An Interview with a Sports & Performance Nutritionist – Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones is a fully qualified nutrition consultant who has been fortunate to work with some of the world’s leading athletes & sports teams, such as West Ham FC & Brentford FC. He also frequently speaks, presents and lectures internationally at industry related conferences, and in the leading UK Universities.
We sat down with Matt to discuss his passion for sports nutrition, how he got started in his career, highlights & challenges of being a sports nutritionist and some tips on how you can make small changes to your lifestyle that will make a huge impact on your performance.
• Why did you choose to be a nutritionist?
I grew up an avid sportsman. I played football to a relatively high standard, until I tore my anterior cruciate ligament at the age of 18. It was during my rehab that my interest in nutrition, and the impact that our food, fluid and some supplements can have on our health and performance. During my rehab I was being treated by physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches and even had discussions with psychologists. But no one ever told me what to eat. I found myself gaining weight, the injury also began to impact my mental health. So I started reading about nutrition, in the quest for answers to the many questions that I had at the time, such as ‘why am I gaining weight’, ‘how do I lose weight’, ‘what can I eat to support my recovery from injury’, ‘how can I perform better when I’m back fit’ etc. Since that day I have quite literally been obsessed with sports nutrition. I studied the topic for 6 years in University, undertook various internships with the Welsh Rugby Union and Liverpool Football Club, and have been incredibly fortunate to then turn that obsession into a successful career, combining that obsession with my other passion of football working on 4 continents with some of the best footballers and athletes on the planet in some of the biggest competitions.
• What do you like the most about your job?
Prior to becoming a father, I would probably have said that being able to travel the globe and work in exotic countries such as Brazil, and random places such as Vietnam was the part I enjoyed the most. But ultimately, the most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to see, hear and feel change happening in the athletes that you are working with. Having a conversation with a player on Monday, then seeing that have a positive impact on Saturday afternoon is incredibly rewarding. Being a part of an individual’s or a team’s success is great. I had a dream of playing football at the highest level, that was unlikely to happen, so I had to find another way there.
• What are the main benefits of turmeric within the sporting industry?
If I just focus on football specifically, in recent years the intensity of games has increased exponentially. The demands of game play, the frequency of competition and the travel between fixtures has added considerable stress to the game. Players, coaches, sports science and medical staff are now truly invested in finding the optimum recovery methods to ensure players are best prepared to compete and maintain those high intensities across a competitive season. That has led to various pieces of research into novel recovery interventions, such as foods and extracts that may offer anti-inflammatory potential. Turmeric is one of those ingredients that has gained attention in recent years. Turmeric is of course a spice, traditionally used in Indian dishes. But of greatest interest is the curcumin content of turmeric, which is roughly 3.5 – 6.6% dry weight – this specific bit of information is incredibly important, the devil is in the dosage. Curcumin is a polyphenol with various anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to increase the amount of antioxidants that the body produces. Intense exercise is known to result in inflammation and oxidative stress, often presenting as soreness and muscle damage. Reducing inflammation at specific times after games with curcumin can help to maximise recovery and ensure players are ready to go again in training or the next game.
• Have you noticed a difference of players post-workout recovery times after having a turmeric shot?
I don’t have any objective data to quantify the actual impact of the curcumin on our players recovery. But this season we achieved the highest ever points tally for the club, in a condensed season, with more frequent games. Therefore, you could say that our recovery interventions have been working well, but to single out turmeric shots would be wrong. But the players have responded very well to the shots and subjectively they report liking them, feeling better after taking them and that is often half the battle. Recovery is as much mental as it is physical at times, so getting players to feel good is most certainly a positive outcome. Although it is evident from the research in the area that the addition of curcumin may reduce soreness immediately after exercise by 26%, it may also prevent decrease in muscle force production 24 hours after exercise and reduce loss of sprint power output by 11.8%. So objectively there is some nice research to support it’s efficacy.
• What is one change someone can make to their lifestyle that will make an impact on their performance?
I am a big advocate of the idea that lifestyle underpins performance. Athletes, whether they are weekend warriors or professional athletes often get too transfixed on performance. Performance is the pinnacle of the pyramid. Lifestyle underpins the pyramid. A good lifestyle allows you to train better, more frequently, at higher intensities, it allows you to recover better between sessions and games and stay healthy across a season and potentially reduce the risk of injury across a career. A by-product of all of this is better performance. So ultimately, focussing on lifestyle is a much better return on investment than looking at small performance interventions.
Broadly, and fundamentally, meeting daily energy and nutrient requirements is critical to optimising performance. So, if I was to suggest one change, I would say that you need to consider daily differences in activity levels and ensure that your diet best reflects that day’s needs. Some days will be more demanding, while others less so. Altering the composition and quantity of the diet day-to-day to better reflect those ever-changing demands is the best lifestyle change an individual can make to improve their performance.
I appreciate that maybe a little abstract, so as an example. If I went out of a long, hard run today I would eat a large bowl of porridge with some banana and additional honey, I’d add a B.fresh apple or orange juice too. Tomorrow I am in the office all day, with no exercise, so my breakfast would be some fat free Greek yogurt with a small amount of granola, handful of cashew nuts & mixed berries, & a B.fresh turmeric shot. My diet changes to better reflect my daily needs. The run will increase my carbohydrate (fuel) requirements, while a day in the office can be fuelled with fat (nuts) and protein to keep me full for the day and support recovery.
• What are some nutrition trends you are paying attention to?
To be honest, I have to stay up to date with and pay attention to all nutrition trends, literally all of them as players will often ask me for a scientific opinion on them and I will need to respond. But the most frustrating trend is the low carbohydrate trend. This is literally, single handily destroying athlete’s performance. I wish that one would disappear to be honest.
• Where can people find you if they want to learn more?