Matt Lawson is a dietician who has spent his career helping professional footballers meet their nutritional needs.
A lifelong football fan, Matt worked with Sven Goran Eriksson’s Notts County side in 2009. He also supported their WSL team who played Chelsea Women at Wembley. With stints working with Doncaster Rovers, Team GB, and a Public Health role with the NHS, Matt is also a UEFA licensed coach. As a result, he is able to give players a more rounded approach to nutrition. We caught up with Matt to find out more about what kind of dietary approaches are best for footballers, and if going vegan really does improve performance.
Matt, many high profile footballers advocate a plant-based diet to help with their performance, is there any truth to this?
There’s growing evidence that a plant-based diet is a perfectly reasonable way to go if a player wishes. However, it’s important their chefs and catering teams make sure they’re still achieving their carbohydrate, protein and fat requirements. I wouldn’t push one dietary approach over another, but I always explain the benefits of the different dietary approaches available. A plant-based diet can definitely be one of the best. With any athlete, maximising performance will always be the priority, so we have to make sure what we’re feeding players is going give them the ability to perform over 90 minutes. It doesn’t really matter how you achieve that.
How does a plant-based diet improve performance?
Plant-based diets tend to be very high in iron, vitamin C, and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. ADEK vitamins together with nutrients like iron play an important part in fuelling muscles with oxygen. This helps footballers perform well at high intensity. A plant-based diet naturally includes lots of vegetables and pulses with high iron content, lending itself quite well to maximising the intake of these key nutrients.
What steps should players leaving the game take to ensure they maintain good nutrition?
By 2030, 70% of the UK population will be estimated to be overweight or obese. In the UK, someone is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes every 2 minutes, so the key issue is food quality. Studies suggest this rise in ill health is down to processed foods and a quick-fix lifestyle. This is where we turn to calorific food high in sugar, salt and saturated fat, and move away from cooking meals from scratch. When leaving the game, players should prioritise food quality by choosing lean protein, slow release carbohydrates and making sure they stay hydrated and avoid sugary drinks to compensate for their reduced activity levels.
Do supplements have a place in helping players reach peak nutrition?
I would always advise players to be wary because you have to be careful that you don’t end up taking a banned substance that might be hidden in a food supplement. I would suggest that footballers don’t take any supplements unless a club doctor or dietician has prescribed them. They should know it's safe and complies with UK anti-doping regulations. When working with players, I work hard to help them meet all their nutritional needs through real food and drink.
Where can PFA members find out more about nutrition?
I run a platform called Diet Coach, and I would always welcome any PFA members to contact me directly if they have questions about nutrition. Players need to have a good relationship with the dietician or whoever leads on nutrition at their club. We must talk about diet and nutrition in the same way we discuss coaching, physiotherapy and psychology, as all these areas have an impact on players. There is no doubt a poor diet badly affects performance, so it’s great that the PFA are raising awareness for such an important topic.