When Matt Jones tore his cruciate ligament twice before the age of 20, any hope of a career as an elite athlete was dashed.
Luckily for him, the silver lining was right in front of his eyes. The industry was not cut off from him forever.
“During the second recovery period, I started reading about nutrition because I was treated by physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and even had discussions with psychologists, but no one never told me what to eat,” he says. Sky sports.
“I then found myself gaining weight quite quickly as I went from incredibly high energy expenditure to incredibly low energy expenditure while on crutches.
“I became fascinated with the impact of nutrition on health, performance, recovery and injury. At that time – about 15 years ago – sports nutrition wasn’t really a thing, so I went on to do a sports science degree, which was pretty broad and generic, and then I did a master’s degree in nutrition science, because that degree in sports science really made me realize that sports nutrition was what that interested me.”
Having built a reputation over the last decade, Jones has worked in Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the United States, but since the summer of 2019 he has been working as a sports nutrition consultant in the Premier League with West Ham.
He spends two days a week at Hammers’ Rush Green training ground, working as part of the performance and medical team. So what exactly is the role?
“I enjoy spending time in various areas where nutrition can impact,” he explains. “What I often do is a group theory session, which can be like a traditional lesson with presentation. Sometimes I record a video and share it with the group.
“It will be week one of a month-long cycle and week two would be more of an applied hands-on session, which could be in the dining room. We could talk about carbs for fuel and how you have a little gas tank in your muscle that fills up when you eat carbs and when you do an intense action, the gas tank goes down.
“So after 70 to 75 minutes of intense action in football, for example, the gas tank is completely empty and that’s when the players will feel tired. Consuming more carbohydrates in the days leading up to the game will ensure that the gas tank is full. In the dining room, I was pointing out the different carb options and talking about portion sizes and that sort of thing.
“In the third week I’d probably be on the grass with players pointing out some intense action i.e. you just did a 10m sprint so your gas tank just went down by x percent This is an opportunity to think about how to quickly get fuel on board at half time or during breaks in play, like gels, or take carbs to fill up those fuel tanks .
“Next month I will take another subject and follow the same process.
“Recovery is also a big component of what I do. If you imagine a pyramid of significance, the base would probably be sleep. The second layer would probably be nutrition, refueling, repairing damaged muscles, reduction of inflammation and rehydration.
“We try to encourage players to make rehydration the first priority as soon as they wake up. You may be slightly dehydrated while you sleep, but we don’t want them waking up in the middle of the night and starting to to drink.
“Before their big toe reaches planet Earth in the morning, they have to drink 500 ml of water, for example. One of the first signs of dehydration is general lethargy and fatigue. This is the first behavior of base that we have to instill in the players.”
Overall, the idea of focusing on nutrition and its impact on performance and recovery – among many other aspects – in football is still in its infancy. “When I started, I was there to help people lose weight. Now it’s about developing athletes,” Jones says.
As a result, his work is, at this stage, very educationally based. And to be able to educate successfully, there must be buy-in from the players themselves.
“Membership is huge,” he adds. “It ultimately comes down to the relationship you build with the players and the trust you build.
“Behavior change requires three key elements; opportunity, motivation and ability. Opportunities come from environment, education and in some cases, persuasion. Motivation is the reason to do it Capacity is about giving them the skills and shaping the environment to change those behaviors.
“At the start, I realized that I had to have a strong philosophy that I could come back to all the time, almost like a litmus test. My philosophy is simple, meaningful and with a purpose.
“I had the chance to go and work in Brazil with Flamengo and they had no idea what I was talking about, so I quickly understood that everything had to be simplified and that it also had to be in the language of football. and food Rather than talking about 30g of protein, we should speak the language of food and say a chicken breast or a salmon fillet.
“Players in Brazil just want to play football, so it also had to be in the language of football, for carbs to allow you to run 10 minutes longer and play football 10 minutes longer.
“Nowadays the impact of nutrition is much more highlighted and much more appreciated. There are role models inside and outside of clubs in football in general, like Cristiano Ronaldo, for example. At the time, nutrition could change body weight slightly, but now people really understand the true impact of nutrition.
“Now I have 18, 19 year olds – even 16 year olds – who come to me asking how they can eat better to improve their performance. Then you have more time to help them because you can help instill new behaviors and new habits at a very young age that will put them in a very good position in the future.
“It also comes from former players who have become coaches. They experienced working with sports nutritionists, felt the difference themselves, started to value it and then started applying to the clubs they manage. now. They are cultural architects.”
Curiously, the work doesn’t stop at the end of the working day for Jones. “It’s a good job, I like what I do because WhatsApp messages start around 4-5pm!” He’s joking.
Players are on their own the second they leave the training ground or stadium after a game, and many hire private chefs to cook their meals in the comfort of their homes.
It is his relationships with these people, often forged outside working hours, that may prove essential in cementing the work he and his colleagues have undertaken earlier in the day.
“We are in direct contact most weeks, if not most days, as they play a very important role in delivering our nutrition plans and interventions to players.
“We have a list of club-approved chefs but, ultimately, it’s up to the players because the chefs will have specific cuisines that they specialize in, so we try to link them that way. Sometimes, he’s a standard restaurant chef, sometimes he’s a michelin star chef, they will literally go to their house, sometimes every night, and cook for them.
“Salmon is always a good option after games because it’s a great source of omega-3s, which help reduce inflammation, pain and muscle damage. Incorporating curcumin and turmeric can also be beneficial, as well as polyphenols like berries, cherries, dark chocolate and pomegranate.”
In the end, however, the extra work certainly contributed to the greater good.
This is Jones’ fourth season working for the east London club and in the past two they have finished sixth and seventh in the Premier League.
“It’s fantastic,” he adds. “Working in the performance and medical department, you work hard and love to see that hard work having an impact.
“It’s quite difficult to objectively quantify the work you do, so performance on the pitch, individually and as a team, is one of the best markers we have.”
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