The Head of Performance Nutrition EIS

Jeni Pearce. Copyright: EIS

Jeni Pearce explains the benefits of Olympic holding camps and how she prepares athletes for world class events.

Raise Your Game: What is the role of the Performance Nutrition Support team within the English Institute of Sport (EIS)?

Jeni Pearce: The EIS Performance Nutrition Support team consists of 10 nutritionists working on a wide range of sports throughout England.

Our role is to work with the other sports scientists within the EIS to help the coaches get the best out of their athletes. These include physiologists, psychologists, biomechanics scientists and the medical teams.

RYG: How can diet influence an athlete's performance?

JP: There are a variety of ways in which nutrition can have an impact on an athlete's performance. Much of our work involves practising, trialling and testing things to make sure they work for an athlete before an event. The last thing the athlete will do is look very closely at what they eat just before an event to raise their blood sugar levels which makes them feel good and gives them the energy they want to win.

RYG: How can travelling abroad affect an athlete's performance?

JP: People think of jet lag when they're coming back from holiday, but for the athlete who's travelling to competitions worldwide in places such as China or Australia, this can have a major impact on their performance.

Travelling can cause athletes to lose their appetite or they may find that their appetites increase. Different time zones mean that they can wake up hungry in the morning or during the night. Athletes can then experience issues in trying to stabilise their weight and if they're in a weight class sport such as boxing, it's really important that they don't lose focus on their diets.

RYG: You were appointed by the BOA as nutritionist for the Team GB holding camp at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. What's the idea behind a holding camp?

JP: A holding camp is the final preparation phase before going to an Olympic games. This allows the athletes to get acclimatised to the environment.

We knew in 2008 that Beijing was always going to be a hot environment. One of the main issues was making sure that the athletes had everything they needed and that they were familiar and comfortable with it for the final stages of preparation.

I think the holding camp was one of the reasons why Team GB did so well in Beijing. It helps the athletes work together and they can see how other athletes prepare. It allows everyone to be the same and it takes some of the stress away from actually being in the Olympics.

RYG: How do you keep athletes motivated to stick to their diets at an Olympic games?

JP: That's one of the toughest tasks we face as nutritionists. When you walk into the Olympic dining hall, it's literally the size of a giant supermarket full of free food, and if an athlete doesn't have the will power or focus, it can be very easy to get distracted. Athletes from other countries that aren't used to such a wide selection of food can really struggle with the enormous amounts of protein in servings and the luxury foods available.

The athletes are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour. We can only help them so far so it's down to the individual to use the knowledge we've provided.

The number one rule is to never eat anything that you don't recognise or have never had before. It can really damage your performance and it can upset your gut or it may not agree with you.

We advise athletes to eat the same serving sizes and the same types of food and not to waste time looking around for other foods until their event is over.

RYG: Nutritional science is a constantly evolving field. What new developments are being planned for the athletes at London 2012?

JP: We can't reveal all our secrets, but our main priority as the Performance Nutrition Team is to make sure that all our athletes and coaches are up-to-date with the latest research.

Great Britain has some wonderful food and some wonderful athletes and I think the 2012 Olympic games will be a great opportunity to showcase British food and British lifestyles at their best.

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