Pip is a former professional athlete and is currently engaged in a leadership position for public service, as well as providing expertise through her consultancy business. She was the former performance sports dietitian at Brisbane Lions.
Highlights from the episode:
- Tips for new dieticians working in a high-performance environment
- How to be effective with your time as a dietician
- How to get buy-in from the management or club
- Common mistakes dietitians make
Jack: Next on and lucky last is Pip Taylor. She’ll be discussing the different touch points for a sports dietician working in high-performance sports. So, tune in for all the practitioners listening in. Thanks for jumping on, Pip.
Pip: Yeah. Thanks for having me. Always a pleasure to be here.
Jack: And I’m looking forward to this one. Let’s start with tips for new dieticians working in high-performance environment.
Pip: Yeah. I think it’s such a big question. And tonight there were five dieticians on here who have talked really broadly and all of these from different points of view. We’ve heard about game day and pointy end of performance, about fueling and what that looks like from a physical and cognitive perspective.
We’ve heard about injury, recovery, injury prevention and return to play, and also immune function. We’ve heard about body composition and had the chat too around what should we be looking for. Even your question response, Jack, about building muscle mass and what’s appropriate or not appropriate across the length of an athlete’s development life and what stages they’re at, what positions they’re playing. And we’ve heard too from Simone on these cooking skills and shopping and nutrition education. And even all of those topics, as broad as they are, are only just starting to scratch the surface of what dieticians actually do.
You’re talking about sleep, gut health and more clinical side as well of diet takes. And I think that starts to give a really clear indication of all of those areas, but to the broad understanding that you need to have. So, if you’re a dietician looking to get into sports, it’s understanding not just your knowledge, but how you fit into the bigger picture as well.
You’ve got to be able to engage with your S&C staff. You’ve got to be able to engage with a sports psyche in that environment. And that’s a very different environment too to a clinical setting. You’ve got to be able to have the language to talk to a coach or a high-performance manager and understand the bigger picture of things, so that you’re not going all in all the time, pushing nutrition as a priority for an athlete. Because that’s not always going to be the case. And even if you can see that it is being a priority for that athlete at that point of time, it’s still might not be the time and place to be having that conversation.
Understanding that whole environment in a really in-depth way, understanding the strategy behind the game, so that you can have conversations with coaches as well. What is it that this athlete needs to do to get to the next level? It might not be directly food-related, it might be that their skill execution needs to really step up a level. So, it’s then you taking a step back and understanding: how do I fit into this piece of the puzzle and what are the conversations that I have to have with other staff members?
And I guess from a dietician’s perspective too, that’s one piece of the puzzle in that club environment. There are other touch points that an athlete even might not be aware of. You’ve got conversations that you’ll likely be having with food service: whether you’ve got a club or what your organized journal is and the logistics and the situation around that. You’ll probably be having conversations with commercial as well, and different suppliers and different supplements and supporters in that sort of space.
So, it is a very varied role. And it’s really understanding how you fit into all those conversations.
Jack: Yeah. I love that. So, it’s not always just pushing your agenda all the time. It’s knowing how important that is for that individual’s development plan. And like you said, if the technical side is an area that they’re putting all their energy in, to not waste your time, you’re probably going to focus on someone else who really does need your time and energy in terms of moving the needle for their performance.
In terms of the tips for using those different touch points that you mentioned, in your experience what are some effective ways that you can be effective with your time?
Pip: There’s probably this old-school view that dieticians are either the food police or we look after body composition and skinnies.
And as even Ben said when he was speaking about skinnies, if that is the component that you’re chasing, thinking, ‘This is the way I’m going to get booked better’, then you really are missing the bigger picture. Because it’s so much more holistic approach than that.
So, if you’re a coach or if you’re another high-performance support staff in that environment, if you’re not asking your dietician, ‘How can I get this athlete to sleep better?’ Or ‘these athletes coming injured all the time’. Or ‘this athlete seems to get sick all the time’. If you’re not including your dietician in those conversations as well, you’re really getting just a finite amount of the expertise that you could be getting from a dietician.
I listened to these guys talk tonight and you talk about that everything is so individual, all of these touch points, and you didn’t think about an AFL environment and team, or even any sort of team. You’re talking up to 50 guys. You think about the number of conversations and the amount of support that could be happening. Pull your dietician in more, embed them in that team, invest in them, because they will have contributions to add to every single area.
Jack: And, from the dietician’s perspective, if they are getting a bit of a roadblock due to the leader in that environment, have you been able to influence that situation and turn it around, or is it a matter of waiting for a new boss?
Pip: It can be a little bit of both. It’s certainly challenging. And to be fair, I understand that teams have budgets as well. And if you are a team operating under a budget and you’re a dietician coming in with limited hours as well, it’s finding where’s your bang for buck. And that has to be the health of an athlete as a priority. So, dealing with an athlete’s health first, and that might mean that you’re missing out on all the actual performance. But you’re at least starting to get this education-based and have these touch points of health to build it from there.
You asked a really hard question, Jack, though. And I have to say, dieticians probably battle all the time. And we probably have to do a better job too, of educating everyone else about all of these touch points and how we operate, and how we can add value into every area.
Jack: Yeah. Because it is, it’s such a unique environment. Everyone is strong-willed and, once more, there is some competition for the time with the athletes, I guess. It’s a game that we’re all playing. And it is a two-way street.
The leader, obviously, is a big part. But, like you said, it also has to come from the dietician as well in pushing their case and showing their worth. Which is challenging to do.
Pip: Yeah, it does. And this is probably advice for dieticians, but as well as broader staff, that sometimes the message doesn’t always need to come from the dietician.
For instance, if you’re working on a rehab plan and you’re working really closely with the physios, a lot of your work may almost be happening a little bit in the background. So that that message is delivered as one message. And so, from an athlete’s perspective, they’re not being hit by five different staff with five different messages all at once.
It’s also being smart about your approach and understanding that you are not always necessarily the athlete-facing side of every situation, all of the time.
Jack: Yeah, that’s such great advice. Because it might even just be a personality thing. As much as we love to feel like we’re going to get along with everyone, there’re personality clashes. And it doesn’t matter what your role is within the team, if you can use a leader that they look up to, or another practitioner that they have a good relationship with, that they’ve been with for years, and leverage that, at the end of the day the athlete’s getting better, which is what we’re all trying to do. So, that’s really great advice for all practitioners listening, and even maybe leaders, players as well.
What about some common mistakes that either you’ve learned from early days and how did you correct them? Or you’ve heard mentoring other practitioners and common mistakes for those cutting their teeth?
Pip: Everyone’s still learning all the time. I’ve learnt things tonight from listening to the other dieticians here as well. So, I think that’s always important to never feel as though you either have all the answers or you have to have all the answers. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘You know what? I don’t actually know that. But I can go and find that out,’ or ‘I know who to talk to about that.’
That’s always the best approach. And athletes are pretty good at seeing through you as well. So, if you don’t know, you don’t know. Don’t tell them that you do and bluff your way through. Over time things are certainly evolving as well. And I think probably the biggest piece of advice is exactly what you alluded to, Jack, that everyone in there has got eyes and ears, and everyone from a sport support staff and an athlete’s perspective has something to add to that.
So, the more conversations that you’re having, the more relationships that you’re building and the more open collaboration you can have across things… Everyone likes to stay in their line and stick to their area of expertise, but the reality is that you need to collaborate on all of those touch points as well.
Jack: For the strength & conditioning coaches listening, what were the best S&Cs that you’ve worked with that have really supported and collaborated effectively with? Is it touching base with you maybe 10 minutes a week and working okay with this player like, ‘What are we trying to do?’ And then if they’re spending hours in the gym with them there, ‘Oh, how are you doing with Pip with your meal planning or with those new recipes you’re trying to learn how to make?’ Is it having those conversations or is it better to leave those?
Where do you see the best successful relationships from a practitioner’s point of view?
Pip: That can certainly vary a bit as well. But I think, certainly, that the conversations where you’re able to have that chat with the S&Cs and you’re able to understand, because it’s very difficult too. And sometimes you’ll have an athlete coming to you and saying, ‘I want to put on muscle mass’, or ‘I need to put on muscle mass.’ And without any other explanation behind that.
So, then you, as a dietician, you’re actually going to the S&C and saying, ‘They said this. And how does that fit in the bigger context?’ You might be having a chat with a coach as well. Because we’ve all seen it before too. An athlete hearing something from someone and having a complete misinterpretation of what they’re actually hearing and what they should be looking at.
But the best relationships with S&Cs are the ones when they trust you as well. And you can talk to them about which athletes are we looking for more power development, which ones are we looking to put muscle mass on? And then bringing into that conversation too: what does their history look like from an injury and loading perspective, is this going to be appropriate?
And I always find too that the best conversations are ones where the two staff from different modalities are actually asking devil’s advocate questions of each other. And there’s no offense there. And you can just get on and have a proper conversation and get a solution.
Jack: Amazing. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that, Pip. It’s an interesting topic.
It’s one that I’m happy that you came up with and it’s a good one for the practitioners for us to talk about, like you said, internally, but also in this situation as well, in a public forum. And, no doubt, the athletes as well, to get an understanding of how hard practitioners are trying to help and the care that goes into it.
Where’s the best place for those that want to touch base with you? Where’s the best place to find you?
Pip: You can find me through my website, which is just piptaylor.com. But most of my current nutrition info comes through Pillar Performance. So, you can follow their website and socials and you’ll see more info there.
Jack: I will add all the links in the show notes, guys.
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