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      ‘We want them fighting over pudding’; The strategy behind nutrition on tour


      You might be aware of the old adage that an army marches on its stomach.

      That saying takes on new layers when you factor in that said army was just shy of 4,000 miles from home, participating in intense training sessions in high humidity; adhering to strict conditioning programmes; and preparing for a double game-week against top-class opposition.

      A foundational nutritional strategy is not enough; planning must be mindful of each individual player’s recovery schedules, adaptable to a tour in a foreign country where demands will vary daily, unpredictably, and without notice.

      And then, of course, there’s the taste of it all to consider.

      Clean plates are often the best sign of players’ engagement with their nutrition, and leftovers an indicator that changes should be considered.

      Such is the scale of the challenge that awaited Crystal Palace’s new Performance Nutritionist, Jodie Hemmings-Trigg, who joined the club earlier this summer.

      Having previously served as Performance Nutritionist at Manchester City Women and Head of Academy Performance Nutrition at Leeds United, as well as Olympic and Commonwealth athletes, Hemmings-Trigg is well-accustomed to these considerations at an elite level.

      The challenge of Palace’s recent transatlantic tour to Chicago and Detroit was therefore one she embraced, as she told “It’s been wonderful to travel with the squad, particularly a transatlantic tour – that’s always a bit more of a challenge!

      “It’s been great to get eyes on the guys, spend time with them and get to know them in terms of their preferences, likes and dislikes. That then allows me to formulate a strong strategy for the coming season in the Premier League.”

      Jodie Hemmings-Trigg at Comerica Park in Detroit
      Jodie Hemmings-Trigg at Comerica Park in Detroit

      Be it at the stadium, the training facilities or the hotel, Hemmings-Trigg – like all Palace backroom staff – was rarely not on her feet.

      Describing her role on tour, Hemmings-Trigg explained: “It’s about liaising very closely with Thomas [Evans], our Head of Player Care, making sure the hotels that we’re staying in are able to deliver the nutritional strategy we need when we’re on the road.

      “First, we make sure our week-to-week strategy is nailed down at the training ground throughout the season. We then lift that, look at the pre-season games – who we’re playing, where we’re staying – and then liaise with the head chef at each hotel to make sure they’re comfortable delivering that nutritional strategy.

      “If they’re not comfortable doing that, because some places aren’t – we may be the first sports team that they’ve had, for example – it’s really integral to take a skilled performance chef with you to oversee that delivery.

      “And when we’re playing in particularly hot environments” – temperatures reached highs of up to 32 degrees Celcius in both Chicago and Detroit, with humidity maxing at 75 percent – “it’s on us as a team to be making sure the players are hydrated, but also to make sure they have refuelling opportunities.

      “They need the right portions of the right types of food to help them recover the quickest, so that they can hit the ground running in training the next day.

      "There are a lot of components to pull together, but when you’re working in an organised squad and you have clear communication, it makes life a lot easier.”

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      You don’t tell a chef what to cook. You leave it to them to guide you, and then you tweak

      Jodie Hemmings-Trigg

      At the time of speaking, Palace were staying in the Daxton Hotel in Birmingham, a convivial suburb north of Detroit – and one which proved popular with players and staff alike.

      But with a number of common ingredients at the core of every mealtime – think chicken and turkey dishes for protein, and variations on vegetable and fruit medleys – how much variety can there be, and how much granular detail does a Premier League side's strategy actually dictate in the kitchen?

      “We’ve been really fortunate staying at the Daxton Hotel here in Birmingham,” Hemmings-Trigg confirmed. “The chefs’ capabilities in the kitchen are exceptional. They have dedicated chefs with dedicated areas: a patisserie chef, a sous-chef, a head chef, a commis chef…

      “Being able to liaise with them is quite straightforward: we just explain what types of carbohydrates we need, what types of protein we need, et cetera, and when we need them.

      “We look at when the players are going to be eating, and extrapolate backwards: when is it the players last trained? What is it they’re going to need to refuel? Then, we work with the head chef to make sure that’s something they can do.

      “Here at the Daxton we’re very lucky, as the Head Chef, Joshua, has fed Barcelona, Real Madrid and the N.F.L. It’s been easy speaking with him about our requirements, and he was then able to fit his way around it.

      “It’s really important to me, however, to never tell a chef what to cook. You don’t tell a chef what to cook. You leave it to them to guide you, and then you tweak around a granular detail if needed.

      “We may ask for some additional details in our pre-match meal, for example. We may ask for some more smoothies or hydration factors after a training session in the heat.

      “All of these things are fluid depending on the training session that the manager wants to deliver, and that can change relatively quickly, so we need to be able to have a flexible, good working arrangement with wherever we’re staying because our strategy might need to change.

      "It’s a fluid element of the delivery; hopefully, we get it right more times than we get it wrong.”

      As you might expect in the Premier League, the array of nutrition available to Palace’s players – as this writer can personally testify – was nothing short of top-class at both the Chicago and Detroit hotels, both in terms of range and quality.

      Rolling breakfasts, lunches and dinners featured a wide range of healthy but hearty foods catering to various diets and individual programmes, delivered by hotel chefs in collaboration with Palace’s own Senior Sous Chef, ‘Khayro’ Medjahed.

      But, despite all that praise, we never did get to taste the widely-acclaimed rice pudding.

      “Exactly – we want them fighting over that last rice pudding!” Hemmings-Trigg laughed. “We want the lads to be engaged in their own nutrition.

      “It’s vital we provide food the lads feel inclined to eat; you could have the best menu in the world, but if the lads don’t like it, they’re not going to consume it. It’s a fine balance between finding their preferences and marrying them up with the workload.

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      It’s a compounding consideration: you need to consider travel time, time difference, the heat, everything about the situation…

      Jodie Hemmings-Trigg

      "We pull on other data streams from other disciplines and departments in order to make sure we get as close to the mark as we possibly can. I work very closely with Cedric [Leduc] and Elliot [Webber], our Sports Scientists, and Jamie [Goldsmith] and Frazer [Findlay] in Strength & Conditioning, to see if there’s anybody we might need to focus on in terms of recovery.

      “If we see that a player’s output has perhaps been below where we’d like it to be – or even just using your eyes, if you can see a player’s physically tired – there might be a fuelling element to it, or there might not be.

      “It’s a compounding consideration: you need to consider travel time, time difference, the heat, everything about the situation… but if you can rule out nutrition as an area of concern, and you can say ‘I know this particular player has fuelled this way’, all the better.

      “That’s not just on game days, either – because on tour the match is the culmination of the week’s work, so it’s also about the days leading into it.

      "The fuelling regimen starts 36 to 48 hours out, and it’s just making sure the kitchen understands that and factors it in.”

      Planning deeply, but reacting smartly – a successful transatlantic tour delivered, with barely a steamed asparagus, beef Bolognese or strawberry smoothie to spare.

      Hemmings-Trigg smiles: “It’s wonderful to get this experience and add it to the portfolio of exposure I’ve had.

      “Needless to say, I’m really excited for the next three years here to do some really good research, and to get the nutrition provision within Crystal Palace where it needs to be.

      "It’s exciting to be part of it.”

      If they are to march on their stomach this season then, rest assured: the red and blue army are well-fuelled.