The impact of COVID-19: practitioner and performer perspectives on the practical application of sport and exercise nutrition
Every year, our MSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition students are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to gain a real insight into sport nutrition in practice with a guest lecture session delivered by two-time 1500m Olympian Laura Weightman and Ruth Wood Martin, Lead Performance Nutritionist with the Irish Rugby Football Union. This year, Laura and Ruth were joined by Richard Chessor, Performance Nutritionist at British Swimming.
In a period when a light has been shone on nutrition and health related stories in the sport media, for example Mary Cain and Bobby Clay, Laura raised awareness of the care and support that should be affordable for young female athletes to ensure they are healthy, happy, and able to perform at the peak of their ability.
Laura, who last year despite the restrictions that the coronavirus created, became the second fastest British female over the 5000m behind Paula Radcliffe, shared her insights into what it has been like training and competing in the COVID-19 climate and the practical strategies she employs to meet her nutritional needs. Despite the disappointment of a cancelled Olympics, she has seen the circumstances created by COVID-19 as having a positive impact on performance, as indicated by the performances she put out in the races she was able to compete in last year. More time at home has meant she has been able to maintain her sound foundation of good nutritional practices which beyond eating sufficient energy and fuelling for the work required she summed up as having a plan, eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day, consuming good quality protein and not forgetting to enjoy food.
Ruth, who leads a team of Performance Nutritionists across Ireland, focused on the implications of remote working on practice and it’s impact on both player and athlete support personnel wellness. She shared her first-hand experience of the reasoning behind policy development and the implementation of standard operating practices around the mitigating risk of COVID-19 transmission from a catering provision perspective and the logistical implications of implementing these whilst competing in the current Six Nations Championship. She reported on the work of her team of nutritionists in using lockdown positively to impact on nutrition education, particularly of junior players, and the innovative ways of using social media and other platforms to engage players remotely.
Richard provided his nine practice tips for facilitating effective performance as a practitioner that focussed on:
- ensuring the right environment for optimising performance
- understanding what might be ‘performance limiting’
- avoiding catastrophic events
- preventing sub-optimal nutrition
- decreasing the potential for the consumption of banned substances via supplement use
- achieving a body composition that does not compromise performance
- decreasing the incidence of poor nutrition which might leave the athlete susceptible to illness
- doing the basics well
- avoiding getting paralysed by the detail.
These insights from a performer and practitioner perspective of achieving and supporting elite performance in these unprecedented times help students gain a genuine appreciation of the role of the sport and exercise nutrition in practice, prepares them for the uncertain world beyond study, and enrich our curriculum delivery.
Reflecting on the experience, MSc student Oscar Bergqvist commented that, ‘The session highlighted the drive to provide upcoming practitioners with access to both athletes and professionals at the height of their respective careers. This is great for providing a new perspective and insight into what our future prospects might be and how to navigate working in the elite sport environment'.
Head of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Louise has a diverse applied work profile alongside her academic role. With a background in clinical dietetics she has a particular interest in the practical application of sport dietetics in elite and extreme environments.