Bleacher Report UK has teamed up with Liverpool FC and Warrior to take you inside one of the world's most storied and successful football clubs. Each day this week we'll be bringing you exclusive insight from a member of Liverpool's staff, culminating with manager Brendan Rodgers on Friday.
Thursday's interview subject is Liverpool's nutritionist Dr. James Morton. View his club profile here.
Bleacher Report: Can you give us an overview of your responsibilities at Liverpool and your typical working hours?
Dr. James Morton: I am employed on a consultancy basis that usually involves one to two days per week with either the first team or academy squads. My main roles as are follows:
- Planning daily menus for training days and match days with the goal of ensuring that all nutrition provision is strategically aligned to maximizing training adaptations, performance and recovery.
- Planning individualised dietary plans for players with special training goals—e.g. players who may wish to lose body fat or increase muscle mass.
- Developing and implementing both individualised and team-based supplement strategies for training and match days.
- Implementing a general education package to both staff and players on sports nutrition ranging from schoolboy players through to first-team level.
B/R: Is it a fairly recent development for a club to have a nutritionist on board? Are there particular clubs or managers who led the way in this field?
JM: I have been working since 2010, so this is my fourth season at LFC. Most top clubs now employ a nutritionist, though it is usually on a consultancy basis.
I wouldn’t say there are any specific clubs who have been leading the way on this, though what sets LFC’s approach apart is our links with John Moores University. This ensures we have access to world-class lab facilities, but also that all of our practice is research informed and cutting edge.
Nutrition is probably one of the last aspects of sports science that football in general has seemed to embrace. Football is a skill-based sport, and so it is often difficult to measure the differences that sound nutrition can have (when compared to more physical based sports such as endurance, combat or rugby for instance).
But over the years, I have definitely seen a culture change to embrace sports science and nutrition. The sports nutrition profession is definitely moving in the right direction.
B/R: How do the diet plans you set out differ from player from player? Can you give some examples from Liverpool's current squad?
JM: Depending on their stage of development and nationality, some players may need to lose body fat, increase muscle mass, improve their general eating habits (e.g. timing, portion size and choice of food), or perhaps a combination of all of these.
The younger players coming through are often at a different stage of development than a senior player, and then we often have the scenario where players face long-term injury. Our approach is to ensure a generalised nutrition plan that is scientifically sound, but then to also intervene with individualised plans where needed.
B/R: Are players required to keep to a strict regimen outside of the time they're on club duty? Do you provide plans for them?
JM: For players with specific goals, we provide individualised plans to follow when away from the training ground. Ultimately, it is about education and developing trust for these plans to work—which over time, I believe we have been successful in achieving.
Nevertheless, getting players to adopt good habits when away from the training ground is probably the hardest part of the job.
This is especially the case with the younger players who perhaps have not had the experience of how sound nutrition may affect their performance. In contrast, we have some fantastic senior professionals who are very disciplined in their approach, none more so than our club captain (Steven Gerrard).
B/R: How closely do your work with Brendan Rodgers on nutrition? Did he enter the club with a definite idea of what players should be taking on?
JM: Brendan is a very forward-thinking manager, and he embraces the work of all of the sport science staff. He is very open to new ideas and receptive to change. As I alluded to before, this is definitely the best season that I have been here in terms of players embracing what we are trying to achieve. I believe this is due in part to the professionalism that the manager is embracing at the club as well as the excellent sport science and medicine staff that we have.
B/R: What would be your advice to a recreational footballer looking to maximise his or her performance?
JM: The biggest mistake recreational players make is not preparing correctly for games in terms of ensuring relevant carbohydrate content in the day before games and the pre-match meal.
Additionally, players fail to recover correctly after games by eating too late after games and also not consuming any protein, which promotes muscle repair. As such, many players would fatigue in the second half of matches and may often have difficulty recovering from games.
B/R: Do Liverpool players come to you for advice? Do you have any examples?
JM: Absolutely; working one to one with players is one of the main parts of my job. As I said before, these consultations can be focusing on improving body composition, improving match day physical performance or recovery from games, or putting together dietary strategies during times of injury.
Players may even ask for advice on what to put in their shopping trolley! It is these moments of working one to one and improving individuals physical performance and attitudes towards nutrition that is the most rewarding part of the job.
B/R: Finally, how did you come into this profession and what advice might you give to somebody who wants to follow a similar path?
JM: First and foremost, a sound academic background is a must. For me personally, I obtained a BSc in Sports Science initially and followed this up with a PhD in Exercise Metabolism. I am also employed as a lecturer and researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, which means I am fortunate enough to conduct high-impact research studies and translate this to practice with the athletes and teams I work with.
Not everyone may have this opportunity to personally engage in research, but I would still emphasise the importance of staying up to date with novel research and the latest scientific findings. I began my work with athletes by working voluntarily in a range of sports, and eventually, my experience in both research and applied practice ensured I was ready to work with more high-profile athletes.
In addition to a strong scientific background, you must also develop your interpersonal skills so that you can work with people in a range of different situations who may have very different personalities. Finally, you must never think you’re the finished article and look to always improve your knowledge.
I have published nearly 50 research articles and have almost 10 years experience of working with athletes, and yet some days I wake up feeling like I know nothing! Another research paper published inevitably means another question needs answering!
This interview was presented by Bleacher Report UK in partnership with Liverpool FC and Warrior.
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