Arsenal Head Nutritionist James Collins discusses career development & more


James Collins is a leading Sport & Exercise Nutritionist. James has completed his Masters and The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Diploma in Sport and Exercise Nutrition, giving him some of the highest accreditations attainable. This has led to James’ career focusing on professional and Olympic athletes. This is clearly evident is his current role as Head Nutritionist for Arsenal Football Club. James is also prominent within the Great Britain Olympic Team, working in an advisory role to all athletes. This work continues with the build up towards the Rio Olympics in 2016.

What inspired you to become a nutritionist? Was it a career you saw yourself entering into from a young age, or was your passion for nutrition sparked later in life?

My interest started when playing NCAA College sport in the US. At the time, I was extremely interested in the sports nutrition advice we received, and in applying it to performance. I then focused on my undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications at Loughborough University in the UK, due to its reputation for sports nutrition and exercise physiology.

What is your main nutritional ethos? Specifically any certain beliefs and values you carry with you in your profession and how you approach your work?

I have clear vision of how I feel nutrition should be applied within elite sport:

Firstly, I believe that a nutritionist has to be fully integrated within a high performance organisation. This will involve working as part of the multidisciplinary team – attending team meetings/case conferences, wearing the kit, full access in training ground. To affect the culture of an organisation, nutrition has to be fully integrated, not viewed as an external consultant.

Effective nutrition is goal orientated and periodised to training and competition demands. It should always be science led, and evidence-based. I believe in a food first approach, with supplementation advised on a particular need.

Nutrition is a discipline, which requires technical, but also practitioner skills to affect an athlete’s behaviour change. I believe in working with athletes and coaches to educate and up-skill, so they can make decisions under pressure (such as major championships, like Olympic Games).

As eating habits can be extreme and often eccentricities can develop, what has been the weirdest dietary request you have heard of? How do you suggest nutritionists strike the balance between working with someone, and also being able to make significant change?

I’ve heard some strange ones. An obsession with cashew nuts has been a recent one! Within elite sport, I believe it’s about setting up your service in the right way: It is important to have objective markers to assess progress with each athlete; such as body composition, hydration, bloods, wellness and other performance measures to complete the picture.

Working with Track & Field and football, I have set a model for regular contact with athletes – this enables behaviour change to be made over time, essentially ‘diet coaching’ athletes. Athletes and coaches also value informal consultations around the training complex, not shut away in a consulting room.

In a field where knowledge can be a game changer, are there any unique/specific means by which you gather new information in the sports nutrition field? Are there any podcasts or other mediums by which you hear from others in your field?

The main method is collaboration with researchers from key research groups, to share information. Both GSK’s High Performance Lab and Gatorade’s Sports Science Institute provide some high level information. Conferences still remain a great option; Leaders in Performance, Sport & Exercise Nutrition Register, The Royal Society of Medicine and International Sport Exercise and Nutrition – all within the UK

To find out about James Collins’ opinions on supplements & to read this article in full please click here.

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