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Arsenal’s performance nutritionalist on eating to be your BEST!

You are what you eat and with the help of a Performance Nutritionist you can now be the best possible ‘you’. James Collins, a pioneer in his field and consultant to top sporting names talks about the role food plays in taking you to the top of your game

What made you decide to become a Performance Nutritionist?
When I was at Loughborough University we used to be guinea pigs for our classmates’ research projects – from cycling while dehydrated in heat chambers to repeated sprinting tests to mimic football matches. I was amazed at how differently I felt depending on how fuelled and hydrated I was for these tests – it really brought the science to life – and I wanted to apply this to athletes.

Do you need to play sport in order understand the workings of your advice?
Not at all. Many of my clients I see in my clinic are corporate executives or even musicians, who have intense demands on both their body and brain during a working week. Many of them aren’t particularly sporty. The key to my work is using nutrition and exercise to help people to perform at their best, both physically and cognitively, whether you’re an Olympic athlete, touring musician or mum of three with a busy working life.

How much science is involved?
There is a lot of science involved in my role and the need to stay up to date with the latest research. The car and human body is a really good analogy. I work through a process with my clients so that they firstly understand their body (the engine) and the different fuels it requires to function optimally. Once clients understand the core principles then they can apply these to the different situations they face each day until it eventually becomes habit.

Who do you currently work for?
I’ve previously worked for Arsenal FC, the England and France national football teams and Team GB Olympic teams. I run a London-based consultancy called Intra Performance Group, and have a team of specialists who provide performance services with elite sports teams, people from the entertainment and business world, maintaining a portfolio of Europe’s top talent – so we have lots of variety! I also have a private practice in Harley Street
for clients from all walks of life wanting to use food for fuel and to perform at their best.

Any funny stories?
I need to be careful what I say here… the one that stands out is during my final interview for
the Arsenal job with Arsène Wenger. As I was introduced as being an experienced practitioner from Olympic sport, he looked me in the eye and said “he looks a bit young to be experienced”. It was the first thing he said, and
took the wind out of my sails momentarily. However the interview went really well, and it’s something we still laugh about today!

Are there any basic principles behind performance nutrition?
One of the key messages is eating to meet the demands of your day. What you eat each day should be dependent on how active you are. A common mistake I see is people eating, based on old habits (such as the same breakfast or sandwich for lunch), rather than what their body requires to maintain energy levels for the day ahead.
I’m a big believer that everyone should first understand how the body produces energy (the engine) and the roles of different nutrients (the fuels). With the talent I work with, it’s helpful to classify nutrients depending on their function; energy (carbohydrate and fat), maintenance (protein) and protection (micronutrients). Once you understand these, you can build your ‘performance plates’ at each meal, with different portions depending on your needs for each day. A process that I describe in my book. (The Energy Plan £12.99)

What advice can you give to parents of sporty kids?
One of the biggest challenges we are seeing at present, is young athletes not eating enough to fuel the energy demands for growth and maturation, and also their busy sporting schedules. Be careful where you source information from to support your active kids. We are surrounded by lots of unregulated information in the media, so if in doubt, always consult with a registered Sport & Exercise Nutritionist.

Is there a different strategy for children as compared to adults – if so what is it?
There are many similarities between nutrition principles for adolescents and adults. However, for adolescents, particular attention should be paid to energy intake – for growth and development as well as sufficient energy for daily exercise. Just like for adults on more active days more carbohydrate is required as a fuel for energy. The micronutrients iron, calcium and vitamin D are all important for adolescents, as well as regular fluid intake to support hydration.

Do you encourage the use of energy drinks and protein shakes for kids?
Absolutely not – it’s important that it’s food first.Is it true that sugar is an evil? Like everything, the media like to tell us that everything is either good or bad. Whilst many people need to reduce the amount of free-sugars in the diet, there are times when sugar can be helpful (e.g. around hard training). In general, these more sugary (high GI) carbohydrates (juices, cereal bars, soft drinks) should be replaced with Low GI, more fibrous carbohydrates (rye bread, porridge oats, wild or basmati rice, sweet potato).

Can fat be a good thing?
Absolutely – it all depends on the right ‘type’ of fat. As well as being important to help the body to absorb different ‘fat soluble’ vitamins (A, D, E, K), the right type of fat can have important heart health and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Reduce trans and saturated fats and replace with mono and polyunsaturated fats – such as extra- virgin olive oil, oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Is middle age spread avoidable?
It’s totally avoidable! Although our body changes and becomes less efficient from our mid-
thirties onwards (reduced/resting metabolism, muscle strength/mass and bone mass) through a combination of nutrition and exercise it’s possible to fight the ageing process. I’ve worked with many older celebrities to help reclaim their body and confidence as part of the BBC’s Sport Relief project – and it all begins with the right mindset!

Do you have a wonder food?
There’s no such thing (although many companies will tell you there is!). Having a plan and applying it consistently is what makes the difference for our top athletes and performers, rather than diets or hacks which the media constantly push.

What life ambitions still to be achieved?
Wow lots. I don’t feel I’ve started yet!

Motto for life?
Find your passion and go your own way – don’t be afraid to think differently! Put simply the message for all is: Eat Smart, Feel Strong, Perform at Your Peak.

Cocoa and almond granola bars


This healthy granola bar is a perfect ‘on the go’ fuel. Grab one as your rush out of the door, or keep for a pre-workout snack. A great source of fibre, carbs and good fats.


• 330g granola mix
• 440g dates
• 165g cocoa powder • 55g almond butter
• 55g honey


1. Place the dates into a bowl and cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Put the granola mix into food processor and pulse until the mix is slightly less chunky and coarse.

3. Drain the dates and place them into the food processor and blend until the dates have completely broken down.

4. Pour the honey and almond butter into a saucepan and heat over a medium heat until runny.

5. Pour the date and granola mix into a large bowl and pour over the honey mix.

6. Mix the ingredients together until all combined.

7. Line a baking tray with parchment and spoon the granola mix into the tray. Press down with your hands until you have a level surface. Place the tray into the freezer for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture is firm. Cut into bars of the size of your choice.

This recipe has been produced in James’ test kitchen. Devised by James and his team of chefs for everyone wanting to optimise their diet on a daily basis. Special thanks to chef Omar Meziane for his work on this collection. Jamescollinsnutrition.com

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