IPON. Come check us out.
Anyway, here is my conversation with Matt Jones. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
[00:04:16] LB: Hi, and welcome back to the Institute of Performance Nutrition's We Do Science podcast. And welcome back, Matt Jones. How are you, mate?
[00:04:23] MJ: I'm doing really well. Thanks, Laurent. How are you?
[00:04:25] LB: Good. Yeah, good. Good. Busy like you. Lots of stuff's going on. I've been teasing listeners that we've got some big news that I've just told you about, but we're not going to say it yet until I officially can announce it. But, yeah, it's all very exciting. I said welcome back because, of course, this isn't the first time we've had a chat on We Do Science where you and I had a really great conversation about nutrition and hydration as it relates to athletes and Ramadan.
And the reason for that is because we both worked in that environment. You having even more experience than I on that particular topic. We did that a few years ago actually. I know the podcast has been listened to uh multiple times. And also, I had a similar chat with one of our graduates, Muhammad Saad, where we did a podcast with him as well. It was quite nice to do a combination of those things. But I'm going to come back to that because that's an interesting topic that I want to get back into.
But I've known you for a while now. We were just talking. You came and gave a talk in the early days of the IOPN. And the reason why I'd reached out to you back then and the reason why I'm reaching out to you now again is because I feel that there's huge value in listening to learning from practitioners with good education and, in particular, great experience.
And of course, fast forward to where you are now, you've had loads of experience which you can tell us all about in a minute. Because the point of today's episode is one of these In the Trenches with. And in this case, it's In the Trenches with Matt Jones.
Look, Matt, before we get into what it's been like to be a performance nutritionist at the lofty heights of international practice that you're at now, but in particular, I also want to delve into how you even got here. And what were the various things? And some of this was prompted by an article that came out on Sky Sports Online where a journalist had interviewed you about your insights as a nutritionist at a Premier League Club, which of course you're going to tell us all about in a minute. But who are you, Matt? And where are you working now?
[00:06:35] MJ: Yeah, thanks, Laurent. As you say, I've been working as a sports nutritionist for perhaps 12 years now. That's 12 years of failing multiple times and learning, adapting, and moving on and progressing in my career, which has been fantastic.
I currently work as a sports nutritionist consultant with West Ham United and also do a little bit of consultancy work with the Scottish National Team as well. But I guess, if we go right back to the beginning, and obviously like most sports nutritionists, I was a fairly competitive athlete. I was playing football, rugby to quite a high standard to be honest.
And to be honest, thinking about it now, there's obviously a lot of research around low energy availability and things like that. But had I have known that back then, I probably wouldn't have been playing both sports, because that ultimately probably led to my injuries. I tore my ACL at the age of 18 and like rushed through the first rehab and then did it again at the age of 19, like less than 12 months later. And it was kind of during that period really that I became fascinated with nutrition and the way that food, and fluid, and supplements back then as well, because supplements were becoming like a really big thing, of course. Well, that was kind of like the early days of the internet when MyProtein had like really basic websites.
And so, yeah, I became really, really fascinated by the role of nutrition and started reading about it. And in those days, it was kind of like mainly in magazines and books and things that you pick up in libraries and the local news agents. It certainly wasn't evidence-based practice. It was pretty sketchy information.
I then went on to do an undergraduate degree in sports science. But to be honest, the only module really that stimulated me was the sports nutrition when I was kind of like really looking forward to that and found myself really engaged in that topic. It was quite clear that sports science in general was not really for me.
I went on to do a master's in nutrition science at Chester University, which was fantastic. It was great because there was a very strong dietetics element to that thing. It was very much like food focused. Obviously, the sports science degree was great because it provided me with that like underpinning understanding of physiological requirements and energy systems and that kind of thing. And then that, coupled with the dietetics elements, was really great actually.
And I was quite fortunate to pick up some internships with Wards, and Wolves, and Liverpool Football Club, and The Academy, and the Welsh Rugby Union as well. And that applied experience was fantastic as well. It just allowed me to really apply that information, that knowledge, that I was gathering at university. And also make mistakes in those early days.
To be honest, people ask me how I first got into sports nutrition. I actually literally opened the door into the first club. And it was actually my ISAK qualification that opened the doors, because I did my ISAK qualification when I received my master's. And I have no clue. It was like 2010 perhaps. And, yeah, back then, there probably wasn't many people with an ISAK qualification. Never mind like anyone that knew how to use skinfold calipers.
I basically just went out to local clubs and said that I can assess body composition for you. Free of charge by then of course. And that opened doors. And then started conversations with players and staff members. And then, yeah, the network grew. And started working with Stoke City and Sheffield Wednesday. And to be honest, the Stoke City job probably came about too soon. I was making big mistakes in the Premier League, of course, with elite – Well, fairly elite players back then. That was in like the good days when Stoke City were actually a decent side, of course.
And, yeah, that was probably three years after my masters. At that point, I was relatively comfortable with my understanding of nutrition. My understanding was growing. My practical skills were improving. But then, at Stoke, I was also faced with the challenges of foreign players. Like, Brazilian players, and what Middle Eastern players, and Asian players. To be honest, I really struggled with that because I felt quite comfortable and confident managing the diet of a British person. But the cultural elements were really quite challenging. Talking to a player about like chicken and potatoes when they would prefer like Biryani rice and things like that was challenging.
I was offered opportunity to go out and work with an armed forces, the UAE Armed Forces over in Abu Dhabi. And so, back then, again, just take every opportunity. That was my kind of philosophy really. Literally, just dive in and learn and try and expose yourself to as many different environments as possible. And as I say, I was feeling a little bit uncomfortable in those situations with foreign individuals. I just dove in at the deep end and try to adapt.
I think I've told this story before, but when I first arrived at the UAE Armed Forces, no one actually spoke to me for around about six months, because I didn't have a military background. They really didn't understand nor appreciate the role of nutrition in the military, especially in that region. And there was also no immediate security threat. So, they would just like sat back in the office drinking coffee all day really.
And if like war did happen to come about, they'd probably pay someone else to come and defend them. It was challenging. And, yeah, as I say, I didn't really achieve much at all in those first six months. I had to like find ways to develop relationships. And I realized that like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was a big part of what they do. To be honest, it's part of their – What's it called? Ranking system? If you go through the belts and then improve, you get a higher ranking in the military. It's really deeply ingrained into Middle East, well, in the UAE particularly.
And so, every morning they would go and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And I realized that if I was to develop a relationship with any of these officers, I would have to go and sacrifice myself in some of these sessions. And so, lo and behold, again, just take the opportunity. Dive in. I got choked out many times. Tapped out. I was certainly a white belt, the whitest of white belts as well. And I wasn't very good. But I started to develop relationships and started to then have conversations. Invited into the officer's office literally and start talking about how I can apply some really basic nutrition stuff in the military and help them.
And I think that environment that I threw myself into really, really helped shaped me as a practitioner. Because I was also dealing with an interpreter. So, obviously, they speak Arabic. And the soldiers didn't really speak a word of English. I was dealing with this interpreter or translator. His name was Omar. He was from Lebanon. I remember him incredibly well. He was a short chubby guy. But he was also incredibly lazy. I would go to him with this like 20-page document that I needed to translate and he would say, "No. I'm not doing that. You need to make that more concise. If it's anything longer than four pages, I'm not doing it for you. And if I don't understand it, then I'm not going to do it either."
Again, all those like abstract nutrition-related terminology that I had, I had to think of ways like, really creative ways, to condense that down into really concise, practical and relevant information. Again, that really helped shaped me as a practitioner. Because it's like simple, simplicity, that's a big part of my philosophy now as a practitioner.
Yeah, those years in Abu Dhabi. Not only was the lifestyle incredible, but the work that I was doing. Granted I didn't really achieve much and probably didn't leave much of a mark there. But for myself, it was the perfect place to learn and develop as a practitioner.
I quickly grew bored of those challenges constantly battling Omar to translate these things for me. I left there. I was also working as a consultant with the Saudi Arabian National Team. That was quite nice because it provided some stimulation during the international breaks and things. We actually qualified for the 2018 World Cup. It was quite successful.
Again, that was an incredible learning experience, like traveling over to the Asian qualification games in Thailand. And we were stuck in Bangkok traffic two hours before the kickoff because some operations man had booked the wrong hotel. We had to travel across the city in peak rush hour. So, we were eating the pre-match meal literally on the bus, which was again a huge challenge as a practitioner. All great experiences.
And then went over to the US to work at the University of Oregon. In all honesty, that didn't go so well. It was a huge culture shock for my wife more so than myself. Well, for myself it was a huge culture shock. But she was obviously sitting on beaches and swimming in the sea. And then she went to Oregon, which is like very cold, and very mountainous, and very outdoorsy, which was amazing, but it was just, yeah, polar opposites. It was a very extreme difference.
And then myself, working in the Middle East, where everything's very relaxed and slow paced. You probably wait two or three weeks for a translation. In the US, everything is like full-on. I was working from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m. some days and six days a week perhaps. And yeah, it was just really, really intense and challenging. But again, a great experience.
And then my wife was pregnant as well. That added additional layers of complexity. She had this like crazy Visa where she couldn't work in the US. And there was a lot of like mental battles, mental health battles, over there to be honest. We decided to come home. We had our first child. And then since, I've been working here in England with Brentford's initially as soon as I got back. And then Chelsea Women. And then West Ham United and the Scotland National Team. That's pretty much, yeah, a grand tour of where I've been.
And right at the beginning, I also spent some time in Brazil as well with Exos. And very similar to Abu Dhabi, no one spoke English. No one really understood or appreciated nutrition. They just wanted to play football. And that was great for me as well, because I realized that I need to explain how nutrition can help these guys play football to a higher level or more frequently. Because, ultimately, all they want to do is play and perform. In the literal sense, show off. And so, I need to shape my messages in a way that allows them to understand how the food they eat can actually make them perform better. Again, that was a great learning experience as well.
[00:17:42] LB: Wow! Matt, I mean, come on. This is your life. If anyone remembers that great show. I mean, there's so much there. One thing that strikes me in particular, as it does in every one of these In the Trenches conversations I have with an experienced practitioner like yourself, is just how all varied everyone's backgrounds are and how fascinating it is just listening to that. It's sort of a fly on a wall on the reel of your life this past 12 years. I mean, that is a lot of stuff that you've done traveling around the world.
But I guess a particularly important thing that obviously came out of your very honest statements there was the positioning of you as a human being, a normal human being who finds himself in this case in situations and circumstances where you're like a deer in the headlights going, "What the F is going on here?" But of course, it's from those circumstances comes the greatest amount of learning.
Obviously, to me having – I've had lots of similar backgrounds too. I find that interesting. But it's the learning that comes from those experiences that enriches you to the level that it appears to me that every time that's happened, you've actually gone up a level. You've said that there are certain things that shaped you particularly in the UAE and so on.
But it also strikes me though that, despite that, you've not walked into these things with a level of fear. You're clearly not risk-averse as it relates to yourself, possibly more so now that you're a husband and a parent obviously. And these are the sort of things I want to get into because there's a lot of current, of course, who will be sitting there nodding going, "Yup, yup, yup." But there's a lot of people listening to this going, "I want to be a performance nutritionist." And they've got no idea what that even means. And they certainly – A lot of what you've just said would be just total news to them. Like, "Wow! I thought you'd just get your degree, get a job." And obviously, it's not that simple.
Anyway, just to come back to you quickly just because we're talking from a reflective perspective. As you sit here as an experienced aging parent and practitioner with 12 massive years under your belt already, as you reflect back on that – And I would normally end the podcast this way, but I think it seems poignant right now. You've got this opportunity in your time machine to talk to yourself, the young Matt Jones, on sort of year one, year two, if you could know then what you know now, are there a few things that you'd sit – Almost talking to your son. What would you say to yourselves as they sit there staring at those bright lights in that journey, that road that's ahead?
[00:20:28] MJ: Yeah, that's a really good question. I guess, coming out of university, you've got all this like nutrition knowledge. And I think that's to the mass public, to the general public, that's still quite abstract. I think like my message to my younger self would be really focus on translating that in a way. Not necessarily translating the language in the literal sense, but translating that into actionable information.
Obviously, in research papers, you'll read about like 30 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrate and stuff like that. And obviously, you could then literally go and apply that and talk in a conversation with an athlete and say, "Well, you need 50 grams of carbohydrate." But they're going to walk out the door and think you're a lunatic, like, "What do I actually do with that? that's not really helpful to me."
Talking in the language of food and, literally, mind the gap. Mind the gap between that research paper and practice and fill in the gap and try and translate that. Obviously, that's been taught about quite widely recently as well. And Graham Close, I think he's talked about that. And so, yeah, I think I'd go back and really invest time and effort into simplifying everything.
[00:21:40] LB: Yeah. Well, that's music to my ears, of course. Because our entire focus, which was what I did my doctorate on, was all about bridging the gap between science and practice. This conversation forms part of that bridging process so that aspiring practitioners and researchers who are looking to not just expand the body of knowledge, but provide research outputs that are relevant to help you inform practice, in day-to-day practice. And of course, that's where we differentiate things like applied research and basic research. I think the word basic is slightly misleading, because basic research refers to a lot of that tightly controlled laboratory type research, which there's nothing basic about that at all.
But the applied bit is interesting. Because, of course, what you're describing is the application of your knowledge that you've acquired through sports science and sports nutrition into a context in which you are aiming to achieve an outcome, which is improving performance, and body composition, and so on.
But clearly, what's interesting here is you talk about language. But in your own experiences, as I had also, when you're dealing with people who don't actually speak your language, literally don't speak your language, you are forced to attempt to communicate in different ways. And perhaps that's one of the greatest learning experiences of all. Because we talk to somebody in English and, yes, okay, you can differentiate English, from American English, to Canadian, and Australian, and so on. But ultimately, we sort of know what each other's saying, but definitely not when English is not their language at all or it's their fifth language. Particularly in that aspect of communication, what were your experiences since you have been everywhere from the UK, to the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and so on? Just interested to know your reflections on that.
[00:23:33] MJ: Yeah. I think analogies, improvisation. I think they were huge parts of what I was doing. So, protein. Using protein – Or describing protein as like bricks. You need to consume protein. And it's broken down into the bricks that will help grow and repair tissue. Carbohydrates, like, you've got small petrol tanks in your muscle. And when you eat carbohydrate, the petrol tank fills up. And when you do any intense action, the petrol tank will drop. Those analogies were really important, of course.
And I was really influenced by a book called Made to Stick as well by Chip and Dan Heath. I think they also wrote a book called The Power of Moments. And in that book, they have six principles. I think it's the success principles. And I'm just going to read them because I've forgotten them actually.
But the first one is simple. Everything has to be very simple. We've touched on that really. And then unexpected, and concrete, credible, emotional, and then stories. That book really is all about creating messages that stick in your mind. And to be honest, it's kind of more relevant to adverts and marketing and things like that. But that really helped shaped my messages to people that I was working with. Because, ultimately, you need to develop a message in such a way that, when they leave the room, they actually remember it and they don't forget it as soon as they close the door. So, Made to Stick. That book itself was incredibly useful to me.
And yeah, coupled that with the analogies and then making everything concise and simple as I talked about earlier. Everything has to be to the point, whether they're like waffle or no jargon. Obviously, in the applied sense, you don't get any credit for scientific jargon, unfortunately. Ultimately, you have to kind of eradicate that from your practice and really focus on those simple actionable information.
[00:25:24] LB: Yeah, it's funny, you should mention that. I remember back in the early days, and this would have been about the time when you – I remember you doing a presentation for us on – Well, we're now the IOPN. But we've evolved in our own path. And around that time, I remember listening to a presentation by James Morton, now Professor James Marton. And he came out with a comment, which really stuck with me and has always stuck with me. And it was something along the lines of, "If you want to sound like what you're talking about you, need to actually know what you're talking about."
And I think that that comment is deep in many ways. Because lots of people, they like to show off whether it's verbally, or in blogs, or whatever. And they all want to be sciency. And of course, Louise Burke's written a whole thing about that. And some of these people actually are qualified, but they don't not necessarily understand things sufficiently enough to be able to explain this to their grandmother or, in this case, to a football player.
Now granted, you and I have met some seriously intelligent football players. And I'm not suggesting football players aren't intelligent. Intelligent comes in many forms. But not every one of them graphs science in particular, particularly if they don't speak English as a first language. I find that really interesting that you've had that experience.
Now, what about people though that do speak your language? And I'm thinking your experiences at places like Stoke and Brentford, but also University of Oregon and so on, where you yourself are faced with that challenge of communicating with people who, on first sort of experience, first thought, they are speaking the same language as you. But perhaps they're not. What were your learnings from that situation?
[00:27:05] MJ: I think the methods that I used to assess someone's nutrition knowledge was quite useful in that regard, because I would use like nutrition knowledge questionnaires to literally have like an insight's approach. So, you can literally find out what they know, what they don't know. Because I think the traditional way of educating people, especially footballers in that group environment, is not the best way to go about it really. You'll get a group of people from a whole host of different backgrounds and they know completely different things. And if you talk to a footballer about carbohydrate and they already know about carbohydrate, the chances are they start picking their nose and flicking boobies at everyone. And then everyone just like becomes distracted and just chaos ensues.
First and foremost, you have to understand your players as individuals, obviously from a nutrition perspective. Also, a knowledge perspective. That nutrition knowledge questionnaire is really useful. It helps, as I say, pick out the weaknesses. And then you can work on those weaknesses, those individual gaps in in knowledge.
Yeah, that was my method really. And just first and foremost, analyze the environment. Analyze the group. Not just their like nutrient requirements, but as I say, their understanding and also appreciation of nutrition. Some guys literally really don't understand how food can help them. It's literally going right back to square one. And you might think square one is like energy balance and stuff like that. Well, no. Square one is actually getting someone to understand that the food they eat can actually influence every single cell in their body almost. And it can influence them as a human. And it allows them to develop this like foundation of health from which they can flourish as a footballer. Yeah, in many cases, that was required as well.
[00:28:52] LB: Yeah, because it's just always interesting to hear. Like I said, people get their degrees. They learn about something. But invariably, what they're not taught is how to actually operate as a practitioner in this environment. These things just aren't – Well, at least over the years, they haven't been the focus. It's been energy balance, or macros, or how to create a nutrition plan that ultimately the team chef is going to look at you and go, "Get out of my kitchen." Speaking of language. And we'll come back to that. Because I've certainly found that the team chef or chefs have been very important people that you need to learn to interact with, who absolutely aren't going to be interested in you wasting their time.
But just quickly, you made a point. And now that you're a disciplinarian parent, this will be an interesting question to ask you at this point in your life. But when we find ourselves in these team settings, there is very much a difference between interacting with a player particularly on their own somewhere discrete, which we'll talk about more in a minute. But as a group of people, they're larking around, having a laugh. There's the banter. There's the passing around. Flicking bogeys. I mean, I've got all sorts of memories in changing rooms, in dressing rooms, which I can't even and talk about. Some serious stuff happens there that you think, "Jesus! What's going on?"
But in all seriousness, how do you get yourself taken seriously, Matt? Because that is a massive frightening moment for a practitioner certainly realizing what the real world is actually like in these settings, male or female. Because you've worked with both male and female teams. I can imagine all sorts of experiences.
[00:30:30] MJ: Yeah, that's a really good question. Because I think you've got to develop that credibility first and foremost. And that often requires like highlighting the lowest hanging fruit and having an impact. Literally, it could be there's a slightly overweight footballer. And you pick on him for like a month and get him to lose weight. And then everyone sees, "Oh, he's lost weight. And that guy allowed him to lose weight. So, he must know what he's doing."
If you are going in like completely blind. No one really knows about you. You have no real history in sports and nutrition or reputation in sports. And, yeah, highlighting the lowest hanging fruit and then hammering that and having an impact in that space.
Also, really developing a relationship with the leaders within the group as well and establishing a relationship. Most likely, they're the role model as well within the group. And if you're seen to be speaking with the role model and the leader, then everyone else is more likely to speak with you as well. I think they're two quick wins really, lowest hanging fruit and have an impact there almost immediately. And then develop relationships with the big characters.
[00:31:40] LB: Yeah, I think a big word, beginning with our relationships, is absolutely massive. I know we've all made massive mistakes in our careers. And I remember for me, the big problem used to be you go in and then you just sit there in the cafeteria, or you sit somewhere. Or even worse, out of sight somewhere, like in an office, where body comps are happening and say, "Right, I'm available. Anyone wants to come see me." And it's crickets. Absolutely nobody comes to see you.
You have to develop a situation. You have to find those opportunities, don't you? Where you've got to face it, you're turning up. You're not the most important person in their life. In fact – And we'll talk about this in a minute, because we talked about this in my recent podcast with Rachel Muse, who's a performance chef, about the reality that particularly at the more elite end of football, soccer, basketball, wherever, depending on the types of contracts these players have. But an awful lot of them have their own private nutritionists, private chefs, which can be a real issue for some practitioners. They can take it very personally. I've met a few that have really taken it personally when they've discovered that I've been working with one of the players. It's just the reality. That's just how it is.
But before we get to that conversation, a reflection of some of the circumstances that have enabled you to develop those relationships with players where they have felt actually, "Yeah, I can spend a bit of my busy day talking to this guy." These are invaluable gems for some of the young anger practitioners. And of course, we've all got different ways of doing it. But what have you found over the years has been useful to you?
[00:33:17] MJ: This is going to sound like a ridiculous answer. But just being like a good person, I guess? Like, eye contact. Being honest, authentic, trustworthy. So, you're not like getting some information and then all of a sudden spreading that to someone else. And so, it's like you create that safe space. And, yeah, I guess those really soft skills, like, people skills.
[00:33:37] LB: Yeah, things like, if you don't know, you don't know. But say it. But I'll go figure it out and come back to you. And then actually do as you promised. Actually come back and do it, right? It's things like that. That's what you mean, isn't it?
[00:33:47] MJ: Exactly. Reliable. Yeah, reliability, credible, honest. Yeah.
[00:33:51] LB: What about that situation where you need to get noticed, though? I completely agree. I think those traits of being reliable, trustworthy, approachable, having eye contact, not hiding somewhere are obviously things. But the reality will be you've still got to try and actually get noticed. And there are opportunities that you can do this, whether it – Well, traveling for me was always a good one. The sitting down to eat maybe another in the training rooms. But you've also got to bear in mind that you could be invading their personal space. And actually, you might piss them off a bit as well. What are your thoughts on that?
[00:34:28] MJ: Yeah. I think moving away from the traditional forms of education is like really important, I think. Realizing that you can have as much impact in a 30-second conversation in the corridor or maybe even in the toilet as you can in like a proper lecture theater, where you're talking for 30 minutes. Obviously, it's an informal setting. It's generally when you're like one-on-one with a player. So, it creates that like more of a safe space, if you like, for them.
But I think another thing, when you work in professional sport, you realize that players are actually learning new things literally every single day. They're learning new skills, new tactics. They've got playbooks. In America, for instance, I was privy to the playbook of a quarterback. And honestly, it was huge. And this guy had to remember it like everything in the heat of the moment during the game in front of like 60,000, 70,000 people. And that was college sport, of course.
You have to realize that they do learn things every single time. And you need to kind of appreciate how they're learning things. It might be on the field. And a coach has an impact on the field because all his information is like it's more of an instruction and it's actionable. And the player can understand how that's going to directly influence their performance in their next play or in the next game or whatever it is. That really helped shape my messaging as well. Because the player, it has to be relevant to football to their performance. And then the player has to also understand the immediate impact of that recommendation. What is that actually going to do for me on the pitch, or my health, or my body composition, or whatever it might be?
Yeah, I think moving away from that traditional mode of education. I think there is room for that from time to time. But I think you've got to be a little bit more innovative in the way that you deliver that. If it is a group lecture, make it really short and make it really funny as well or unexpected. Get some comedy involved. Or make it into like a video that you can share on the athlete management system or something like that. And again, make it really funny and entertaining so they actually engage with it.
I think I spoke with Scott Robinson a few months ago about making nutrition trendy. Because I think that's what the fitness industry does so well. Obviously, the fitness industry is full of nonsense for the most part. But they make nutrition or fitness, in general, very trendy and cool, if you like. And that's something that we're probably not so good at. So, we need to like transition more or make it a little bit cooler.
Yeah, I'm not sure if I answered the question.
[00:37:04] LB: No. You did. Yeah. Well, what's interesting about all of this is there's no specific right or wrong way of doing these things. There's just good ways and better ways. And then there's some absolute faux pas.
And I think what comes up in a lot of these In the Trenches conversations and also with my first In the Kitchen with Chef Rachel Muse, for example, was the need to consider what it is that you're doing and how you communicate through the lens through the years of your intended audience, which isn't necessarily just the player. It might be the coach. It might be the strength conditioning people. You've got to think about it. Because not everybody – I mean, face it. Sadly, not everyone really is that interested in nutrition or sports nutrition. And in fact, you're sort of the bearer of bad news. And you might be perceived to be the sort of the policeman, or mister negative guy, or, "Oh, God! He's going to tell me I can't eat this. You can't do that." It's all very negative, negative, negative.
But also, the way in which our profession can communicate not just verbally, but sort of the creation of very boring meal plans. Or like I said, the chefs are like, "I'm not even going near that because that's got nothing to do with what –" Well, to use your comment about making nutrition sexy. Making it appealing. Making it tasty. Making it desirable is something that potentially is lacking since you are heavily involved as a sports nutritionist in that transition from science into practice. And more importantly, from how science should be used to inform those recommendations into practice, into the player's mouths, and into their stomach and actually do what actually needs to be done. There's quite a lot that's involved. Who are the stakeholders that you find useful in that process to achieving success in that situation?
[00:38:50] MJ: Yeah, I think there's multiple stakeholders. But as you mentioned, the chef is a key stakeholder, key relationship there. The operations department, because they generally manage the budget and things like that. I've worked with a variety of different budgets. And blowing budgets can quite easily make some enemies within clubs. And then the performance department as well. Yeah, I would say there's –
[00:39:12] LB: I think an interesting conversation is also one that occurs between you and other people that are in the athletes environment, whether it's strength conditioning coaches, whether it's personal trainers, their own nutritionists and so on. What have your experiences been in that regard where the understanding is that you're just part of the team that works with them.
Yes, there are scenarios where, as you do, you have one-to-one private clients. But also, in that sort of community group team setting, it's a very different position that you hold in terms of influence. What are your experiences –
[00:39:51] MJ: Yeah. Yeah. Well, honestly, my reflections on this are quite chilling and quite like grounding as a sports nutritionist. Because when you work in different environments where they don't really understand or appreciate nutrition, you see some like quite remarkable things. When I was working with the Saudi Arabia National Team, oftentimes, on game day, players wouldn't eat anything. And they probably wouldn't drink all that much. And yet, they'd still go out and perform at like high levels against good, standard opposition, they'd win games.
Granted they probably wouldn't be able to do that consistently across the course of the season. But it really helped knock me down a little bit in a way and just realize that nutrition is just part of this bigger puzzle. And me going on there and being all gung-ho and enthusiastic is fantastic. But ultimately, you need to get this like reality check in a way. And nutrition is just a part of the puzzle. And so, appreciating and understanding that multi-disciplinary team is critical really.
And obviously, me and you, we see everything through that nutrition lens. It's great we always have like a nutrition solution for a performance problem, if you like. Yeah, you have to work and appreciate the role of everyone else.
And I think, obviously – By the way, back to when I was playing sport myself. Obviously, I was exposed to different coaches, different strength conditioning coaches, and physiotherapists and stuff. I guess I started to develop that understanding there about how performance is influenced by so many different things. And I was heavily reliant upon the physical elements. So, strength conditioning and stuff. I didn't focus as much on the other elements.
But, yeah, in professional sport, you have that multi-disciplinary team. And you have to take advantage of that. Because each element is a tool that you can use to raise the performance of individuals and the team itself.
[00:41:38] LB: Yeah. I mean, look, there's so much to this. And really, we're just having a slice or a crack in the door of one's experiences, because every day is completely different, of course. It isn't a perfectly planned, mapped-out situation. I think something that's always struck me in my own experiences is just how you wake up on a day with a certain expectation of how that day is going to go. And the reality is something completely different.
But particularly relevant to this conversation is the situation whereby you're providing advice and recommendations, whether it's to individual players. And we'll get into how we do that in a minute. But when those plans need to change rapidly, I mean, that's a pretty frightening situation. Now, it might not actually be that detrimental as you've just pointed out. But to us, it is a panic-inducing moment. What are your reflections and thoughts on that?
[00:42:31] MJ: Yeah, I certainly need to be better at that. Honestly, I'm a good panicker, that's for sure. So, yeah, there's been many occasions, as you say. Like, being stuck in Thailand in the middle of Bangkok and having to prepare a pre-match meal. Like, rustle together some cereal bars and some really cold, horrible monkey bread to basically get some carbohydrate in players. You just have to think outside the box, I guess.
And obviously, food is just a vehicle to deliver nutrients at the end of the day. And the vehicle looks very different. And 50 grams of carbohydrate could be in bread, or it could be cereal, or it could be fruit juice. In those times, you just have to like look beyond the vehicle and just think about the nutrients ultimately that's being delivered. And, yeah, you have to take a breath and calm yourself down a little bit, of course. But, yeah.
[00:43:21] LB: Being prepared for the unexpected is –
[00:43:23] MJ: Being prepared. Yeah, that's it.
[00:43:24] LB: Yeah, yeah. I've had some horror stories, which includes particularly with traveling athletes. You provide the meal plans, etc., for the hotel or whatever at the other side. And they've just completely either lost information. Or they suddenly decided to tell you when you get there that half this stuff wasn't in stock. Yeah, there's all sorts, which we don't need to necessarily go into right now. Because one topic I do want to quickly get into is the chef again.
I mentioned earlier that, at least in my own experience, handing a meal plan to a chef that's developed by a nutritionist is going to be handled in different ways. And that, of course, is because there are different types of chef. Some chefs are quite good with that. They're quite familiar with working with that. And then you get particularly in the high-end Premier League or national team stuff. You've got like Michelin chefs, who are not going to follow your meal an.
I mean, what sort of thoughts have you got? The listeners will already have heard a private performance chef. I've got a couple of team chefs coming on in the near future. So, it'll be interesting to hear. One's a national team chef. And one's a club team chef in football. And I got a rugby one I'm going to get on, too.
But for you, being in the coalface of the situation where you're designing a nutrition plan. That's the way that you design it. But it still needs to have some impact on the chefs. And like you mentioned, you've also got to tie in the operations team, which may be the chef's responsibility or yours and the chefs jointly. Bearing in mind, that you're not taught this stuff at university. This is particularly interesting this one.
[00:44:55] MJ: Yeah, absolutely. I think, hats off to chefs nowadays. I remember when I first started in football, they were like standard, almost school chefs in a way. They would just grab a plate and chuck it on. And now, as you say, the standard of food is phenomenal. I think that's also really important. Because working in London, for instance, we're competing against some of the best restaurants in the world. And the players literally have unlimited budgets almost. And they have the opportunity to go and eat in these restaurants. We have to make the food like incredible for them to stay and obviously consume it, first and foremost.
The chefs have almost been forced to up their game to have an impact on that level. Yeah, hats off to them. And they can keep getting better. Honestly, the chefs that I've been fortunate enough to work with, they're very, very, very good, are very talented. And I should say, it's a critical relationship, really important.
I think it's more of a collaborative effort, I think. And starting off with a framework as opposed to set instructions. Because if you gave a chef’s instructions, yeah, they're not going to like that really. If you have more of a framework, almost like the periodized plan like with the objectives for each day. Like, match day minus one, carbohydrate, nitrates, relatively low fiber, low fat, things like that. Match day plus one. Again, high in protein, high in carbohydrate, polyphenols if you're going to try and incorporate those as best possible. And then you pass that to them and then they can apply their creative flair basically. And it makes them feel a part of the whole thing.
Well, they are a huge part. Because, essentially, they're bringing that framework to life. Yeah, I see my role as, yeah, developing that evidence-based framework and then working collaboratively with the chef to then bring everything to life and make it exciting and enjoyable and all the above.
[00:46:50] LB: Yeah. I think you say analogies. I like a number of analogies that I think helps to explain this situation quite well, where maybe I think of myself or us as performance nutritionists, we're kind of like the architect. There's not just theory. There is a lot of understanding about how this stuff integrates with the real world just like the practice of architecture. As in the practice. Not just the science. But there are builders. There are various construction people involved in building the recipes, the plates, if you like.
But also, there's a sort of interior design side of it. And you've got to make it look good. It's got to smell good. But ultimately, it still ends up in a situation where typically particularly the players are still offered like a buffet type setup. They've got some choices. Again, mind-boggling setup. And the high value. The well-funded sort of elite sports teams, particularly, we talk about soccer a lot because that's our experiences mainly. But of course, there are plenty of other sports that operate in similar team settings; basketball, American football, etc.
But the player still has to make those choices. And, yes, they've got Michelin-starred standard foods. And it's all very tempting because everyone involved made the food look amazing and incredible. What are the strategies that you find that tend to work best to impact that individual selection? It's still down to the individual to make some of those choices. And there's only one Matt Jones. There's only one performance nutritionist. You can't sit on the shoulder of every player as they're making their choices. And that's if you're lucky enough to even be there. Af course, a lot of nutritionists aren't traveling with the club necessarily or the national team. What have you found that's worked for you to impact individual choices?
[00:48:30] MJ: Yeah. Well, I guess you mentioned it initially. Shaping the environment. So, the default decision is the correct decision. First and foremost, just control the controllables and make sure everything that's available is going to be suitable for the player. And obviously, those coaches that will influence that, like banning certain feeds and whatnot. We won't go into that.
And then on an individual level, having like meal templates for players and like using QR codes and having them on the tables in front of them. They scan them and it brings up their nutrition program or meal template and things like that. And by education, ultimately, just informing them over a period of time as to what is most suitable at that time for them.
And obviously, that happens over an extended period of time. Instant information is more of that meal templating that they can like look at and follow. But they also need to understand why that is the way that it is in some circumstances. That's more of the education thing really.
And infographics on the table as well. Color coding systems, like, food labels. I think we can take a lot from like point of sale marketing. Big things like right next to the tills that make you buy things. I think we can take a lot from that and how that influences decisions almost instantaneously. Taking some knowledge and wisdom from those kind of marketing sales, tactics really, and applying them in sports nutrition context.
[00:49:56] LB: Education, isn't it, really, at the end of the day? You say point of sale education. And as I mentioned before, some players, there's varying levels of interest in there. Some players will be well into this. And of course, if you can find a senior player or a particularly famous international, highly-respected player, they can be powerful influencers on this basis.
And there's many different ways to educate people. And we've discussed the various issues, and challenges, and blocks that one will find in that process. Have there been any tools that you found particularly useful in terms of how you communicate with your players and your athletes?
[00:50:34] MJ: Yeah, I've used multiple different things over the years. But honestly, the most effective I found is WhatsApp. As crazy as that sounds, it's reliable, it's accessible. People will spend a decent amount of time on there. Obviously, we've got like athlete management systems and SENR, for instance.
[00:50:53] LB: Yes. Yes.
[00:50:55] MJ: SENPRO. Yeah, sorry. I got the wrong SENPRO. Yeah, they're all great tools. But I tend to find that there's like a use by date, if you like. And they get ignored after a period of time. WhatsApp for me has been the most powerful.
[00:51:10] LB: Yeah, WhatsApp is great. WhatsApp is great. I use that. Although, actually, I'm not deliberately trying to plug SENPRO, other than we integrate WhatsApp with SENPRO. SENPRO is not the point of this conversation. But WhatsApp is handy because everybody does have a phone and they do communicate. It's very common for teams to communicate everything from the training schedule today has changed, to everyone needs to be at the coach, the bus at a certain time this morning. And it's stuff like the staff needs to be wearing white shirts today. And the players are wearing pink shirts. It's just a no-brainer medium. And there's various resources you can use to do broadcasting and various other things. It's a great tool. It's like any tool, you need to know the strengths and limitations of those tools.
Look, we haven't got too much time left here. But I just wanted to go back into the concept of what it takes to become a performance nutritionist. Obviously, I mean, we talk about your experience back when you did your sports science degree and how you stumbled upon nutrition is very interesting. And as everybody that I've interviewed so far has all had sort of similar serendipitous sort of journeys, mine definitely was.
But nowadays, I mean, there's a lot of programs out there, undergraduate, postgraduate degrees in sports nutrition. But acquiring those qualifications does not mean that you're going to get a job in a sports team or pick up private clients. And some people will be like, "Hang on. What do you mean it's not going to get me a job?" Well, what's your answer to that comment and statement that obviously your situation is your situation? But again, talking to your younger self or to your boys when they grow up, your children when they grow up, who want to be sports nutritionists, what sort of tips have you got for them to get into the right places at the right time as it relates to their career in elite sport?
[00:52:57] MJ: Yeah, that's a good question. I think, fundamentally, you have to be driven by passion, because this industry is challenging. You don't get paid the most amount of money. It's not the most rewarding. If you sign a contract, it's often like one year, two years. So it's very uncertain. Deep down, you have to be driven by passion for nutrition and sport in general.
And then don't be afraid of challenging yourself. Find out where your weaknesses are and just like go after them. Just like daily improvements. Learning from different environments. Just because you want to work in football, there's a lot to be said about learning in other environments, whether that'd be different sports or not even sport. Maybe even the corporate setting. There's a lot to be taken from literally every experience. So, don't write off anything really.
And I guess, initially, you just have to volunteer. I think I mentioned right at the beginning of it the doors open for me with the ISAK qualification and a pair of calipers. It was literally – Well, it was that. You have to kind of find a strength of yours. Perhaps that's like graphic design. Maybe infographics. And you can just go up to a club and say, "I can make all your infographics for you. Or I'm particularly good with Nutritics or SENPRO. Let me do the nutrition programming for you." And so, you're volunteering. And then all of a sudden you create this opportunity for yourself to show off your skills. And also, have conversations and develop those relationships that can open more doors.
I think sports nutritionists, applied sports nutritionists, gets so all dragged into practical stuff like filling water bottles, and making protein shakers, and washing protein shakers, and taking caps off bottles to put electrolyte tablets in, that they lose time in those really important areas. If you can volunteer your services and do those mundane tasks, then that's a really, really good way to impress the sports nutritionists.
I know that – Well, you know yourself, Laurent working in an international sport. Your fingers start to bleed when you have to screw the tops off thousands of water bottles. If someone volunteered to do that for me, I would snap it off every day. I'd probably pay them myself. Volunteering in the initial stages, I would probably say. And I know that's not a nice thing to hear because I know that everyone deserves to be paid for those things. But at least that was my experience.
[00:55:20] LB: No. No. Me, too. I'm right there with you. And there's this whole controversy about paid internships and so on. But the reality is, particularly in the current financial economic disaster zone that we have on this planet, people can't afford it. But you're never going to get noticed if you don't get noticed, right? And you've got to get your foot through the door somehow. And you have to think about what makes sense ethically. Self-respect. Please have self-respect. But at the end of the day, you give a little and you might get a lot more back ultimately. And it's those doors that open.
And I think people just need to not be shy about having conversations with people. Help show off your skills and talents. But don't be shy, or frightened, or averse to doing basic stuff, because it does come with the job. You're absolutely right.
I think, though, what's important, though, is sometimes people don't realize all of the things that we can do. Because all they're seeing is somebody doing protein shakes and filling up bottles. And they might see you do skin folds. The thing I love about ISAK is because it looks quite technical, you've got sort of high-tech calipers. You're marking up the body. You're doing breaths and wits and various other things. People are going, "Hang on. This is a bit more complicated." And the quality of your handouts – I've always found that having sort of your own graphic design team within your own skill sets can impress people and up the standard of what you're doing. It's the artistry of your performance influences the perception that people have of you. And you are ultimately responsible for how people perceive you. I mean, what are your thoughts on perception, generally? It's sort of an ending point on this conversation.
[00:56:57] MJ: Yeah, I guess you said it yourself. The way that you present information, that's really important. I guess, fundamentally, the way you present yourself as well. I always feel there's a slight pressure as a sports nutritionist to be in a certain condition physically. Oftentimes, within the football sense, that's often to banter and stuff like that. But, yeah, I often feel a lot of pressure. Self presentation, the way you present that information. And being honest and trustworthy is – Again, just a good person, I guess.
[00:57:30] LB: Yeah. No. I mean, look, it's all right. There are different ways of getting this right. And of course, that will blend with your unique personality and communication skills and so on. But I think, for me, that's what's so interesting to hear. The perspectives and experiences of practitioners like yourself, your journey. You're 12 years in. You've still got another 12, 20 years ahead of you. We'll be having these – Well, I'll be a really old man by then when that happens.
But what I'm hoping – Well, no. I'm not hoping. Because I know that the listeners will have gained a lot just from this hour and a bit conversation that we've had, Matt. And I just wanted to thank you so much for spending a segment of your busy day talking to me about this stuff, because I really believe it's important that people hear this stuff from people like your yourself.
Thank you for today. It's been awesome. I know we'll have you back again. And I'm very much looking forward to it. Just quickly, if people want to follow you, learn more about you? I know you're a little bit on social media from time to time. What's the best way for people to discover you?
[00:58:29] MJ: Yeah, good question. Honestly, Twitter. I find Twitter is still the best platform for me. I think it's @MattJonesNC. That's my little Twitter handle.
[00:58:41] LB: No. I'll link to it. I'll link to it, Matt. Don’t you fret about that. We'll do it. Well, look, once again, thanks, Matt. Mate, it's been a really fascinating chat with you. And I look forward to catching up with you very soon. Take care.
[00:58:54] MJ: Thanks, Laurent. Bye.