Human Performance, Performance | Mar 25, 2021
Performance Directors from leagues including the NFL, NBA and English Premier League joined this recent Leaders Virtual Roundtable to discuss how nutrition can support their performance priorities.

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“Sport has different requirements, but whether your athlete depends on strength, endurance or somewhere in the middle, you can align nutrition to impact those determinants to make a difference.”

So says James Morton, the Director of Performance Solutions at Science in Sport, before adding a caveat: “We have to question ourselves whether performance departments grasp this concept enough.”

Morton, the Professor of Exercise Metabolism at Liverpool John Moores University, has also worked for a series of sports organisations including English Premier League champions Liverpool and the Tour de France-winning Team Sky. He believes that teams can do more to challenge their thinking around performance nutrition.

It was in this spirit that Morton, as Host, and the Leaders Performance Institute, invited Performance Directors from across the NFL, NBA, NHL and European football to examine their long-held beliefs around nutrition and performance during this Leaders Virtual Roundtable.

Most sports scientists, Morton posits, are educated and enter the industry believing in the trope of science versus practice. A more pertinent dichotomy, he argues, is that of knowledge versus delivery.

Morton had been convinced that sports scientists had to be smarter than their peers in the latest scientific knowledge if they were to optimally perform their duties but, as he gained more frontline experience, he realised it was more about the everyday delivery and how the practitioner brings that knowledge to life in the form of practical performance solutions. It is as true for nutrition as it is for strength & conditioning or any other discipline.

Thus, Morton presented to the table Science in Sport’s Knowledge Delivery framework: a strategic methodology of performance management that assesses current status of knowledge versus delivery of key performance priorities for your chosen sport.

As he says, this framework can be used for programme management as well as individual athlete performance plans. To that end, there are three principles or steps that enable the delivery of pioneering performance solutions:

1. Performance Determinants (Knowledge)

2. Performance Priorities (Planning)

3. Performance Solutions (Delivery)

Morton cautioned all those present that it is not enough for teams to copy and paste this approach. In some environments, the athletes all get the same service; there is a lack of individuality, so it’s important to be specific to each stage of an athlete’s development and performance journey as well as being sport-specific.

At the conclusion of his presentation, the Performance Directors split into more intimate groups to discuss a vital question: within your sport and performance environment, what are your critical performance priorities and where does nutrition support these priorities?

Some common observations rang true across most leagues. Recovery and body composition were identified as key performance priorities, although these were often hindered by a lack of knowledge in the building. Teams are increasingly looking to academic institutions and research partners to help with research and innovation – the Performance Knowledge side of the framework.

Another major issue is a lack of staff alignment is a major issue and performance conversations do not happen as often as they should do in order to get everyone on the same page in terms of what are the priorities and what this should mean in terms of delivery.

Finally, if it were not alignment, then it was a lack of lack of people and resources that were identified as limiting factors to performance delivery. There is an increasing awareness that teams need someone on the ground full-time to take care of performance nutrition delivery – the Performance Delivery side of the framework.

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