Job Focus: Performance Chef
As you’re undoubtedly aware, the World Cup starts soon. Football (or soccer, for our American friends) is a massive international business which at its grass-meets-boots level involves pitting teams of highly trained athletes against each other. Behind these teams are many, many supporting actors – coaches and management, of course, but to keep the players at the peak of their abilities dedicated performance chefs have a huge role to play.
Here at Pembury Partners we’re currently working on a number of roles in the Doha area, and we have a lot of professional athlete clients – not just footballers, but boxers, tennis players and so on too. We understand how important a performance chef is to these sportspeople –the correct nutrition means optimum health, energy and performance. Each sport, and indeed each athlete, will have their own requirements, and a performance chef needs to understand and fine-tune the nutrition required to meet these demands.
A performance chef focusses on supporting an athlete or team by correctly fuelling and hydrating their bodies for their particular role in their sport. This is done not just through preparing their meals (although of course this is a big part of it) but by coaching them to learn how to make the appropriate nutritional decisions, and what it means to them.
For most sports speed and stamina are of great importance, but there’s an underlying factor that must be considered first: health. With excellent health everything else can be built on top, but if a person is unhealthy there’s no foundation on which to build. Key to keeping healthy is the correct nutrition, applied consistently and routinely.
In order to build a programme for an athlete, a performance chef will usually start very simply: by talking to them. Having got to know them, their background and history and their approach to the sport, the chef can start to look a little more closely at some of the physical factors in play. The body composition of the athlete, the sport in which they compete, and if it’s a team sport then the athlete’s position and the particular demands of that discipline. It’s important to consider that the athlete might have a very different body type to others in their field, so their nutritional requirements will likewise differ. It is very much not the case, for example, to say that all footballers, or even all midfielders, should have the same programme of fuelling. It needs to be structured on an individual level. The performance chef will work with the broader team responsible for the athlete’s performance – dieticians, trainers, conditioners, coaches, etc. – to make sure everyone understands how the nutritional plan fits together.
Such a plan for providing the correct fuel for a specific athlete has many factors in consideration, and naturally these will vary widely between sports, teams, locales and individuals. Some common factors might include:
- Focus on the proper proportion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and looking at nutrients rather than simply calories.
- Consideration of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foodstuffs.
- Grocery shopping has to be done very carefully, with close inspection of the labels.
- Many consider the importance of extremely fresh foods, handpicked and locally sourced, and often organic.
- Intake of sugars, sweeteners, puddings and so forth has to be strictly limited or eliminated altogether.
- Sanitation is very important as this goes to the health of the athlete – see earlier in this article.
- Hydration is absolutely paramount.
- A positive plan for nutrition has to be built up. An athlete can be eating relatively well and have adjustments slowly made. It’s better to remove the poor foods and replace them with more nutritious alternatives slowly – this is a marathon, not a sprint. We want to stay at peak health and performance consistently.
Pembury Partners assists with the placement of performance chefs in the UK and abroad, and we’d love to hear from sports professionals and their teams in order to discuss their specific requirements.