Episode 166 of the Institute of Performance Nutrition's "We Do Science" podcast! In this episode, I (Laurent Bannock) discuss "The Performance Nutritionist: In The Trenches" with Dr James Morehen PhD (UK).
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[00:00:00] LB: Hi and welcome to Episode 166 of the IOPN’s We Do Science podcast, the Institute of Performance Nutrition’s podcast. I am Laurent Bannock, Dr. Laurent Bannock.
Now, today, I had another awesome conversation. Of course, I do, I always have awesome conversations. I love having these discussions with my guests. As you know, we’re called We Do Science and primarily, our podcasts are focused on looking at the evidence, the science typically published research with the very practitioners or researchers conducting that laboratory or applied in the field-based research.
But recently, I have also started doing sort of a mini sub series, a special edition called In The Trenches, where I interview and speak with a variety of experienced successful elite level, primarily practitioners, and we talk about them, their career path, how they got to where they are, and their perspectives, how they see things through the lens of the guest. And of course, that's important because, in the real world and applied practice, as you'll hear me say many times, theory is rarely if ever, clearly articulated in the real world and it's a pretty crazy chaotic world that we actually practice in. And that's to be distinguished from the tightly controlled environments we deliberately create to conduct research within the laboratory, or indeed, what you see, that's been carefully written and edited and published into a book or a journal or a paper or whatever, or into a presentation you might hear within the lecture room or at a conference and so on. These are very, very static things that are not particularly contextually dynamic, in a way that you will find on a day to day basis in your practice with athletes or teams. So anyway, that's why I'm also doing these In The Trenches episodes.
Now, today, I had a really great conversation with a practitioner and researcher, Dr. James Morehen. You'll know the name if you follow this podcast because James has been a guest on this podcast a few years ago, now, I think, or a year and a half ago or so where we'd looked at his PhD research into nutrition for rugby players. And that was an awesome conversation if like me, you love rugby and work in rugby, then that's a must listen to podcast.
But James, Dr. Morehen is an experienced practitioner working in a wide range of sports himself from individuals to athletes. We delve into his career where he started the unique path that he followed to arrive at where he is at now as himself, or accomplished successful practitioner, but also, he has published a book called The Performance Nutritionist, which is essentially a collection of interviews with a variety of practitioners from early to mid-career, including one or two of our own graduates at the IOPN who've gone on to pursue more academic training and education. But what this book does is it looks at the insights, the reflections and advice from practitioners working in elite sport. This is a great book. It's very much an extension of these conversations I've already been having with practitioners and indeed, you will hear me interviewing some of these practitioners or some of them have been guests actually on my podcast and or lecturers on our IOPN deployment program. So, either which way this is both for me, personally and professionally, a great interest but I know it will be for you. Those of you that are interested in initiating your career as a performance nutritionist or, I'm most definitely not early or mid-career I'm quite well into my career as a practitioner and I got huge benefits from reading James' book.
So, I recommend that you listen to this podcast, you enjoy what it is that we discuss the challenges, the insights, the many different perspectives of the various practitioners, and of course from James himself, is all of huge value and maybe a few tidbits for me to show for him as well, just to add to all of that. But before you guys have a listen to this conversation, this rather special In The Trenches episode, don't forget please to come check out what we do at the IOPN which is all about the training and development of eport and exercise nutritionist, performance nutritionist, beyond either the university education, and or beyond their professional grounding in things like strength conditioning, whether you're a nutritionist or a sports scientist, you might even have your master's or whatever.
In sport and exercise nutrition, we're about taking it to the next level by bridging that gap between science and practice. A lot of the things that we talk about in this conversation today, are the very things that we focus on in our program, which was the focus of my own doctorate, which was all about bridging the gap between science and practice, and that is fundamentally what underpins, we do the IOPN. And, of course, our diploma, our 100% online diploma is all about that. So, go check it out at www.theiopn.com. And the other thing that we have is our software for sport and exercise nutrition. So, it's a unique digital toolbox, if you like that enables practitioners like me, and many of you to get the most out of running and organizing your practice, which in today's ever demanding world for a digital online presence is pretty critical. But we also have developed tools there to enable you to have the highest level of impact with individual athletes or teams, coaching tools, behavior, change tools, dietary analysis tool, all sorts stuff is in there. Just go check it out. You get a free 14-day trial. We keep evolving and upgrade it. So, even if you've had a look in the past, it is almost certainly radically evolved since you last had a look to include the latest development, which we've literally just launched in the last month or so which is the client app, now available on portable devices like iPhones, analog phones, that sort of thing.
That's all about the client, and their ability to engage with you as a practitioner, we've now developed those tools. So, you now have your interface, your web app, and now the mobile app for your clients, for your athletes. We really feel this is a game changer, and they will be even more upgrades throughout the year. But right now, it is a fantastic tool. So please go check that out at www.theiopn.com where you can also learn about our podcast. So anyway, that's enough of me blabbing on. I hope you enjoy this conversation about Dr. Morehen and also enjoy more his book, The Performance Nutritionist and the many valuable golden bullets, if you like of information that came out of that are now coming over to you enjoy.
[00:07:33] LB: Hi, and welcome back to the Institute of Performance Nutrition’s We Do Science podcast. I say welcome back, I haven't done a podcast in a while, and that's because I've been really busy doing one or two of my other jobs, so to speak, as a practitioner. So, it's a great opportunity that I have today to gain to this new In The Trenches, focus the special editions that I've done a few of and intend to do more. But actually, my guest today is bit of a master of this actual topic, because that's what he recently wrote a book about, but he is no stranger to We Do Science. Dr. James Morehen. Welcome back, James.
[00:08:16] JM: Thank you. How are we?
[00:08:16] LB: Yeah, we're good. We're good. In fact, we just been talking a bit offline about stuff and half of which we should have recorded, of course, but hopefully we'll bring most of that back up, if not more and really get into this topic that I wanted to get into today, which is if people ask us what we do for a living, you presumably will answer, at least on a sort of a simple response would be, I'm a performance nutritionist. That’s what I will tell people that I do, obviously, and I say obviously, it's not obvious, it's only obvious to your eye that that answer, it means different things to different people. But even to ourselves as practitioners and we're constantly questioning what it means to be a performance nutritionist and what that looks like to be successful as a performance nutritionist, and indeed what does that word success or successful even mean, which is something I want to really get into.
But I say welcome back because of course we did a podcast back in, I think, was it may 2020, Episode 140 was about your PhD work on nutrition and rugby league players, which is an episode I highly recommend everyone goes back and listen to if you're interested in rugby nutrition generally, which is an area both James and I are passionate about despite having worked a lot in football, of course, which is one of those bizarre angles that you find yourself in which I'm looking forward to getting into which of course is what's so great about being a performance nutritionist you're not necessarily pigeon holed into one specific area of practice, or at least you shouldn't pigeonhole yourself which is again an area I want to get into.
But before we really get into to this topic of the performance nutritionist and particularly what makes a performance nutritionist successful, James, just tell us a little bit more about yourself, your past, we'll come back and actually talk about your career is the first reflection, I think so don't go too deep into this. But it'd be good as an introduction, and then we'll get into why this book? Why did you even write this book that we're going to get into?
[00:10:24] JM: Yeah, okay, so a brief background then, 18 to 21 years old, had no ambition of going university at all, and so embarked on a career with my snowboard over in Canada. I basically lived in the mountains for two winter seasons, back to back, with the third season in Poland, kind of heading up a team of snowboard instructors. And then the summers, it was all about working at Pizza Hut as a waiter, and saving up my tips and traveling the world. So, Southeast Asia got hit quite hard, and that was basically three years of my life. And then it was only at 21, where I was mature enough to make the decision that I want it to go to university. That's where I embarked on my career at Liverpool John Moores Uni up in Liverpool. I stayed there for nine years, for a third of my life. I lived in the city center. I did my undergraduate degree, rolled straight on to a master's in sport physiology. For me at the time, it was that natural transition onto the PhD, which was an unbelievable process. And, yeah, when I look back with fond memories of and kind of completed that four-and-a-half-year PhD journey up in Liverpool, that was kind of the academics. And then on the outside of that, it was then building and generating that applied career in sport, which has sent me bounce around a few organizations.
[00:11:45] LB: Yeah, well, we're going to explore some of those, because, of course, there's lessons to be learned from all of those experiences. But I'm really interested to know, what was the catalyst, the trigger into making that decision to go to university and do this presumably. You were up a mountain somewhere, you just done some half pipes or whatever it is that you were doing, and I'm having a pretty nice life, I imagine. I'd love being up in the mountains. So, it's not a bad place to be. But you say you matured a bit from all those experiences. Was that a major player in your catalyst?
[00:12:19] JM: Yeah, I think it was. Look, I was the first one to admit to myself at 18 that, am I old enough, mature enough mentally to go and study and commit, almost – you’re writing a contract with yourself for three years to go and study and commit yourself somewhere. Fundamentally, I wasn't ready for it then. So, I needed to go and get some some of that stuff out my system and just be an idiot for three years and just enjoying myself. I didn't pick up a pen to study for three years. It was all about checking the snow report, and what was the weather like, and that was me for three years. It was amazing.
But I think those of us that work in sport, deep down, I had this conversation with someone recently, and I wonder whether we are all failed athletes deep down, because we've clearly got an innate passion and drive to want to support athletes in getting better, and that was something that I wanted to do at 21. I kind of had done the snowboarding and then looked back at myself and wish that I'd carried on playing rugby. Could I have made it? All of those questions that you ask yourself. So, for me, okay, well, if I'm not going to play professionally, the next best is to try and support athletes in a professional setup and then it was okay, well, what degree program do I need to do? And for me, it was sports science, and it was working as part of that multidisciplinary team behind the background. And that's where, at 21, it was like, right, I either do this now, or I'm never going to go and I will forever be living in the mountains and bouncing around countries, which don't get me wrong, was an amazing time. But I've just had that drive at 21 to go and do that proud, go and get a degree, and go and study and learn and get back into academia. So, that's why that decision got made at 21.
[00:14:09] LB: It's interesting, because there are many reasons why people will go to university of course. Well, I've got to go get a proper job, “proper”, what does that mean? A doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer. Sports science, what is that? What are you going to be? You're going to work as a lifeguard? Are you're going to be helping people lift weights in the gym? Or you're going to go work at a Premier League, football club, and as what? And of course, at the start at that point, you have absolutely no idea where your journey is going to take you. How could you. So, you started that journey, at a certain point in your life with a certain understanding of what some alternatives could be, albeit, up a mountain doing some things that people pay to go do. But you had that thought process, but you didn't know what direction you were going to take within sports science. Did you? What led you more in this direction as a performance nutritionist?
[00:15:11] JM: Yeah. So first and foremost, sports science undergrad program allowed me to obviously study a number of components of sports science, which then, if I'm honest, it was more a strength and conditioning at the time that was kind of getting me quite excited about what that could do as a career. And that's when I kind of did a strength conditioning internship at Liverpool John Moores, actually underneath Dr. Carl Langan-Evans. So, Carl was running this internship program.
So, I did that for a number of years. And if I'm honest, back then, it was really right, I'm going to be an S&C coach. This is where I'm going to kind of have a career. And then I did the Master's in Sport Physiology, which again, there was no real nutrition focus or S&C focus, it was quite an open master’s. But then I started getting some really good lectures off of Graham and James, and the way that they coach and teach, the passion that they have for the industry, and it was really like, “Wow, yeah. Look at the impact that nutrition can have on an athlete, winning performances, or body composition, manipulation, whatever it might be.” And that's where I got interested in that world. And then it was very, very persistent with Graham and James. They share an office now, but they didn't know at the time, and it was just a case of constantly knocking on Graham's door, asking him about nutrition PhDs, is there anything floating? Is there anything about?
I should say, prior to that, I'd volunteered and put my hand up on numerous occasions to help out current PhD students in the lab. I remember, holding VO2 map lines for Dr. George Wilson, when he was running utilization stuff of his jockeys, and I wasn't doing anything apart from holding a tube. But I was in the lab and looking at some of these projects that were going on and thinking, “Is that the next step? Have I got the minerals to study a PhD?” Bear in mind five years prior, it was just strapping in the bindings and diving down the red run and enjoying a bit of snowboarding. Now, I look back and yeah, could I have done a PhD at 21? Definitely not. It was all about that journey and progression through the academia. That's where kind of end of the Master's in Sport Physiology the nutrition interest came about, really came about.
[00:17:33] LB: It's interesting. There are some correlations here, actually, to what you were doing, I think, in the mountains and on the snow, and so on. We think of the journey, particularly when you are early career young practitioners, to a certain extent, you have to sort of flow in a certain direction, that is assisted by, if you want to call it, there are certain amount of natural forces are at play on there. And of course, you are given a number of options, and you'll take the ones that you fancy, and a big part of that will be passion, that other people have, “Oh, come this way. This way is really cool. This is a great way to go.”
I think that just shows you the the importance that just that one potentially small element can have in leading you down a completely different path and or a bad path, of course, because some people are not necessarily passionate in the right way there may be doing it for different reasons, for financial gain, or whatever. So it is, we can get into some of that in a bit. I mean, the listeners will be familiar with Graham and James, we've particularly Graham, heard him as a speaker in many different contexts. And he's, as I mentioned, offline, those two are particularly influential in my own career, but also with what we're doing at the IOPN. They've contributed a lot of content over the years to us, and it's that passion that really comes through, I think, whether you're a researcher or a practitioner, an educator, whatever, if you're lacking that passion, it doesn't have the impact that it's likely to have. That is clearly happened to you and it happens. I think, people that listen to this.
We've had a lot of passionate guests over the years, and it's infectious and highly impactful as a result. But coming back to you and your new career, I mean, I can see getting people bigger, faster, stronger in the gym. We're putting them through some pretty cool training programs using some nifty bits of kit that's available particularly for sports scientists, sports physiologist, whether it's metabolic testing or force plate platforms or whatever. Nutrition is a very different area altogether, isn't it? Obviously, now, you might answer this question differently. But if you look at it through the lens of your younger self, what was the attraction beyond the passion that you had from people like Graham and James and some of the others, beyond the passion you would have processed that through your head, and thought about it a bit and go hang on. But this is food on a plate. It's about cooking. What was the real essence there that took you that next step in your career?
[00:20:15] JM: I'm grinning because it was kind of like, it was a little bit of a jump, and the net will catch you moment with me, because originally the PhD, Graham had said, “Right, we've potentially got this opportunity in rugby league with Salford Red Devils at the time.” I went over to Manchester, I met the guys there from the club, and it was all looking very positive. I won't go into the details why it happened. But all of a sudden, they couldn't fund the PhD anymore. So, that PhD option disappeared.
But then Graham knew John Clark, who now works at England Rugby alongside Eddie Jones, and Dennis Betts, the head coach of Widnes Vikings at a time, and they came into the university and Graham basically showed them the access that they could gain if they funded a PhD student. And they were like, “Well, we need a nutritionist. So, why don't we try and leave that up?” We have a PhD student, but he comes in and he's our nutritionist at the same time. And then the phone call from Graham to me, this is looking likely, it’s something that you want to do. So, in my head, it was the process of, oh my god, I'm going to funded PhD. I'm going to be working full time in a rugby club. And I am that failed athlete, and I'm in rugby, and how good is this going to be? It's an opportunity that wasn't going to let pass.
So that was it. I was like, “Yeah, let's do it.” I didn't really, I guess, decide that I wanted to do a nutrition career. But the way that the PhD, navigate itself, it was very evident that I was going to be in the club as a nutritionist, and I'm going to be supporting those players from a nutrition background. I'll never forget it, one of my first presentations at that club. They wanted to know a bit more about protein, and boom, there I was, underneath the stadium stairs in their kind of mini little – it’s not even a lecture hall. It's just the room, 35 very, very Northwest Cumbria and Wiggins St. Helens rugby lads, me being the only Southerner in the club and it was right bang, go present on protein.
[00:22:22] LB: So, Graham was translating in your ear. Was he?
[00:22:23] JM: Yeah, exactly that. I remember, really, really being nervous and crapping myself, to be honest, because I was thinking I'm out my depth here. But I'll never forget Graham say to me, he was like, “This is what you wanted mate. Here it is, now go and deliver.” It was a real sink or swim moment. And I thought, “Well, you know what, I'm just going to do my best, I'm going to grab it with both hands.” And yeah, there was loads of mistakes, loads of errors. We all make mistakes now and I always learn from them. And I look back at them with fond memories, because it really made my career where it is now, I believe. It was such an amazing year, because it was a club that were thirsty for it. It was players that were keen to listen, rugby players on a whole very, very good blokes deep down there. They're really nice people. I was in there full of energy, giving it everything I could minimal budget, trying to get everything under the sun for free, picking up the phone to different companies, left, right, center. And it was just an amazing year where I just learned so much on the ground running like applied. And that is why my PhD didn't take three years. It took me four and a half years, because that year in particular, not much studying happened because it was full on in the club. I was in there every day, I was up at 6 AM on a Saturday, in the club at 7, and it was a pretty crazy year. But, Christ, did I learn a lot in that season there.
[00:23:52] LB: Of course, you realize right off the bat, as soon as you start working in the real world. And by that, I mean not the classroom, not the lab, that they're all part of it. But it's not where you practice. That's on this podcast and was banging on about the difference between science and practice and the gap that exists. It's not that they're not related, and you need all of these things. But it can be a real challenging situation as you clearly found yourself and I definitely did. When you find yourself in a situation where theory is not clearly articulated in the real world, and things don't neatly jump from the pages of your textbook into convenient scenarios that you just regurgitate into practice, it's much more than that. That's something I want to explore more in this conversation was something I raised at the beginning of this chat, which was, we use the title performance nutritionist and itself. I think we should describe a bit in a minute and delve into, but particularly successful. Because the word success means different things to different people. You use that word, actually, in this book that you've written, which we'll get into in a bit more detail too.
But it's also worth mentioning that, the listeners of this podcast will be all over the world, not just in the UK. Many listeners will be, there might be sport scientists, S&C coaches, dieticians, athletes with a very significant interest in this, personal trainers and so on, who are really looking to upskill themselves beyond. I think you'll understand what I mean and I'm talking to the listener at this point, by basic nutrition coaching concepts. It is very different, but elite sport levels for various reasons. But ultimately, there's a shared interest here, but everyone can arrive at this place of being a performance nutritionist with different backgrounds. For example, we talked a bit offline, I came to this after many years of being an S&C coach, personal trainer, people who've listened to the earlier editions of this podcast. I revealed many of my troubles and stripes with my early parts of my career and made huge amounts of stupid mistakes and errors, which is actually you make a comment about this in your book, they're not really mistakes if you tried to reflect on them, and then learn from them, because then their lessons, right? And that's something I did well, ultimately, took me a while, but I got there. And I've learned a lot as a result of that.
So, if we bear in mind that there are different ways of achieving this, and sadly, a lot of people do need to understand that, that in each and every country, there are a number of universities. In the UK, we have a lot of universities, and a lot of those universities do offer sports science programs, which aren't necessarily going to result in a number of graduates that matches the number of jobs are available. In fact, if I pass it back to you briefly, before I take us down, this next path I want to get into, this is something you've mentioned in the book. I remember having this conversation with Graham and James many years ago, it's a useful slap in the face with a wet caper of the reality of the situation, despite our passion and interest, which do need to be mindful of the actual reality of this. It's popular. It’s becoming increasingly popular to become a performance nutritionist, but remind us, James of just how many people are trying to get into sports science every year, relative to the known roles, at least in professional elite sport.
[00:27:28] JM: I just did a rough estimate, of the amount of people that are potentially graduating every year. I put this in the book. So, I had a quick look online. So, you've got 85 institutes, the all universities that offer degree courses related to sports science and nutrition, that's 85. And then if you look at the average kind of classroom, I guess, of that year, and say that it might be 35. I again, say this in the book the year that I did sport nutrition, sports science at Liverpool John Moores, we have over 300 students in a year, over 300. But if we be kind and say that the mean is 35, then you're looking at around 3,000 students each year that graduate from their respective universities with a degree.
[00:28:18] LB: Just in the UK.
[00:28:20] JM: Just in the UK. You’ve got 3,000 individuals, thrown up the mortar caps, and celebrating that day, and I'll never forget it. In my first or second year at Liverpool John Moores, we had a lecturer, Dr. Mark Nesti. He turned around and he said to, you know, second lesson in, put your hand up, if you want to work in sport, and boom, everyone's hand in a room shot up. And he said, “Do you want to know the reality?” he said, “There will probably be two of you in this room, that go work in sport, because it's cutthroat, it's very difficult to get a job, and a lot of you won't have the patience or the minerals to just keep going and the persistence to keep applying. And you'll just end up giving up and going and getting a normal job.”
I remember sitting there thinking, “Oh, my god, so how do you then try and stand out from the crowd, at that young age in university?” And that's where I think, coming back to why I went as a mature student, that's where it helped me a little bit because I was registering these points and thinking, I've got to be doing something else rather than just go down to the lecture hall, study, put an assignment in and get to one, something else has to happen on top of that. That's where I started doing all of the volunteering and the experience that I got.
[00:29:36] LB: It’s very, very sobering. It will be to the listeners, there will be a few, I suspect that having the combination of a jaw dropping, but also a little bit of anxiety might kick in because you're working your ass off to get your degrees which is necessary. But on the other hand, there's a lot more to it than that and like you say, there's a lot of people competing for the same roles and you’re not going to be hired purely on the basis of the piece of paper that you've got framed on your wall. There's a lot more to it. That's something I really want to get into in a minute.
I know, I get a lot of people contacting me on LinkedIn and I'm talking is, it's almost double digits on a weekly basis, almost or at least that's how it feels of people, some of whom have got PhDs even have the right registrations, and so on who just can't understand why they're not getting the roles that they need, and or have yet to discover. That even if you get a role, if you're lucky enough, if you're one of the lucky few, I say lucky, because you make your own luck of course, there is some blind luck involved, of course, and we can talk about that too. But you might only have that role for a short period of time, because of just how fluid the mechanisms are behind each say, in football, the gaffer moves on and he might take his whole team with him. That's it. You haven't got a job anymore. It doesn't matter how good you are.
So, let's just quickly come back to the essential requirements from your perspective, and there will be different points of view on this depending on the country that you're in, and the background that you're at. And of course, whether you're looking to work with elite athletes, recreational athletes, entirely private practice, where maybe some of these things don't matter. But sort of the mechanistic requirements to become a performance nutritionist before we start talking about maybe some of the more impressive traits, like enthusiasm and being noticed and all those sorts of things. But in your mind, what do you feel are the real key requirements, bearing in mind you yourself didn't just start off with a sports nutrition degree, which is case in point.
[00:31:45] JM: Yeah. Fundamentally, and we can't escape this. You have got to have the underpinning knowledge of what a degree program will give you from the fundamentals of sports science, then potentially going on to that master's in either sport physiology or then specializing in nutrition. But you've got to have that underpinning and understanding of how nutrition can affect the human body? How can it help training, adaptation, recovery, injuries, et cetera? You're not going to get that from a weekend nutrition course, online. You're not you're not going to get that underpinning knowledge of what you might if you come and study on your course.
So first and foremost, that's like the first step, you have to have that. But then, after that, once you've got that knowledge, you know, if you want to go and work in a league to football side, do you need a PhD on top of that? I don't know. I don't know whether that's like an essential or desirable right now. But it's definitely something to be questioned and challenged, because in that particular role at that club, do they need someone who's of PhD level? Or do they just need someone who's got the fundamental knowledge, but has got a really excellent ability to get the buy in of the players so that they understand how nutrition can help performance. The UEFA for consensus statement was written very recently. Anyone in the world right now can access that open access paper and read it. So surely, that's kind of the Bible for nutritionists in football clubs at the moment to say, right, here's the UEFA for consensus statement agreement of all of these world leaders.
So, if I can now apply that and get my squad to believe in it, surely, we're going to move in the right direction. I don't think that requires a PhD. But I do think it requires the fundamental, undergraduate master's and the knowledge there. I think that then moves on to kind of the next point that if I look back at what I did when I was snowboarding, I got my level three as a snowboard instructor. And at that level, you start kind of learning around pedagogy, and you learn how to coach another coach, how to coach. So, it's not just me teaching you how to snowboard. I would teach you as an instructor how to teach a beginner and that's part of pedagogy and that's coaching and that's teaching. And me and Chris was a mess used to talk about this at the FA, all the time that, we're in the industry of coaching people to understand what nutrition is, and how it can work and how it can benefit them.
So, I think once you've got that underpinning knowledge, now it's down to you as an individual, to be thrown in the deep end that witness but get the buy in of the boys. Get them to understand what you're talking about. Get them to trust you, be reliable, build credibility, so that when you're talking about leucine, and how important protein is after a rugby game, they get it and they're going to listen to and they understand it. That's where I think some people have that missing link if I'm honest, because anyone now, really, undergraduate, masters, sport nutrition, you've got the paper on the wall behind you and they are, they’re questioning me. They're saying, “Yeah, but I hit all of these desirables and essentials, but I'm still not getting the job.” And then it's like, “Well, how did you come across an interview?” Because if you didn't sell yourself and you didn't come across as enthusiastic as someone who's passionate about the industry, you're probably not going to get that role. Because you'll get eaten up alive in a rugby club if you can't get that across.
I think that's one of the biggest missing links at the moment is having that experience of being in the applied field and sitting down with an athlete and an athlete saying to you, “Well, I don't enjoy eating in the evening, or I'm not hungry in the morning, I don't want to eat breakfast.” There's nothing in the textbook that really tells you how to handle yourself in that situation. But you have to learn and you have to adapt. I think that's part of the process of what I would term “somewhat a successful performance nutritionist in our industry”.
[00:35:55] LB: You mentioned the common problem, which is what everybody faces pretty much at some point in their career, apart from the odd lucky few. How do I get experience if I don't get the job? It's difficult, isn't it? But there are ways around that. I mean, what are your thoughts on that?
[00:36:11] JM: Yeah, I love talking about this. Because I'll give you an example when I was at Liverpool John Moores. So, we had an applied placement module with St. Helens Rugby League. And that applied module was six weeks long and allowed us to come in, use our two chambers on a Wednesday morning, and that was it. After six weeks, it was done, placement over, finished. But I said to Graham, I was like, “Look, do you reckon they would want to carry on for the rest of the season?” He was like, “Of course, I would.” They bring their rehab lads in and they get in the attitude. They're training the boys that snap behind off to do that. So, I said to Graham, “If you're okay with it, can I carry this on for the rest of the year?” And he was like, “Yeah, that's your call.”
So, I then put it to the head coach and the head of S&C and they loved it. They were like, “Yeah, we would absolutely love that.” And then I took the opportunity to say, “Look, I'm really enjoying working with the lads. Is there any chance I can come down to the club on a Saturday morning and just help out? Just get involved as an S&C? “And they were like, “Yeah, no problem.” So, I used to get up at six or seven in the morning, get on the bike, cycle to the station, train from Liverpool to St. Helens and I used to spend Saturday morning to St. Helens Rugby League. Where did that stem from? That was all part of a placement that the university had, that after six weeks didn't have to carry on. But I thought, “Well, I've got the opportunity to be working with professional athletes here.” I knew then, at the end of the season, that if I turned around to Matty Daniels as the head of S&C and the captain of the squad, is there any chance I could get a reference from you all? Just a bit of a testimonial so that when I apply for jobs in the future, I can attach that into the application. They're like, “Yeah, mate, no problem at all.”
That's what I then applied to Saracens and did an S&C placement at Saracens and that's how you build it up. And I challenge a lot of the people that I mentor now. And I say to them, “Look, are you telling me that if you didn't go out in your local town or your local city, to all of the amateur clubs, whether that's rugby, football, boxing, netball, hockey, whatever it might be athletics, if you didn't speak to the chairman of that club and say, hey, look, I'm a center nutritionist. I've got a degree, I'm registered in this field. I'd love to just work with your 800-meter runners for six weeks and just educate them on what nutrition is.” I don't think there's many people that would turn that down. Yes, you might have to do six weeks of free volunteering, but what you would get in six weeks’ time is genuine experience of where you've developed and helped 800-meter runners get better, and I just don't think people are willing to do that anymore.
[00:38:45] LB: I completely agree, mate. I've had the same in my – go back another decade. But I never applied for a job. Or people just don't believe me when I say I never applied for a job, I had to go and create my own opportunities. And when I was toying with the idea of transitioning between an S&C coach who had acquired, gotten into center at this point, I was still very – this is 10 years ago now and was experimenting with do I really want to be a full-time performance nutritionist? I had a bit of a private practice going on, so I was lucky to work with a number of people privately. But I decided to set up some coffee meetings with people at various sports clubs and teams and ended up having a great cup of coffee at London Scottish, London Scottish rugby. And had the same thing you just discussed is like we haven't got a budget. We do not have a budget for a nutritionist. This was quite a long time ago where it wasn't so common to have a performance nutritionist a team.
I said, “Look, I live nearby. When I just come in for the rest of the series like halfway through the season, I'll come in I help out a bit. Give me some free kit and I'd like to come watch some games and let me show you what I can do. And let's see if together we can persuade somebody to maybe, fund half a day a week or something.” They went for it. And nobody paid me initially, but I was doing my own marketing and that has a cost. That cup of coffee ended up leading me into a situation where like yourself, I got a good, good reference for, I didn't get paid or anything, but I had a good time. I met some great players, like you say, learn a lot. And he then introduced me to the head of S&C at London Irish, and I've got my first paid gig as the nutritionist at London Irish, which was a two-year thing for me. And that's exactly how it started. Nobody offered me that. I had to go get it.
Now, the reason why I'm mentioning this is because not every college university does placements. Often a placement can result in that role being replaced by the next student now that somebody graduated, and I don't want people to feel that those opportunities, they're all taken up and they're all dried up. Because what is really mind-boggling James, is there still loads of pro teams out there that don't have nutritionists, it's amazing. It might just be have a cup of coffee with somebody. And actually, it might happen for you. And maybe you and I can inspire people to increase the coffee trade a bit around these clubs.
[00:41:12] JM: True story. I've lived in Vista for a year and a half now, 20 minutes north of Oxford. When we moved there, I went straight into Vista Boxing Club. I just said, “Who runs the club?” And the guy at the counter is me. What do you want? Amateur boxing club. So, I said to him, “Hey, look, I'm a nutritionist. I work in the industry. I've worked with a couple of boxers. I'm just wondering whether there's any scope here to work with a couple of your fighters that might want to make weight a little bit safer and more effectively.” He said, “Mate, you're exactly what we need. You're the missing link right now.” That was 18 months ago. And over the last 12 months, I've spent that time working with two of his boxers in the club on the doorstep.
Now, that cost me about two pound in petrol to drive down there and have the courage to open up the door and have a nice conversation with the owner of the club, that resulted in some paid work. It's doable. There's a lot of amateur clubs out there and amateur teams that I think would bite your hand off. And I actually say this to some of the people I help out. Okay, I'm at Bristol Bears now and I'm supporting the professional rugby players there. But even if I was at Vista Rugby Club, and it was an amateur rugby club, some of the messages and most of the education and the content would be the same because it's rugby. They're playing the sport of rugby, they have to do 18 minutes of rugby, the demands might be a little bit different in terms of more intensive Bristol, more meat is covered. But if I've got 120 kilos proper, the amateur club, and 120 kilos proper Bristol, and they're both trying to drop five kilos of fat, the messages that I would say would probably be very similar.
Yes, one's a professional setup and the other ones amateur. But if I was interviewing someone now to come in and help me at the club, and I had someone that had worked with amateur athletes, but they could give me genuine, passionate experiences of where, I've helped a youth athlete do this, or I've done this, I've done that. And they could give me that evidence that I would much rather employ that person than someone that has got the Masters, maybe the PhD, but doesn't have any experience.
[00:43:29] LB: Exactly. Every single champion that exists out there at some point started off as an amateur and you just don't know, and it's so – there’s so much opportunity that exists out there. There's so much here. We could spend an hour. We've only got about half an hour left here. But we could spend that time just talking about these things, which of course we'd love to, I know. But I think our take home there is that you shouldn't limit your options only to aspiring to work at a Premier League football club, which might not last as long as you think because as soon as the gaffer and his team moves, as I mentioned earlier, it might all change anyway. But those opportunities are big.
Now, something I think is important is of the positions that are available in pro elite sport, a lot of them are part time. There are some full-time roles. There are certainly more of them than when I started out. But you also need to be prepared to have your own consultancy and have that mixed type of clients within your practice, which is great because it will develop different skill sets and so on and so forth. But that's where, particularly since this pandemic has started, the interest in particularly fairly high-level amateur sport like triathlons, marathon running and so on, is something that is being embraced by a lot of people who do want extra help and support. But like the example you just gave, it might require a conversation or a talk, something where you put yourself into a situation where people go, “Actually, I could really do this person's help, but they don't realize it.” And there's a lot of these people around whether they're coaches, like you pointed out, could be a triathlon coach, rather than a boxing coach. That's exciting, because you've got a lot of people who are obsessed with cycling, triathlon, you've actually got a bit of money to spend as well. They’re everywhere.
Private practice, just quickly, because I know there's something you've also done as well, just tell us about your thoughts about that, given that it's not all about elite pro sport. In fact, some of our listeners will be, “I have no interest in working for a football team or rugby.”
[00:45:36] JM: Yeah, the full-time role in nutrition is super important, especially in some of my background at Warrington and Widnes. I think the benefit of being full time is 100% there. If I had my choice, I would probably work full time for one club, and you're all in, and you're there, because it's a tough job. It is a tough job, especially when you've got a look after senior men, senior women, academy. I think there's three separate full-time jobs there personally. So, I think the clubs that are invested in the full-time practitioner, paying them the wage that they should be earning, and giving them the holiday that they deserve, and the time off with family, I think they are the kind of unicorns if you like, they are the dream roles.
But having said that, the reality is, which you mentioned earlier, they're still clubs, and they're still organizations that either don't have a nutritionist, or they consult someone, one or two days a week, or it's the part time model. As a nutritionist, as a practitioner then, you have to make a decision then, don't do? That you just rely on the two-day a month model to bring in your income, or maybe three-day a week part time and try and live off of that, or do you bring in some of your own stuff. And look, the way I do it is not the only way to do it. I'm sure there's better ways out there to do it as well. But I've definitely got a blend of both, where I have got my own business, I've got my own practice, and that's allowed me to work with some really interesting and unique case studies with individuals, whether that's a dog walker that has lost 15 kilos of fat, or whether it's Rocky Field in over five years, where we follow him from a body composition case study point of view.
But all of those experiences for me, all feed into each other. Because what I learned with one person about cravings or different snack ideas, of course, I can use some of that and educate some of the rugby players about it as well. So, I've got a blend of both. For me, it works. It works brilliantly, and I enjoy it. But I do think the full-time paid position is probably the one to go after, if you want to get the maximum possible benefit of having that individual in the organization.
[00:48:03] LB: But be prepared for the fact that you might not get that role yet. And if that's the case, you know, do work on those opportunities to get that experience with maybe some private clients, because then that will of course, give you those skill sets to excel in your role, when you get a full time role and or demonstrate that in your interviews or on your resume or, at the end of the day, you need to be confident, don't you as a practitioner, and I think, to go back to that point I made earlier, how do you get experience if no one gives you the role? Well, maybe you chip away at it, there is no one size fits all approach to this, unfortunately.
[00:48:43] JM: Definitely, and it's the blend of both is it does have its benefits, 100% Look, just from experience, I don't mind sharing this, because I definitely had a few slap wrist moments in my career over the last couple of years where working full time at an organization. But on a Sunday morning, I wanted to get up at 5 AM to do a nutrition program for a boxer. Because I was passionate about it. I wanted to help a boxer make weight safely. Was it the right thing to do? Was I breaching a contract? By the letter of the law, I probably was breaching a contract. But in my eyes, what I did on a Sunday morning at 5 AM was my time, and if I want it to get up and work at the weekend, surely that's up to me to do that. But it's a very interesting area of discussion that I could talk about, quite passionately, but the blend of both. If the payment and the full-time role at an organization is not going to be there, then of course that blend of both, we almost have to do it, don't we?
[00:49:42] LB: Absolutely. Yeah. This is a conversation we could have for hours because there's a lot there and maybe we'll do another follow on to discuss some of these areas. I think it's certainly interesting that as we mentioned, you've written this book and look, we don't have much time left here, but I do want to quickly – your own career is rich with experience and is fascinating in itself, which is why we've spent so much time talking together about these things. But you've got this book, The Performance Nutritionist: Insights, Reflections and Advice from Practitioners Working in Elite Sport. And of course, everyone should read it. I've really enjoyed it. It's great to see one or two of our graduates of our old program, go on, get their PhDs and so on. So, it's nice to read about them.
But I said this to you before we started recording, I personally found this helpful, actually, not just your own transparency and honesty in some of your areas that you've had to learn from making mistakes and lessons and so on, but also the frustrations and so on that exists out there. But also, the differences of opinion that we all have. As practitioners is just really priceless stuff in this book, so whether you're a want to be performance nutritionist or you are early year or mid to even later in your career, like myself has a huge amount to benefit from that. So, I want people to go out and read that. We're definitely going to embrace this as a recommended reading on our course. So, I think I can enthusiastically recommend it right now, having read it myself now.
But I just wanted to quickly tackle this question that I raised at the beginning of what does successful even mean, James? Because that term is a difficult one, isn't it? How do you see successful and maybe summing up the various people, the great practitioners that you've got in this book, is there sort of a combined answer there you can come up with two?
[00:51:42] JM: Yeah, it's an amazing question, isn't it? Because when I asked some people to be in this book, there were actually some practitioners that turned around and said, they didn't want to do it because they didn't feel that they were successful in their career at the moment, which I thought was amazing, because I looked at them and I would say you are successful. What does successful mean? What is the definition of it? I think that's we all interpret it in a different way, don't we? But I look at the front cover of the book. You've got Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Aston Villa, Team GB, England Football, Sky, Monster, like at some point, all of those individuals applied for an interview, and were successful in their interview, and they got the job.
So, there's an element of success there, whether we want to agree or not, they were successful in obtaining the job that they applied for. In my eyes, in their individual career, they are having a successful career. It's amazing how many people in the interviews were quite humble in saying, Look, I'm doing all right. But I'm not the best out there. I think that was what's quite nice about our industry is that we do appreciate and respect that actually, once you understand that Dunning Kruger, and you come back down to the bottom again, you do realize, we're all moving in the right direction, and we support each other, to do a lot better. But there are a lot of more successful people out there, however you want to define that term. But it was really nice interviewing and asking those people that one question and seeing what the answer came backwards, but I think for me, they are successful, because where they are in their careers, the Premier League is the best football in league in the world. So, if you're working in the Premier League, and you're head of nutrition at one of those clubs, to me, you're doing all right. You've done something there that makes you successful.
[00:53:36] LB: Absolutely. That's why I bang on about context all the time. It just depends what you mean by it. Some people are motivated by financial gain and I agree with you. I mean, there's no way you get those roles, if you're not good in many different ways. You've been successful in your academic career. We both know how hard it is to acquire your Master’s and PhDs and whatnot. That's in itself a successful outcome. Getting past all the different people that competed for that job and impressing experience people interviewing you that want to say, “You know what, I'd like you to come work with us.” That’s success. And working in a team where you're working with athletes and players who – those teams remain in the Premier League, they remain at the top end of that league, for example, that is a form of success.
Yes, some of them will make a pretty decent living out of it too, financially, and that is a form of success. And some people will take greater or lesser aspects of that to build their own version of success. But I think it's something that most people can be as successful in their career as long as they understand what that term means and will they get satisfaction out of it. I know we've both wrestled with that in our careers and I think at the end of the day, if you wake up loving what you do, and you can go to work, impact everyone in a way that puts a smile on your face and helps them achieve what they want to do, and it's just a win-win situation. That's a huge amount of success in my eyes.
[00:55:16] JM: Yeah, exactly that. There's an answer here, I won't I won't ruin who it's from. But I asked the question, what makes a successful performance nutritionist? And the answer here was the answer is in the name of performance nutrition is someone who uses nutrition to improve performance. Although, it sounds relatively simple, there's a whole host of work and thought that goes into achieving that, the concept is relatively simple. If you can make someone faster, fitter, stronger or fresher, just by changing what they've eaten, then you're doing your job. And surely, all of us in our practice, if we are not doing that, to some degree, then we're doing something wrong. But I think we would all agree, especially the team that I interviewed with, at some point in their career, they have improved somebody's performance.
So, if that's your definition of success, then you've been successful. A success might be actually just obtaining your master’s. But I think what's the key to success is identifying the goals and the steps and the hurdles that you need to go on to achieve your vision and your aspirations in life. Because then, if one of them is get your PhD, and then you get your PhD, you've been successful, well done, you can pat yourself on the back. I think that one answer probably encapsulates it.
[00:56:29] LB: Yeah, I know. You've done a brilliant job and I remember you quoted an Eddie Hearn quote, didn't you? What was that again?
[00:56:35] JM: Yeah, it's an amazing podcast. And it quite simply no passion, no point. And I think you mentioned it briefly there that, I have to get up early to drive to Bristol Bears on a Tuesday. Why do I do it? Because I love it. I absolutely love being in that club. I love the environment. I love the players, the staff. And if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. But I'm passionate about it and I'm passionate about rugby. And I'm passionate about improving the provision of nutrition at that club. For me, that's fundamentally what it boils down to, that if you don't enjoy nutrition, and you don't enjoy working with professional athletes, it's probably not the industry for. Go work a 9 to 5.
[00:57:18] LB: Thanks, James. I wish we could keep talking. I'm personally really, really enjoying it. But like all good things, it must come to an end. I think this is the perfect place for me to remind folks to get your book, it’s in our previous podcast, your well worth following in many ways, you contribute in lots of different ways to the professions. Thank you for that. I will link to as many of those things as I possibly can in the show notes, but I just wanted to thank you for your time today, James. I know you're busy and you've got your family and all that stuff going on. But there's a lot of people listening who will be a little bit better off as a result of this conversation, I'm sure. So, if they want to follow you, what's the best way of getting in touch?
[00:58:02] JM: Yeah, Twitter, James Morehen. Instagram, Morehen Performance. And then the website is morehenperformance.com as well. Happy to say that if they go on Amazon and type in The Performance Nutritionist,they will find that book. Yeah, the aim of the game is to rise up the Amazon ranks.
[00:58:18] LB: Yeah, well go for it. Well, hopefully we can help. Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much. Much appreciated.