At Home With: West Ham nutritionist Matt Jones
In the latest entry of our series, West Ham nutritionist Matt Jones discusses how he's ensuring the club's players are eating the right foods from afar.
How are you continuing to do your job despite working from home?
It’s been challenging. You never really prepare yourself for something like this.
We’ve arranged fresh fruit and vegetable packages to be sent to the players’ houses and we also deliver them meals.
They can be prepared for them ahead of time or we can send raw ingredients to their house each week, so we have some control and can ensure they are following their own individual programmes.
What sort of work are you doing given we don’t know when the season will return?
We need to make sure the players maintain a normal eating pattern.
So, wake up and have breakfast at around nine o’clock, then lunch and an evening meal with some snacks in between.
If they miss a meal, the chances are that their calorie intake is going to drop considerably, with reductions in macronutrient and micronutrient intake, too. That’s going to have a detrimental effect on their ability to maintain muscle, performance and health as well.
But we’re monitoring them as closely as possible – some of them have GPS watches and some have taken GPS heart-rate monitors home with them – and every player has their own specific diet plan, no different from in-season, but adjusted slightly to account for the new conditions in which they are operating.
Energy expenditure has dropped slightly given the current situation, so the composition of meals changes.
During a typical training day, the players would eat a considerable amount of carbohydrates before and after training to fuel and recover.
Now they're eating a little bit less carbohydrate in those meals. In order to prevent them from getting super hungry, we replace that space on the plate with fresh fruit and vegetables, as the fibre will fill them up.
If you imagine a plate and fill the whole size of your hand with vegetables, then the palm of your hand with protein and another palm of your hand with carbohydrate, that's the general target we go for at most main meals right now.
How are you keeping in contact with the players and staff?
We get at least one WhatsApp message a day from every player.
That could just be: ‘I’m doing fine’, or it could be: ‘I don’t understand my meal plan. Can you tell me the exact serving size of spinach in this smoothie?’
Then we can do a follow-up call on Zoom or Skype. It’s good to check in and chat face-to-face rather than just over the phone.
How are you using this time to hone your skills?
I’ve had more time to work on bespoke matchday meal tickets and recovery plans for individual players.
One thing that I've noticed over my career is that some players eat way too much and some players don't eat enough in the pre-match meal. One way we can attempt to mitigate that is by providing them with a meal ticket with their recommendations on.
Then they turn up to the matchday with this meal ticket, which is like a credit card. They give it to the chef and then the chef delivers the meal to them.
On the back of the 'credit card' is their recovery plan, so it tells them the food and fluids they need to consume after the game to recover properly.
What’s the thing you miss most about football?
The excitement of not knowing what’s going to happen on any day. Not just a game day, but a training day as well.
Some players have also been doing more cooking and they’re more enthusiastic.
They are definitely using their time constructively, learning how to make healthy snacks or smoothies, but they’re not putting me out of a job just yet!
How are you passing the time without any sport/football to watch?
I have a two-year-old son, so it’s been really nice to spend some time with him - and my wife of course - that I wouldn’t have got otherwise.
Obviously football is quite time-consuming and you don’t get much time off, especially on the weekend, so this is pretty valuable.
Any TV shows/films/books you’d recommend?
We did Tiger King. We watched all of that on Netflix within two days.
I really enjoy Peter Crouch’s podcast, too. I worked with Crouchy at Stoke before, so some of the inside stories and jokes are a little more meaningful. Although I didn't know Charlie Adam was parched! His podcast is awesome.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks as well. The last one I listened to was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
Shoe Dog is another that was really good – it’s by Phil Knight, who’s the co-founder of Nike. I used to work at the University of Oregon, so it was pretty cool to hear all the stories about his days at university.
Have you discovered any new interests or hobbies?
To be honest I have been incredibly busy with work for the first couple of weeks of the period off, so I haven’t managed to get into anything new yet.
Have there been any positives that have come from this?
I’ve noticed that the players are more diligent about nutrition.
Instead of thinking: ‘I'm hungry, I'm going to eat,' they’re now asking: ‘What should I eat?' and 'How much should I eat?’ They realise how important it is.
Some players have also been doing more cooking and they’re more enthusiastic. They are definitely using their time constructively, learning how to make healthy snacks or smoothies, but they’re not putting me out of a job just yet!
Have you learned anything about yourself?
It’s made me see the importance of family even more. Not just your immediate family, but your friends around you as well. A simple 10 minute chat on the phone is now so rewarding.
The situation definitely puts things into perspective.
We put a massive emphasis on football because it’s ostensibly our life, but the reality is the health of our family and friends is most important.
What has the break made you realise you love the most about football?
It’s the whole excitement of the job. The unpredictability, too.
It’s a working environment that’s stimulating every day. There’s never a dull day. It's also allowed me to realise that I am so lucky to be paid to do a job that has combined my two greatest passions, food and football!
You never feel like you’re going through the motions. I’ll ask friends about the work they do and they’re like: ‘I wake up and just go into autopilot.’
It's certainly not like that for me working in football, not even now.