The Certificate of Integrative Sports Nutrition - Module 3 Musings

I returned home to South Africa from London two weeks ago and my feet have hardly touched the ground since.

I’ve been catching up with my neglected family and clients, and also dealing with the aftermath of the flood in our house that actually happened one night before I flew to London – two nights of neglected sleep (the second on an overnight flight) was hardly the best preparation for module three! 

Things are starting to calm down now, however, so I thought to be a good time to cast my mind back to what was an incredible week of learning at Kingston University in mid-September.

Module 3 of this course is quite different from the modules before it, in that it is a highly specialised module – deliberately so – bringing practitioners and scientists into the room who have evolved practices in certain disciplines, or with certain client bases. For certain ‘students’, particular lecturers will hold more more appeal, and for other ‘students’, different lecturers will hold appeal, but overall the week is about sharing refined expertise, which ultimately stimulates learning within each of our personal practice. I use the inverted commas around the word students because most individuals undertaking this course are already established practitioners in their own right, looking for further specialty in the sports nutrition area.

Okay, on to the specifics of module three:

Day 1

I actually was the first to speak on day 1, with a highly unscientific presentation (!), that rather focused on clinical interaction with complex clients. Scientific observation provides us with an underpinning of knowledge and integrity of thought, but it is actually limited in scope of practice when you are sitting face-to-face with the client who has complex needs. No longer are we in the realm of dealing with simple consultations with simple macronutrient or micronutrient solutions – the modern athletes has variable stresses and strains on their mind and physiology, and it takes an integrative thinker to help them move forward into a more resourced state. So the focus of my presentation was to share my experiences and practices that I find to be particularly useful when working with my (complex) athletic clients.

Next up was Paul Ehren, a Masters bodybuilding champion, who is also an evolved health and performance practitioner. He took us into a very real journey of drugs in sport, and scared us with the kinds of practices that actually go on. Even just by working with recreational athletes, we need to be aware of the potential for performance drug use, to be able to interpret a blood test appropriately, to understand their own ethical position, and to offer health-based advice that is supportive to such a client.

Day 2

On day 2, exercise physiologist Chris Howe, after providing us with a good underpinning of physiological testing information in module 2, educated us on the topic of heat extremes. In particular, Chris has a strong interest in preparing athletes for events in the heat, such as the famous Marathon des Sables. He actually took us into the heat chamber and put one of our (cycling) students into a 30 minute test at 40°C. Despite the test subject being fit and riding at a very moderate intensity for him, it was surprising how quickly his body temperature rose to a point where the test was almost aborted.

We next had Rick Miller, who is a dietician, specialising in working with disabled and Paralympic athletes. Despite this being a specialist area, working as nutrition practitioners, we may attract such a client at any time. Within Rick’s presentation, he gave us two case studies to work together on as a class, showing integrative thinking in action, and an even more highly individualised approach, based on the particular disabilities of the athletes.

Day 3

On day 3, we started with Renee McGregor, who is a specialist dietician working within eating disorders in sport. She is not a psychologist, but there is obviously a lot of psychological focus when working with such an athlete, and she shared personality attributes that are commonly found in such athletes – these might include an A-type personality, who is highly motivated, but yet very sensitive. Diagnosable eating disorders may not be our bread-and-butter clients, but from personal experience with my clients, simply reversing that term to ‘disordered eating’, starts to encompass many many of our high-achieving athletic clients.

Next up was Craig Lewis, who is a strength and conditioning specialist from South Africa – an ex-colleague of mine. Craig works with general population, but his specialist area is football, having worked with some of the world’s best players. His absolute passion is recovery, so he took us through a full review on training periodisation with regards to how that links in with recovery dynamics. Additionally, he discussed many other recovery dynamics outside of nutrition, including ice and contrast baths, compression garments, massage, and of course sleep.

Day 4

On day 4, I made the most personal presentation of my life. The topic was chronic fatigue within sport, and I used myself as a case example of somebody who has been overwhelmed with too many elements going on in my life at one time. This includes trying to maintain my status as an athlete while juggling family dynamics (including a divorce) and building a career that is based more on passion and compassion than bricks and mortar earning capacity. I shared various different elements of testing with students, such as mitochondrial function, heavy metal toxicity, and microbial imbalance, but overall I placed more importance on the total life loads that I and many of my clients have tried to encompass in their lives.

In the afternoon, we welcomed Prof Andrew Lane, who is a sports psychologist. He and his PhD student, Dan, did a lovely double act, discussing the placebo effect in sport. Like Andy Blow talking about water in module 2, it was another example of somebody being able to make a very specific subject interesting for an entire three hours! One of the most important points from their presentation was that scientific research is far from a black or white observation – there are so many variables in a research study that can heavily impact the findings, that in most cases it seemed like Andy and Dan could critically refute the final conclusions of any research study. They did this to demonstrate the sheer importance of reading between the lines and interpreting research studies with caution and integrity.

Day 5

At last we came to the final day, where we had our live consultation with a 60 year old Masters triathlete who had suffered with M.E. for 27 years. It was a perfect example of what I describe as a complex client! 27 years of health imbalance can’t be overturned in one or two sessions, but we were able to make some initial nutritional and lifestyle suggestions and also testing recommendations, which we will follow up on in a week’s time. The client was extremely knowledgeable on M.E., so as is often the case, over time we will be able to learn from him, just as he can learn from us.

The final slot of the course was by Joseph Agu, lecturer at Nottingham University and a previous adviser to UK Athletics. With perhaps an over-emphasis on endurance sports during this course, it was refreshing to have a presentation that was centred around the topic of hypertrophy in power and strength sports. He actually shared a case study of an elite sprinter that he had worked with during his time at UK Athletics; he took us through the strategies that he had undertaken to nutritionally support the sprinter’s strength and power, while reducing his body fat to the leanness required of an Olympic athlete.

Moving forwards

Thinking forward to 2019, which will be year two of this course, my plan is to tweak and refine modules 1 and 2, but overall to keep them fairly much the same as they are. The intention with module 3, however, has always been to have it as our specialised module, almost like a long conference, which will change in content every single year. That means that current students can come back in subsequent years and still have more to learn, and that future students can access past module three material via our online videos. Over the years, we will build up a large database of high quality specialised lecture material.

For more information about our certificate course, including dates for next year, click here.