Next up in our Saints series, we sit down with team Nutritionist, Doug Chichton, and get to grips with what it takes to fuel a premiership team.
How long have you been at The ‘Saints?
How did you get involved at the ‘Saints?
I’ve always had a passion for sport (particularly having played rugby myself) and food. I studied Sports Science at University Undergraduate level and it was there that I really got interested specifically in how food can fuel performance, aid recovery and help people achieve their sporting goals. From there I progressed to a Sports Nutrition MSc on a leading programme and following this was offered a full-time role as a nutritionist in professional rugby in Wales. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be offered the job with The Saints.
Is is different from other jobs you’ve had?
Actually no, I’ve always worked/been involved in rugby in some capacity either as a contractor/in a part-time role, or as in my last position, full-time.
What does a typical day with the players look like for you?
Generally, the staff start at 7am with the players arriving between 7:30 and 8am. This is dependent on the daily schedule, which is subject to change. Usually I’ll arrive at Franklins Gardens just before 7am, check-in with the Chef in the kitchen then go upstairs to the Strength and Conditioning staff offices. It could then be a case of helping our intern’s set-up for the players arriving (this could involve putting protein powder into shakers, putting capsules into individual containers or making sure there is plenty of water and fluids available in the gym/downstairs in the food service area). As I work at the start of the week, Monday mornings are a good time to catch-up with the players following the weekend. I’ll be upstairs in the gym to weigh players in as they arrive and answer any questions.
Typically, the players will have a medical review and be in with the physio team first thing, then go into a strength and conditioning session around 8:30am/9am. Following this, they have the option of a whey protein shake to aid muscle recovery and other supplements individually allocated to meet their individual goals/requirements. At this time, I could also be checking up on players’ body composition (an assessment of body fat using skinfold calipers) or having one-to-one meetings with players, which typically involves running through a dietary assessment and answering any questions they may have. Breakfast is served downstairs in the Crooked Hooker (designated food service area) at 10am. I will typically be present at food service times to advise players on portion sizing, suitable choices to meet their requirements and answer any questions on the food being served. Players will usually eat together at breakfast, however some players are on different schedules (i.e. injured players) so they may have a rolling breakfast at different times to the rest of the squad.
Following breakfast, players will have a meeting then prepare for a pitch session at 11:30am. During this time, I could be running water on the pitch, refilling water bottles and encouraging players to drink in-between drills.
Again, depending on the schedule, lunch is typically served any time between 12:30pm - 2:30pm. I am present for lunch being served, answering questions and providing advice. The players usually leave Franklins Gardens around 2:30pm/3pm. This is then a good time to catch-up with other staff members about the day, plan for the following day and finally get into the gym myself to lift weights.
What would make up a typical menu for the team?
With the daily menus, there is plenty of variety at both breakfast and lunch time.
For breakfast, we will offer a breakfast special which could be a “make your own omelette” station, breakfast burrito's or chef’s breakfast frittata's. Alongside this, we usually offer eggs 2 ways (typically poached and scrambled), lean bacon, smoked salmon, cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt with a selection of berries and whole fruit, baked beans, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, cereal and granola, bread and spreads (e.g. a quality nut butter, jam etc.), a chef’s freshly made “smoothie of the day”, Yacault, fruit juice, iced water and cordial, teas and coffees.
For Lunch, this changes on a daily basis but usually follows the format of 2 protein options (e.g. Thai Chicken Coconut Curry and Balsamic Glazed Salmon), 2 carbohydrate options (e.g. cous-cous and diced sweet potato), a hot vegetable option (e.g. Mixed Roast Peppers/Sauté Bok Choi), mixed salad bars (e.g. roast squash and pomegranate/spicy pea and shallot) and a variety of fruit and Greek yoghurt. On Fridays, a dessert option will typically be served as a treat but also to aid topping up glycogen stores in preparation for a match for the following day.
Do you supplement their diets?
Whilst we typically follow a “food-first” approach, there are some supplements that are necessary to help the players to reach their macronutrient (e.g. protein and carbohydrate) and micronutrient (e.g. vitamin and mineral) requirements. These are allocated on an individual basis, with frequently taken supplements including whey protein, creatine monohydrate, omega-3 fish oil, probiotics and vitamin D3. We get great support from our Sports Nutrition Partners, Nutrition X.
Do you have to stop any players eating more then they should?
Yes occasionally, but I’m not going to say who!
Which Saints players are the most knowledgeable about nutrition?
Whilst all players have a decent fundamental knowledge, I’ve been particularly impressed with Alex Moon and Jamie Gibson whilst both have been rehabilitating from injury. During injury is a key time to focus on diet and get it right to aid the recovery process.
During pre-season, do the players eat more?
This will generally depend on the player and their individual goals. Pre-season can be a time to make concentrated progress in the gym, and for some players putting on weight and muscle will be a key focus. So for these players, yes, food intake can increase.
On game day, what fuels the players?
Players will usually start increasing the amount of carbohydrate in their diet 24-hours prior to kick off. This is to increase muscle glycogen stores (the body’s fuel source for sprinting/high intensity activity). 3-hours before kick-off, a typical pre-match meal is low in fat, easily digestible, mild and with plenty of carbohydrate options available. This could be grilled chicken breast in a tomato sauce with pasta, lean spaghetti bolognaise, rice, baked potatoes, mixed salad (e.g. diced cucumber, tomatoes), plenty of fruit including fruit salad, Greek yoghurt and a dessert to top-up with extra carbohydrate (e.g. fruit crumble or rice pudding).
In the changing rooms closer to kick-off again lots of high carbohydrate options are available, from chef’s flapjacks, bananas and chopped fruit to carbohydrate drinks and gels. Products with caffeine are also readily available to the players with strong evidence that these can improve match performance.