20 Years in Elite Sports - Blog 1

Matt Lovell Nutrition Practitioner and Coach

Not all of you will know what I’ve been up to my whole career, I’ve been working in elite sports for 20+ years. The next 2-3 posts will be about that, with a focus on what I learnt so I can pass the benefits over to you guys.

Today I’m going to talk about how I integrate performance nutrition principles into the team-based environment. Specifically, football and soccer although I’ll draw on experiences across other sports too.

My journey began aged 11 when I started karate. Then on travelling down to China town picked up a couple of books on Bruce Lee’s training style. Started weights at 12, pre internet days I was the lad reading Arnold’s encyclopaedia in WHS. That journey really continues today with an incessant thirst for knowledge around human performance and nutrition.

It’s my firm belief that healthy athletes perform better. We have a duty of care to support health first and a food first solution where possible. Once this is sorted we can apply the layer cake - aminos, botanicals, minerals, vitamins and bit of a cheeky nod.

So how do we decide what to feed them? Foods, macronutrients and micronutrients, supplements, powders and adaptogen potions sometimes too.

We need to gather the right data.

So, when putting this post together I was thinking about what I’d done and how I’d done it. Things which had worked and things which hadn’t. I’ll mainly focus on the things which worked and continue to work today. So, I’ll be covering;

  • Lessons learnt
  • Systems and principles, I work with – my approach
  • Mostly stuff which works, a few things which didn’t
  • Data gathering & application – what data works, what doesn’t
  • Duty of care Healthy Athletes – health first always
  • Integrated Performance Team – nutrition is just one essential cog
  • Dysfunctional cultures in sports – when players take the performance into their own hands and what happened next
  • The detail required in Individual sports is increasingly needed to be applied in the team setting
  • Beyond the basics, I’ll be giving away some ‘secrets’ of high performing athletes and teams too -
  • What will the next 20 years hold? I'll try and show a vision of the next 20 years

Trying to distil some core principles and values. Some core foundational pillars of performance. Then think about where things might go in the next 20 years.

I have in the words of one head coach I worked for, been there, seen it and done it. The emphasis here is of course on the integrated approach which is essential in the winning team culture;

My nutritional approach has been applied in these settings;

  • ERFU – 1999-2015 International Rugby - 4 RWC cycles, one World Cup and one final
  • UKA – Loughborough site 2012 Olympics track and field
  • Tottenham FC 7 seasons, MCFC 6 seasons
  • Saracens, Wasps, Tigers and London Irish all for 2-5 seasons
  • FA Senior Men’s & Senior Female Squads
  • Olympic finalists and medallists
  • Thai boxing 2 world champions
  • Boxing, British light weight champion
  • Your grandma (see below)
  • 1000’s of ill and over weight clients......
  • Georgia National Rugby Team 2014 present
  • Bournemouth FC present
  • Reading FC present
  • Core performance Behavioural Wellness – and I’m starting my own corporate performance outfit this year
  • Brevin Clinical Support for Mental Wellness
  • Amino Man established a high end Amino Acid, mineral and botanical based supplement company www.aminoman.com

From this list I like to explain a players Grandma’s symptoms as an example of inflammation and how it can be influenced through nutrition. This player’s grandma had bad arthritis in her body, particularly her thumbs which was preventing what’s called activities of everyday living. Opening doors, jars but especially worrying was not being able to pick up the grandchildren without pain. The lady had a lifetime of fish avoidance, lower than adequate vegetables and protein balance which is typical of some older people and lack of vitamin D.

The protocol was fairly straight forward, high dosed fish oils as she wasn’t about to start eating fish at her age, increased vegetables and following a Mediterranean diet just without bucket loads of pasta. More sunshine and a vitamin D supplement and something called Cat’s Claw tea which also support deeper sleeping patterns as well as being a strong anti-inflammatory herb.

Did she miraculously cure? No of course not there are no miracle cures. There are just body systems and solutions.

However, she was able to carry out these activities with far less pain even after a short period of 2 weeks showing how out of balance her nutrient status was before she began to address things.

One of the things I was reflecting on when writing this talk was the winning performance culture.

  • You need the best players and athletes
  • The most effective coaches
  • An efficient and trusted medical team
  • A fitness and conditioning system which gives you an edge

A lack of competing egos and a joined up effective communication strategy with the athletes best needs as a core value. You can lack in anyone of these areas and still be successful. More than one, I’ve not seen that ever be successful. The players and effective leaders are the key of course. They can manage themselves if they have core leaders. Then if you feed them and recover them well enough, they can win.

And of course, everyone needs to be fed well in order to compete effectively. They need to sleep well too. And chill the fuck out. Or be very good at relaxing.

So how does the clinical nutrition aspect tie into all this?

What data do we collect in order to influence and tailor our protocols and interventions?

Increasingly the offering in the team environment needs to be bespoke and individualised. In order to do that you need to collect data, fat levels, carotenoids status, bloods, hormones, wellness data, symptoms, questionnaires. All that and more. I'll unpack that in detail later. Right now we have to address the environment we are all operating in.

LESSONS AND PRINCIPLES LEARNT

We operate in a modern environment. The athletes are exposed to the same influences as the general public from a nutritional standpoint. This is a problem, popular choices are normally bad ones, think breakfast cereal, fast food, sandwiches… crisps. One bag per day = 5 litres of inflammatory omega 6 fat per year. 2 bags = 9 litres. Not sure where the 1 litre gets lost on that.

PERFORMANCE NUTRITION

There’s no doubt we live in a confusing environment. In general, but also when considering nutrition there is no shortage of information which is often conflicting.

The little things we do often add up.

The flow state is a place when things run like poetry in motion. Amazing things can be done in full flow state.

The player ultimately wants to look for the flow state in the performance environment. Flow state relies on alpha waves, which can be enhanced through the use of supplementation. Specifically, the extract from green tea L-theanine induces higher levels of alpha waves, as well as prolonging the effects of caffeine on performance. That's one of the reasons it's in the Focus Sustain formula.

However, if an athlete is not prepared in terms of hydration and fuelling is there any point in looking at next step stuff? We have to build on the basics before we look to ‘biohack’.

Elite teams who neglect aspects of advanced nutritional supplementation will probably be giving away an important edge.

I’ll leave you guys with a few questions;

The effective practitioner must Include constant observation, watching, thinking and learning.

Why was it the athlete who ate a family bag of spinach every morning went from 3 worst in the yo-yo test, to winning it at the end of pre-season camp?

Do we panic when we find high levels of lead in a hair test or wait and repeat the test? Labs need double blinding before we can trust them after all.

More to follow next week.

Matt Lovell



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